Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Table of contents
Maybe you’ve lived with alcohol and drug abuse, maybe you’ve experienced it on a personal level. Whatever the reason, something is telling you that becoming a substance abuse counselor is the right path to take.
We’re going to give you a little rundown of the counselor skills and qualities that a person needs to be successful in the rehab industry. We’ll cover the qualifications as well as the personal traits, so hopefully, we can give you a good idea of whether or not you’re up to the task.
Let’s get started.
Counselor Skills: Who Should Be a Counselor?
The bulk of our discussion will focus on the personality traits that a person should have in order to be an effective counselor. That said, there are a few things you must do in advance in order to be qualified to work in the field.
Before you start to do any real research about where you’d like to study or work as a counselor, you should identify the State and kind of facility that you’ll be working in. In most cases, this is just your home State.
Each state will have slightly different requirements for you to work as an alcohol and drug counselor. More specifically, the locations where you want to work will have particular requirements.
Different rehab facilities and programs have different standards of education and experience. Higher paying jobs might require that you have extensive experience and a specific set of educational acquirements.
Some areas might require certification, while others could require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in alcohol and drug counseling.
Skills Learned in Educational Programs
Wherever you go to learn about counseling, you’ll receive a number of the following skills and abilities. After briefly discussing these skills, we’ll get into desirable personality traits and abilities.
You’ll find that a lot of the skills learned in classes will relate directly to the personality of a good counselor.
The most pertinent thing you will learn is how to communicate with individuals afflicted by addiction. You will be taught about different stages of addiction, the effects of withdrawal, and how these issues can influence a person’s family life and their relationship with their friends.
You will also learn how to instill coping mechanisms in people who may experience a relapse. And most importantly, you will learn how to educate individuals on the ways in which they can restructure their lives in the wake of abuse.
Culturally sensitive practices are also an essential point of drug and alcohol counseling. Beyond that, there are a lot of specific points of counseling that will be looked at deeply during your coursework.
It would be difficult to summarize the entire course curriculum here, but there is a wealth of information and training included in a person’s counseling education. Much of that coursework branches out into different areas of study that you didn’t even imagine were related to your future profession.
Qualities of a Great Counselor
These qualities are things that you may inherently have, but they’re also things that a person can certainly work on and improve.
That is to say, don’t worry if you haven’t perfected all of the skills and qualities below. Drug and alcohol counseling is a nuanced profession, and each person has unique skills and abilities that they could bring to the table.
When you’re imagining yourself as a counselor, try picturing yourself with the communities and demographics that you best understand. Not everyone has your unique insight and experience, meaning that there’s always a spot for you if you have the desire to work for it.
Let’s explore some key qualities!
1. An Interest in Human Behavior
A particular interest that is found in most counselors, is a desire to understand what makes people tick. An overwhelming urge to learn about other people and find out the best way to help them. A fascination with psychology, sociology, and patterns of abuse will help you enjoy your job.
Every person that walks through your door will be unique, but there are broad-stroke similarities that underpin a lot of addiction and drug abuse. While those strokes might look a little different with every person, it would be difficult to have a methodology for treatment if there weren’t patterns between addiction and personality.
Engaging with educational material and taking an interest in the people around you can really help boost your understanding in human behavior.
There is certainly a lot of academic research on the subject, but there’s also a wealth of information existing in your everyday experience, you just need to look for it.
Your sense of empathy is the thing that ties you to the experience of another person. It’s your ability to hear a person tell their story and understand, relate, and respond appropriately to them.
It’s also a key part of your ability to listen without judgment and understand a person’s experiences even if you had no part in them. Individuals who suffer from addiction are often treated with misunderstanding or judgment by the people around them.
There’s a lot of blame thrown around, and while accountability is important, people don’t always abuse substances for the reasons you would think. There’s always a much deeper background to the issues a person is facing, especially when it comes to alcohol and drug abuse.
That said, your ability to empathize with the person in front of you is crucial to your success as their counselor. No one wants to be misunderstood on a fundamental level, and refining your sense of empathy can help you make deeper connections.
3. Group Management/Public Speaking
As a drug and alcohol counselor, you’ll likely find yourself in group situations. You may be leading group discussions or participating in different therapeutic activities.
In these instances, you’ll have to think on your feet, as conversations may arise that derail your original intentions. It’s important that you’re able to keep a cool head, be emotionally intuitive, and do your best to guide discussions in ways that will benefit the most people.
You’ll also have to shake that fear of public speaking. It isn’t as if you’ll be giving lectures to huge audiences, but there will certainly be times when you’re the authority in the room and you’ll be expected to speak to groups of numerous people.
Over time, you’ll become acquainted with everyone and your fears will fade away. That said, conducting a group isn’t just a matter of getting over your fear of speaking.
You’ll have to bring appropriate methodologies to the table and apply them to the people you’re working with.
4. Resource Navigation
Rehab only lasts for a few months or less in most cases. Individuals need a significant amount of time and help to truly get past the trauma of substance abuse.
That means that, while your work with individuals will be very important, there will come a time when they have to move on to the next step. In a lot of cases, you will be their point of contact for those next steps.
This means that you have to understand the resources in your community and communicate with the staff at different organizations to establish plans of action. Things like transitional housing, for example, are crucial to success for some people.
You should also have a working knowledge of the community support organizations around you and be familiar with their functions and staff. The closer you can get to those organizations, the more insight you’ll have into the people you’re working with.
These resources will vary depending on the kind of people you work with as well as the area you’re located in. It’s likely that you won’t know very much about your local organizations when you first get started, so it may be wise to do a little research right off of the bat.
5. Compassion/Desire to Help
It may seem like empathy and compassion are the same thing, but not quite.
When we speak about compassion, we’re talking about your sense of warmth and friendliness even in the face of adversity. Your positivity and kindness when things aren’t going well.
It’s important that you put forward a smile and a willingness to see things through as a counselor. This attitude should be supported by your earnest desire to help the people in your rehab facility.
Without an actual interest in helping others, your work as a counselor will fall flat. Day-in and day-out, your internal motivation to help will allow you the energy to be compassionate, patient, empathetic, and supportive of the people you serve.
Additionally, that desire to help may lead you to a few long nights. You may have to go the extra mile for someone when they need you the most. In other words, making phone calls and patiently awaiting communication with community resources for an individual might keep you at work a little late.
It should, after all, because your work is to help and understand people in their time of need, and you never know when that need may arise.
Interested in Becoming a Counselor?
Hopefully, these counselor skills have you feeling like they would be a great fit for you. We’re here to help you move forward in your career.
Browse our certificate programs for more information on becoming a drug and alcohol abuse professional.