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Substance Abuse Counseling Degree

Substance Abuse Demands Specialized Skills

Substance abuse counseling – the treatment of those with chemical addictions of various sorts – demands special skills. Chemical and psychological addictions are severely resistant, often imposing physical rewards and punishments on a patient to maintain and increase the hold a substance has over the victim. To combat the intensity of addiction and habit requires special training, and a strength of mind and focus distinct from the demands of other types of counseling.

The Nature of Addiction and Demands on Counselors

  • Chemical and habitual dependency
  • About behavior modification
  • Preparing a patient for long-term counseling
  • Finding a good counselor

Dependency Fights Back

Substance abuse creates chemical dependency and psychological habits which cause a patient to “defend” their addiction or pattern of abuse with the intensity they would normally apply to life itself. The subversion of natural behaviors to maintain an unnatural habit of substance abuse is the hallmark of addiction and substance abuse. As a result, substance abuse counselors require special skills for dealing with the intensity of resistance to be expected from their patients, and further training to provide the techniques and conditioning clients will need to build new life habits.

The importance of this specialized skill set can’t be understated: substance abuse alters the mental and physical patterns of addicts to a degree few laymen understand, taking advantage of natural patterns on a neurological, cellular level and altering the body on that scale in ways that force the addict to fight against his or her own best interests to maintain their addictions. A counselor has to have the skill and endurance to actually override patient behaviors rooted in survival instinct.

The Core Tool For Recovery

The most critical tools needed are the skills to provide “behavior modification” conditioning to substance abusers. These techniques are often coarsely called “brainwashing,” and when used in negative ways are seen as invasive tools. However the methods, when used to help a patient achieve his goals, are often life-saving techniques that accomplish what no other method can offer: newly established habits with powerful imperatives to resist the old patterns of behavior associated with substance abuse.

The techniques are drawn from B.F. Skinners behavioral psychiatry studies. They are designed to condition patients on a very deep, nearly reflexive level, using both positive and negative reinforcement to build a strong inclination to practice new behaviors in preference to old habits. Substance abuse counselors use these techniques to help patients resist their old habits and replace them with new, healthy habits.

Long-Term Preparation

Even with capable help at the time of withdrawal and immediately after, the best results for recovery are associated with a commitment to follow-up counseling, in particular ongoing involvement in 12-step programs to maintain the habits and motivation that stand between a substance abuser and his old behaviors. Therefore a basic aspect of substance counseling is also the art of preparing a patient to commit to this form of life-counseling. Some substance abuse counselors serve as moderators or care providers in alliance with long-term programs.

Finding Help

One of the best ways of reducing the strain of locating help is to get professional referrals. By asking experts to recommend professionals or programs they regard as reliable it’s possible to narrow the field, allowing you to choose from only talented, qualified candidates.

Whether you use referrals from your doctor, a hospital, police or state and county services, a religious institution, or from a professional referral agency, you assure yourself of a field of trained, competent counselors you can approach in confidence and faith.


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