Substance abuse is a national epidemic. Even before news of the opioid problem hit the headlines, drugs such as alcohol, methamphetamine, cocaine, and benzodiazepines were wreaking havoc in all corners of American society. Now, nearly 20% of all youth deaths are due to opioids alone.
The bigger picture isn't rosy, either. The CDC reports that overall drug overdose rates rose by 21.5 percent, according to 2015-2016 data. The same reporting period saw a 10.6 percent increase in prescription opioid overdose, a 19.5 percent increase in heroin overdose, and 52.4 percent increase in cocaine-related deaths.
This all means that the problem of drug abuse is creating more victims every single day. However, there are also a lot of people who are motivated to help those victims find solutions. They may be working in rehabilitation centers, private counseling practices, or doing volunteer work through 12-step organizations. You can become a part of the growing legions that are working to provide solutions for the families, addicts, and everyone else impacted by this metastasizing scourge. If you are interested in becoming a substance abuse counselor, your skills and talents will be welcome to so many.
If you are considering becoming a substance abuse counselor in Texas, keep reading to learn more about the career, as well as your state's licensure requirements.
A career in counseling is one that is richly rewarding and vitally important to the lives of so many. It's been said that nearly every single person is somehow impacted by drug abuse. Whether their family members, friends, or coworkers are caught in the spiral of abuse, the disease of addiction touches everyone. Thus, if you choose to pursue a career as a substance abuse counselor, your efforts will positively impact hundreds, if not thousands, of people you will never even meet.
Substance abuse counselors work in a variety of workplaces. You might find yourself working in a hospital-like setting with spartan facilities. Other rehabilitation centers are housed in office parks and the patients all live standard, private apartments. There are even a resort-like campus that features a wide range of therapies, including yoga, equine therapy, and nutrition classes. Rehabs are also found on sailboats, in wilderness areas that invite patients to confront themselves on long endurance hikes, and any other environment you can imagine.
However, you might choose to not work in a rehabilitation center, at least not full-time. You could open a private practice for addicts and their families. Part of your practice could involve interventions where distraught families confront the addict in their lives. Alternatively, your practice could focus on aftercare, helping addicts integrate into their lives after rehab.
In a rehabilitation setting, counselors might spend their days in one-on-one sessions with addicts, or facilitating group therapy sessions. You might also be called to teach classes that detail the impact of drugs on the body, or courses that detail the causes and conditions for relapse. Still other counselors might spend time managing patients in their halfway house settings.
Counselors in private practice often supplement their duties by working with attorneys to ensure that addicts stay on track with their pre-trial duties. That is, you might do phone sessions with addicts who need to focus on completing community service, drug/alcohol courses, or other tasks that will help them when they appear in court.
Sometimes drug counselors conduct courses in the community for those facing criminal charges. DUI school, for instance, is in high demand. In that function, your intervention in the addictive cycle will not be as dramatic, but it can be just as important. When you help addicts assess their use and abuse, you are helping them face and admit their problem so that they can solve it.
Are You a Good Fit?
Substance abuse counselors have diverse personalities, backgrounds, and motivations for joining the profession. However, they are all interested in helping addicts recover from their problem. Thus, they all have an open mind with regards to the addict's plight. Rather than a punitive approach, substance abuse counselors see substance abuse as a mental health issue rather than one of bad behavior. They tend to be compassionate and seek to understand the plight of their clients.
While you will need an understanding attitude you will also need to learn how to have strong boundaries. As part of your training, you will learn how to be kind and compassionate, but also objective and discerning. Addicts are known to be manipulative, and to have histories of deep trauma. Your task will be to find compassion for their pain, but also to maintain a healthy distance. This distance will help you provide the best care and to be a guide for someone in recovery.
Types of Substance Abuse Counselor under Texas Law
In Texas, there are many different sorts of credentials you can hold as a substance abuse counselor. You could be a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in addictions, a clinical psychologist, or a certified addiction registered nurse, among other credentials. Most of these require extensive academic training, on top of a rigorous internship. There is an alternative in Texas, if you would rather focus in on your passion.
