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Career Story: Substance Abuse Counselor In An Out-Patient Clinic

Substance Abuse Counselor In An Out-Patient Clinic

Job Title: Mental Health/Substance Abuse Therapist

Type of Company: I work for a private firm that specializes in providing community-based mental health and substance abuse services to youth and families. We provide an array of clinical services from out-patient counseling to in-home counseling to mental health support and foster care.

Education: BA, MSW in Social Work

Previous Experience: I started out working in residential treatment centers for adolescents before becoming an out-patient therapist.

Job Tasks: As the director of out-patient services, I divide my time between managing staff and seeing to administrative and clinical duties. I also generate business by cultivating contacts with our referral sources, keep tabs on the types and numbers of referrals being made to us and provide counseling to families, couples, individuals and groups.

A typical day for me gets under way at 9:00AM with staff supervision, community meetings or administrative duties. Throughout the day, I'm deluged with phone calls and emails, responding on average to fifteen of the former (from case managers, clients and new referrals) and forty of the latter. I observe and collect urine screenings, hold from one to four family or marital counseling sessions and one or two group counseling sessions and supervise staff directly or indirectly. The day can drag on until as late as 10PM (though I have control over my schedule).

My work is filled with challenges and problems, not all of them anticipated, and calls for a high degree of flexibility and patience in addressing the needs of my clients and staff.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of the job is being able to help individuals and families make important alterations that better their lives. I also like helping other professionals to grow and develop into highly-skilled practitioners.

The worst and most difficult part is striking a balance between professional obligations and private imperatives. I make myself available to my clients and staff 24 hours a day (with rare exceptions), and sometimes it is difficult or inconvenient to manage their crises. It is also very hard to watch our counseling fail or misfire.

Job Tips:
1.) Volunteer with children, adolescents or adults starting in high school and continue volunteering through college. In many entry-level clinical positions, you need a bachelor's degree in social work, psychology or community counseling and at least a year's experience.

2.) Work on listening to others without insisting on your own point of view and problem-solving with your family and friends.

3.) Learn a foreign language.

Additional Thoughts: One of the most important skills to learn in this kind of work is a sort of critical distance. Becoming too involved or immersed in other people's probles can render you useless: too close, paradoxically, to help them. And a strong work ethic won't hurt you either, in this (or any other) line of work.

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