Selecting a Drug Addiction Therapist
A drug addiction counselor or therapist is one of the most important components in the rehabilitation process. This professional educates, supports and provides encouragement for patients in what for many is the hardest struggle of their lives.
This makes selecting a drug addiction therapist a crucial part of your recovery. Before we look at selection, we’ll shed some light on the sometimes bewildering addiction therapist profession.
What is an Addiction Therapist?
If you try a Google search on “addiction therapists” in your area, you’ll likely find the names of professionals with a variety of titles: substance abuse counselor, addiction specialist, rehabilitation counselor, professional counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, clinical social worker or just plain therapist.
That’s because in this profession, there are a variety of closely related fields, and the people in this field work with a broad range of issues. For example, a psychologist may be trained in relationship issues as well as addiction counseling. A counselor may be trained in addiction counseling and behavioral issues. The key word is “addiction.”
But let’s muddle things a little more. According to Dr. Thomas McLellan, a specialist with HBO’s Addiction Project, therapy and counseling are different. “In general, counseling focuses upon the here and now and offers advice and direction in solving daily problems.”
“Therapy,” he says, is “generally more sophisticated.” A therapist will usually have a background in psychiatry or psychology. “The particular therapy always requires formal instruction and training in techniques.”
Now search for therapist on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website and you get the general term “counselor.” The BLS classifies an addiction therapist or counselor as a “substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor.” They “are trained to assist in developing personalized recovery programs that help to establish healthy behaviors and provide coping strategies.”
Confused enough? Ok, here is something to remember: these professionals must be trained in a variety of disciplines for practical treatment reasons. Many addicts are not only dependent on drugs, they may also have a laundry list of related issues—relationship, depression, self-esteem, etc.
But whatever the title, a good addiction therapist or counselor will always be formally trained in addiction and addictive behaviors. You’ll find that most have at least a master's degree as it’s usually required to be licensed or certified in a state. In addition, they will usually have performed clinical counseling under professional supervision as a requirement for the master’s.
Education and Credentials
Here is a list of common educational and certification credentials you’ll likely see as you research. They will always appear after a professional’s name.
- CCDC: Certified Chemical Dependency Counselor
- CRC: Certified Rehabilitation Counselor
- CSW: Clinical Social Worker
- DMFT: Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy
- LAC: Licensed Addiction Counselor
- LCSW: Licensed Clinical Social Worker
- LPC: Licensed Professional Counselor
- MA/MS: Master of Arts/Science
- MAC: Master of Addiction Counseling
- MFT: Marriage and Family Therapist
- MSC: The Master of Science in Counseling
- MSW: Master of Social Work
- PhD: Doctor of Philosophy; an academic degree
- PsyD: Doctor of Psychology; an applied clinical doctorate
Now that you have a little background on the profession, let’s look at selecting a drug addiction therapist.
Questions to Ask
These are questions to ask of yourself, your family/support system, your doctor and where applicable, the potential therapist.
- Should I consider group or individual therapy?
- Do I need help with psychiatric problems such as depression in addition to my addiction? If so, you may want to consider a psychiatrist as they are able to prescribe medication to treat co-occurring disorders.
- Does the therapist have specialized training in addictions and addictive behaviors? Just because there is a PhD behind the name, doesn’t mean they are best qualified for your treatment. Ask what their specific training is, how long they’ve been treating addictions, and how often they receive continued training and education in addiction.
Are they certified with organizations such as the National Board for Certified Counselors, The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification, and/or The National Association for Addiction Professionals?
- What kind of treatment do you use? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)? Holistic? Coaching? Humanistic Therapy?
- How do these treatments work?
- Are there any studies that back-up or support these treatments?
- How do you monitor your success with your patients?
- Do you encourage family members to attend treatment sessions?
- Do you encourage participation in outside support groups such as 12-step programs (Narcotics Anonymous) the SMART program or individual programs such as Rational Recovery? Why or why not?
These questions are just the start. Ultimately, you’ll probably decide whether you’re comfortable with your therapist within the first two or three meetings. If there is no rapport, look elsewhere. After all, you’re not only dealing with intense, personal feelings, you’re also putting some of your success in this person’s hands.