Skip to main content

What does a Substance Abuse Counselor do?

A substance abuse counselor (also known as a chemical dependency and addictions counselor) works with clients battling alcohol, tobacco and drug addictions, and also with gambling addictions and eating disorders. They work with individuals battling addictions, and with those people affected by an individual’s addiction.

Many substance abuse counselors work with families who are affected by the individual’s behavior, and others work in group counseling programs. In addition to one-on-one or family counseling, substance abuse counselors can work in educational, public health industries.

Some substance abuse counselors work in private practice; others work in community health organizations, day treatment programs and hospitals. A substance abuse counselor is typically social, likes to communicate frequently while also enjoying problem solving.

substance abuse counselor

What are the major job requirements for substance abuse counselors?

Job requirements include computer and technology skills, often including the ability to work with medical and presentations software.

Just as important as technical abilities are the skills, knowledge and abilities counselors bring to the job, according to O*NET Online. A substance abuse counselor needs to have the knowledge of methods of counseling, an understanding of psychology and human behavior, customer service, administration and management skills. Other valuable skills include active listening, critical thinking, verbal and written communications skills, good judgment and decision making skills. Stress tolerance, self control and dependability are also important.

What are the major educational requirements?

Educational requirements for substance abuse counselors vary by state and specialty, but a master’s degree is generally required in order to be licensed to work in any state. Many voluntary certification organizations can help you figure out the requirements where you live and want to work.

Educational programs in colleges and universities may be within the school’s department of education or psychology, social or human services. Coursework includes areas such as human growth and development, social groups, counseling techniques and professional ethics.

Every state requires each substance abuse counselor to be licensed, though requirements for licensure vary. Also, some states require, and some counselors opt for, certification through the National Board for Certified Counselors.

Job outlook and earning potentials for substance abuse counselors

Some of the industries with the highest levels of employment for this occupation, according to the BLS, include:

  • Outpatient care centers
  • Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities
  • Individual and family services
  • Local government
  • General medical and surgical hospitals

Top paying states for substance abuse counselors, according to BLS, are:

  • New Jersey
  • Hawaii
  • Wisconsin
  • Maine
  • Alaska

Job opportunities for counselors remain favorable, according to the BLS.

truancy officer

What does a Truancy Officer do?

A truancy officer monitors school attendance and works with school administrators, students, parents, and their communities to keep students in school. Truancy officers act as law enforcement specialists to the extent that they enforce school attendance laws established by state and local governments.

Truancy officers: slackers’ public enemy #1

Local school districts are generally eligible for federal funding, which is typically measured by the success levels of a school, including how many days the school conducts classes and how many students are attending. Schools with lax attendance may lose eligibility for funding.

State and local laws typically require students to attend school between kindergarten and high school grades. Truancy officers assist schools with keeping students in compliance with these laws.

truancy officer

Truancy Officers: doing more than ruining a day off

Truancy is the official term for ditching school during grades K-12. Truancy officers contact truant students and their parents or guardians for determining why Rocky Rocket Science isn’t in school. These officers are typically not sworn peace officers. Duties of a truancy officer include:

  • Understanding and updating knowledge of applicable school district, community and state laws concerning school attendance
  • Determining and documenting reasons for absences by students chronically absent
  • Preparing and filing case reports for students investigated and/or apprehended for truancy
  • Working as a team with school administrators and teachers for educating students, parents and the community about laws and benefits related to school attendance
  • Meeting with students, their parents, and school administrators for determining reasons for truancy and developing plans for improving student attendance

Truancy officers don’t physically pursue truant students, but may contact school police or community law enforcement agencies for apprehending them.

Preparing for a truancy officer job

Although truancy officer positions may not require more than a high school education, taking courses in education, sociology and child psychology can be helpful for landing a truancy officer position. Skills required for truancy officers include excellent communication skills, organization and record keeping, competent computer and Internet skills for completing reports, reading e-mail and maintaining and monitoring school attendance records.

Experience working with children and teens is helpful. Being bi-lingual can be a benefit in school districts with significant immigrant populations. Truancy officers working with students of diverse backgrounds can benefit from studying cultural diversity and awareness. This is helpful for investigating absences caused by cultural celebrations or family events not recognized by your school as authorized holidays or acceptable reasons for being absent.

Most truancy officers are employed by school districts on a part-time basis, but truancy officers may qualify for health insurance, paid leave, and retirement benefits.

What does a Youth Counselor do?

If you have a desire to help young people and find that they naturally open up to you, then you may be well-suited for a career as a youth counselor. Guiding young people during times of change and challenge can be a fulfilling professional experience that rewards you with much more than a paycheck.

Youth counselor job duties

While there are many career paths you can take as a youth counselor, your primary goal is to ensure young people’s emotional and physical well-beings and help them navigate life’s challenges.

Depending on your specialty, you may assist youth with school or employment issues, trauma, mental health disorders, substance abuse, disabilities, or a combination of these.

Job duties generally include meeting with youth and sometimes their families, scheduling and overseeing activities, completing required paperwork, and advising and meeting with social workers and other professionals. You may work alone or as part of a team that includes teachers, psychologists, and social workers.

youth counselor

Potential youth counselor career paths

A variety of career paths exist for those interested in becoming a youth counselor. You have the opportunity to work in several settings, including schools, group homes, correctional facilities, hospitals, government agencies, and private practice. You may choose to work with at-risk youths in a residential setting, which often involves substance-abuse and mental-health counseling. Such a position usually requires that you oversee individual and group counseling sessions, which may bring up a variety of issues, including depression, stress, and family problems.

As a youth counselor at an educational institution such as a high school or college, you are likely to address issues surrounding academic and career challenges, although other topics may arise. Rehabilitation counselors address the emotional and physical requirements of children with special needs.

Youth counselor educational requirements

Your training to become a youth counselor entails instruction in recognizing client concerns and identifying the appropriate treatment.According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, education requirements vary from state to state, but the career generally requires a master’s degree.

Counselor programs are located in the education, psychology or human services department of universities and colleges. Fields of specialized study offered can include subjects such as gerontological counseling, substance abuse, and college student affairs. Most accredited master’s degree programs require 48 to 60 semester hours of graduate study that includes a period of supervised counseling.

Youth counselor career outlook

The youth counseling profession is expected to grow faster than average in coming years. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the career in general to average a 14 to 19 percent increase. Counselors specializing in substance abuse and behavioral disorders can expect a 20 percent rise in available jobs.