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Substance Abuse Therapist: Employment Info & Career Requirements

Substance abuse therapists assist those with addictions through government and social service agencies, hospitals, schools, residential care facilities or private practices. Read on to learn the details of this profession's education requirements, salary and employment outlook.

Career Definition for a Substance Abuse Therapist

Substance abuse therapists help people with alcohol, drug, gambling and food addictions to identify behaviors related to their addictions and develop therapeutic strategies to break dependencies and prevent relapses. Therapists also work with people affected by the addictions of others and conduct programs aimed at preventing addictions.

Education Master's degree in counseling, psychology or education and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience; license
Job Skills Energy, stamina, desire to help others, strong moral standards, ability to inspire confidence
Median Salary (2017)* $43,300 (for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors)
Job Growth (2016-2026)** 23% (for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Substance abuse therapists must have a master's degree in counseling, education or psychology and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience before obtaining a license as a substance abuse therapist from a state or independent certification agency. Experience working with emotionally disturbed individuals and their families or working in a residential care setting is often useful.

Skills Required

A substance abuse therapist needs energy and stamina to help clients through the rigors of therapy. Therapists must also have a desire to help people, the ability to inspire confidence and strong moral standards. License renewal often depends upon completion of relevant continuing education courses.

Career and Economic Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors was $43,300 as of May 2017. The BLS predicts that the number of jobs for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors will increase by 23% from 2016 to 2026. The industries that pay the highest wages for this occupation include state, local and private hospitals and government.

Alternate Career Options

Other career options within this field include:

School and Career Counselors

These counselors typically need master's degrees, and licensure may be required for private practices. Their work involves helping people make career and education decisions or assisting school students in strengthening their social skills. The BLS anticipates an employment growth of 13% from 2016 to 2026. The agency reported an annual median wage of $55,410 in 2017.

Rehabilitation Counselors

With a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field, in addition to certification or licensure for certain positions, these counselors assist individuals with physical and emotional limitations in living independently. The BLS reported yearly median earnings of $34,860 in 2017 and predicts a faster-than-average job growth of 13% from 2016 to 2026.


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