Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

What Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors Do

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors provide treatment and advise people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, or other mental or behavioral problems.

Work Environment

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work in a wide variety of settings, such as mental health centers, community health centers, prisons, and private practice. Most work full time.

How to Become a Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, or Mental Health Counselor

Most positions require at least a bachelor’s degree. Although educational requirements can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, a master’s degree and an internship is typically required to become a mental health counselor.

Pay

The median annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors was $46,240 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is projected to grow 25 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth is expected as people continue to seek addiction and mental health counseling.

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors advise people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, mental health issues, or other mental or behavioral problems. They provide treatment and support to help clients recover from addiction or modify problem behaviors.

Duties

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors typically do the following:

  • Evaluate clients’ mental and physical health, addiction, or problematic behavior and assess their readiness for treatment
  • Develop, recommend, and review treatment goals and plans with clients and their families
  • Assist clients in developing skills and behaviors necessary to recover from their addiction or modify their behavior
  • Work with clients to identify behaviors or situations that interfere with their recovery
  • Teach clients’ family members about addiction or behavior disorders and help them develop strategies to cope with those problems
  • Refer clients to other resources and services, such as job placement services and support groups
  • Conduct outreach programs to help people identify the signs of addiction and other destructive behavior, as well as steps to take to avoid such behavior

Substance abuse counselors and behavioral disorder counselors, also called addiction counselors, work with clients individually and in group sessions. Many incorporate the principles of 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), to guide their practice. They teach clients how to cope with stress and life’s problems in ways that help them recover. Furthermore, they help clients rebuild professional relationships and, if necessary, reestablish their career. They also help clients improve their personal relationships and find ways to discuss their addiction or other problems with family and friends.

Some addiction counselors work in facilities that employ many types of healthcare and mental health professionals. Addiction counselors may work with psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, physicians, and registered nurses to develop treatment plans and coordinate care for patients.

Some counselors work with clients who have been ordered by a judge to receive treatment for addiction. Others work with specific populations, such as teenagers, veterans, or people with disabilities. Some specialize in crisis intervention; these counselors step in when someone is endangering his or her own life or the lives of others. Other counselors specialize in noncrisis interventions, which encourage a person with addictions or other issues, such as difficulty managing anger, to get help. Noncrisis interventions often are performed at the request of friends and family.

Mental health counselors provide treatment to individuals, families, couples, and groups. Some work with specific populations, such as the elderly, college students, or children. Mental health counselors treat clients with a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, stress, and suicidal impulses. They also help with mental and emotional health issues and relationship problems.

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors held about 319,400 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors were as follows:

Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers19%
Individual and family services16
Hospitals; state, local, and private10
Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities10
Government8

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work in a wide variety of settings, including mental health centers, prisons, probation or parole agencies, and juvenile detention facilities. They also work in halfway houses, detox centers, or in employee assistance programs (EAPs). EAPs are mental health programs provided by some employers to help employees deal with personal problems.

Some addiction counselors work in residential treatment centers, where clients live in the facility for a fixed period of time. Others work with clients in outpatient treatment centers. Some counselors work in private practice, where they may work alone or with a group of counselors or other professionals.

Although rewarding, the work of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is often stressful. Many counselors have to deal with large workloads. They do not always have enough resources to meet the demand for their services. Also, they may have to intervene in crisis situations or work with agitated clients, which can be difficult.

Work Schedules

Most substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work full time. In some settings, such as inpatient facilities, they may need to work evenings, nights, or weekends.

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors.

 OccupationJob DutiesEntry-Level EducationMedian Annual Pay, May 2019

 

 

Marriage and Family Therapists

Marriage and family therapists help people manage and overcome problems with family and other relationships.

Master’s degree$49,610

 

Physicians and surgeons

 

Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses.

Doctoral or professional degree This wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year.

 

 

Psychologists

Psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how individuals relate to one another and to their environments.

See How to Become One$80,370

 

 

Registered Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care and educate patients and the public about various health conditions.

Bachelor’s degree$73,300

 

 

Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, mental, developmental, or emotional disabilities live independently.

Master’s degree$35,950

 

 

School and Career Counselors

School counselors help students develop the academic and social skills needed to succeed. Career counselors help people choose a path to employment.

Master’s degree$57,040

 

 

Social and Community Service Managers

Social and community service managers coordinate and supervise programs and organizations that support public well-being.

Bachelor’s degree$67,150

 

 

Social and Human Service Assistants

Social and human service assistants provide client services in a variety of fields, such as psychology, rehabilitation, and social work.

High school diploma or equivalent$35,060

 

 

Social Workers

Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives.

See How to Become One$50,470

 

 

Health Educators and Community Health Workers

Health educators teach people about behaviors that promote wellness. Community health workers collect data and discuss health concerns with members of specific populations or communities.

See How to Become One$46,910

 

 

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists assist in rehabilitation of law offenders in custody or on probation or parole.

Bachelor’s degree$54,290

For more information about addiction counselors, visit

Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network

NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals

For more information about counseling and counseling specialties, visit

American Counseling Association

For contact information for state regulating boards, visit

National Board for Certified Counselors

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-behavioral-disorder-and-mental-health-counselors.htm (visited ).