Texas offers a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC) credential that does not require you to hold a master's degree. In some cases, those with an associate's degree may be LCDCs. Just like other Texas mental health professionals, your credentials will come from the Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor Program, which is run under the Department of State Health Services. In order to attain the credential, you will need to have met specific requirements. Chief among those are your education and background, including an extensive internship period.
Education Requirements for LCDCs
To become an LCDC in Texas, you must first satisfy the state's academic requirements. Texas asks that you complete 270 clock-hours of classroom time that focus on your career. They have a specific breakdown for your coursework.
Texas asks that 135 hours of your schooling focus specifically on the study of addictions and addiction treatment. The remaining 135 hours should be related to counseling, but not specific to addictions or substance abuse disorders. These related courses might include:
- Clinical psychology
- Behavioral science
- Psychological research
- Psychiatric nursing
- Family counseling
Texas will accept coursework from either an accredited educational institution or from a career school. If you choose to attend a career school, make sure that the curriculum follows the Transdisciplinary Foundations, and includes the following courses/topics that satisfy the state's standards for professional knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSAs):
- Understanding addiction
- Treatment knowledge
- Application to practice
- Professional readiness
Professional Examination for Texas
The Texas Certification Board of Addiction Professionals (TCBAP) administers an examination that you must pass prior to receiving your LCDC licensure. If you have completed your education, you should first register as an LCDC-I with the Texas Department of State Health Services, then you can visit the TCBAP website to download an application. The TCBAP website is a great resource that includes pages where you can register to take the exam, purchase study materials, and complete a testing demonstration.
If you don't pass the test on the first attempt, don't worry. Texas allows you to re-test, but you must first wait 90 days from your examination date to re-register. You can use this time to review your weak spots and either take a preparation course or study with your peers.
Clinical Supervision Explained
Texas law requires that you complete 300 hours of supervised experience in clinic. The state calls this experience a practicum and you should complete it under the auspices of a career school or an accredited institution of higher learning. Keep in mind that you need to stay with the same school for the entire 300 hours. When you are ready to submit you hours to the board, it must be accompanied by your transcripts and a letter from your educational coordinator that verifies that your work was in the field of substance abuse.
Your experience must also meet certain criteria. You must be exposed to treatment services and activities that conform to the KSA dimensions instituted by the state. You should also observe how treatment is delivered and then have supervised time delivering treatment yourself. Note that for the state to validate your experience, you must be supervised by a qualified and credentialed counselor.
Renewal and Continuing Education
Once you are established as a LCDC, you will need to continue your education. To keep your credentials current and valid, you must complete up to 40 hours of continuing education credits for every biennial licensure period. The 40-hour requirement is for LCDCs who do not hold a master's degree. For those with a master's, the requirement drops to 24 hours for every 2-year period.
The basic criteria for your continuing education units (CEUs) are that they must be provided by a recognized body such as:
- Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners
- Texas State Board of Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists
- Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors
- National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors
- Texas Certification Board for Addiction Professionals
Your courses should address the KSA dimensions and be specific to the subject of substance abuse disorders, treatment, or be closely related to addictions counseling. You can take courses that cover the following topics:
- Mental health
- Behavioral science
- Psychiatric nursing
- Rehabilitation counseling
To broaden your personal and professional horizons, consider joining a professional association. The Texas Association of Addiction Professionals (TAAP) will put you in contact with other professionals all across Texas. They offer CEU hours conducted both in person and via the internet, hold informative meetings and conferences, and even offer leadership opportunities if you so desire.
The TAAP is part of a national association, the NAADAC, and thus will connect you with professionals nationwide. Through the national association, you can offer referrals when clients move out of state and participate in national conferences. They have a national job posting board and can help you attain a national certification.
As you pursue your career in addictions counseling, you will find that there is no shortage of support. Just as you encourage your clients to establish a support network, there is a national network ready to support you and your career. Your journey to a rewarding career starts today.