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Key Tools for Substance-Abuse Counselors

Among all the therapy professions, substance-abuse counselors comprise the fastest-rising group of workers in the field. According to the Department of Labor, the nation will add nearly 30,000 new drug and alcohol counselors, for a 34 percent increase in jobs during the 2006-2016 decade. Counselors are not only needed to work with individuals who suffer from substance abuse, but also to assist family members impacted by loss of a loved one to drugs or alcohol.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) describes this vital counseling work as a practice that not only seeks to help the patient break the cycle of substance abuse, but to help incorporate problem-solving and behavioral tools that assist with long-term abstinence. The best counselors, NIDA says, are non-judgmental, flexible, engaging, tolerant, and advocates for the client's well being.

Here are key NIDA suggestions to help motivate the addict/alcoholic toward recovery:

Rely on Empathy, Rather than on Attack Therapy
Counselors, according to the NIDA, should resist the temptation to be "controlling" or "dogmatic". Predicting failure and ongoing suffering if the client does not follow directions is considered a "therapeutic blunder". Addicts and alcoholics new to counseling are by nature angry and suspicious. Counselors should work in therapeutic partnership with their clients, rather than as coercing agents of change.

Dealing with Relapse
Rather than establish blame for the return to substance abuse, counselors are suggested to help the client discover an ambivalence to change along with analyzing the behaviors, thought patterns, and chain of circumstances that led up to the relapse. Returning to alcohol or drug use, the NIDA says, is an avoidable, deliberate choice.

Using Outside Resources
Counselors are encouraged to recommend--but not require--that their clients attend outside spiritual or recovery groups. The 12-step programs of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Cocaine Anonymous can be useful assets in addition to weekly outpatient or group counseling sessions.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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