Parlaying Your Entry-Level Certification Into a Counseling Career

January 4, 2023

counselor writing during session with patient

After being in the throes of addiction and fighting your way out, you’re often faced with the prospect of getting a job, but while saddled with a significant gap in your work experience and perhaps some past legal troubles that may make you believe you are unemployable. Many hiring managers will look at these situations and determine you aren’t a good fit. However, your lived experience can be a tremendous benefit and make you an ideal fit for a career in addiction treatment.

Getting into addiction treatment on the ground floor with an entry-level job can be an incredibly satisfying way to give back. It is one of the reasons why many students who call us looking for their next life’s passion were once in addiction treatment themselves (or had a loved one treated for addiction or mental health issues).

As with many important jobs, however, working in addiction, especially at the entry-level, is stressful. Every day, you work with patients fighting a battle for their lives and whose physical and mental health has been challenged by years, or even decades, of chemical dependency. The people you are tasked with supervising and keeping an eye on can be volatile and violent, just as much as they can be kind and ready to change. As a result, you may be looking towards the next steps in your addiction career.

Becoming a Counselor

The next logical step is looking at a counselor-level position for those particularly adept at working with mental health and addiction patients. After all, the counselor arguably has the most significant influence over the addicted individual’s recovery in these early days. But the life experience alone isn’t enough to give you that kind of responsibility over someone’s recovery and, in many cases, their lives. This is when you begin to evaluate your career in addiction and plan for your next steps, which can vary.

You may currently work in the clinical setting; for example, as a behavioral health technician, and your next step may be to get certified and work toward lead tech. Consider getting a certification that leverages your lived experience, such as a Certified Recovery Support Specialist that works alongside the clinical team and gets you valuable experience. Some CRSSs even work in hospitals and other healthcare settings to intervene after an overdose and direct patients to appropriate follow-up treatment.

Some entry-level professionals may prefer a more administrative side of the addiction treatment industry and opt for case management, utilization review, or other positions that round out their knowledge of the working of a treatment center. All this experience combines to allow those with a GED, high school degree or more, the opportunity to become a Certified Addiction Counselor. Those with a bachelor’s degree in a behavioral health-related field can become Certified Addiction Professionals. Both are counselor-level positions, with the latter allowed to counsel and bill for services directly.

Your Plan

Developing a plan of this kind may seem daunting. Still, you can take heart in the knowledge that this is precisely how the founder of the Academy for Addiction Professionals blossomed in his career. While he did not experience addiction or mental health issues firsthand in his early career, he knew that getting a foothold in the industry required working his way up. He started as a behavioral health technician and rose through the ranks to eventually become a counselor and then director of a treatment center. He has since founded and managed addiction treatment and mental health facilities and continues to do so today as the CEO of the Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Ben Brafman’s journey shows the possibility of virtually unlimited growth in an industry that values experience, caring, and quality over degrees with little else behind them. Ultimately, your path may be slightly different and include some ups and downs, but few careers can offer this much growth and the satisfaction of knowing that you are giving back to those experiencing the worst times of their lives.

We encourage you to learn more about the next steps in your career through comprehensive addiction counseling education from The Academy.

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The Academy for Addiction Professionals is a leading addiction professional training center and an approved education provider for both the Florida Certification Board (FCB) and NAADAC. We offer interactive in-class (South Florida Location) and online training courses for the Certified Addiction Professional (CAP), Certified Addiction Counselor (CAC), Certified Behavioral Health Technician (CBHT) and Certified Recovery Support Specialist (CRSS) levels of certification as well as Continuing Education and Professional Development programs.