What is an Addiction Counselor?
Counseling and counselors are becoming increasingly in-demand as the general public and even public figures embrace the importance of mental health. The term counseling often stirs up specific imagery based on a person’s first-hand experience with various types of counseling. However, it’s possible to pursue a wide array of counseling specializations. Counselors can also work in many different environments, from their home or clinics to hospitals and corporate offices.
The overall goal of any counselor is to identify the source of a mental health concern and offer a strategic path to improved mental well-being. Patients may suffer from any number of mental health issues, illnesses, or diseases which stem from developmental issues, age, addiction, trauma, and more. Some patients will receive counseling on a voluntary basis, whereas others may be forced to seek counseling by the courts, schools, employers, or parents. Each type of counselor will require a different set of education, licensure, and experience before they are able to begin legally practicing, and each state will have its own set of requirements.
Alaska is similar to the rest of the country in that it is embracing the benefits of and the need for mental health counseling careers. In fact, the industry has grown roughly 25% from 2010 to 2020, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. And it is projected to grow yet another 25% through 2029. This is one of the fastest-growing occupations in all of Alaska. The state is committed to improving the mental health of all state residents.
A primary focus of mental health in Alaska is to help reduce and prevent the development of substance use disorder and any harm caused to others because of this condition. Because the state is dedicated to mental health improvement, a number of top-rated counseling programs are available through Alaska’s colleges and universities. And the state is embracing telehealth counseling to reach smaller, remote communities more swiftly, effectively, and efficiently. Growth in counseling will also be directly related to numerous public health initiatives to help remove out-of-date stigmas against mental health concerns. As stigmas disappear, more counseling professional opportunities will appear.
Addiction Counseling Education in Alaska
An addiction counselor, which is often referred to as a substance abuse counselor or a chemical dependency counselor, is a fully educated and licensed mental health professional who centers their specialization in various types of addiction including alcohol, drugs, and behavior. Keep in mind that addiction comes in many forms other than drugs and alcohol such as gambling, sex, shopping, the Internet, porn, video games, and others.
Addiction counselors often provide physical and mental health support to those who are suffering from an addiction. These professionals may also work with family members and caregivers so that patients receive the proper care away from counseling sessions. Counselors who treat addiction may work with children, teens, or adults as individuals or in groups. They could specialize in one type of addiction or work as a general addiction counselor.
The most successful addiction counselors will develop customized treatment, recovery, and aftercare plans for each patient. Addiction counselor professionals will also have to determine which type of employer they might like to work for such as public agencies, community organizations, clinics, hospitals, residential treatment facilities, or others. It’s also possible to pursue an entrepreneurial path to start one’s own practice. It will be beneficial to excel in a specific set of skills, including:
- Communication Skills
- Computer Skills
- Emotional Stability
- Interpersonal Skills
- Legal and Regulatory Know-How
- Problem-Solving Skills
- Observational Skills
- Reasoning Skills
- Research Skills
- Superior Ethics
Alaska has high standards regarding professional counselors. These individuals will be required to complete various degree programs. The type and level of degree will be entirely dependent on the employer, the position, and the state. In some instances, an associate degree may be sufficient in certain areas, such as support roles in group counseling or addiction counseling at a treatment facility. However, most Alaska employers will prefer a minimum of a bachelor’s degree even in support roles and a master’s degree for licensed counseling positions.
State licensure is also necessary in Alaska to ensure one is properly trained and qualified to be a counselor in Alaska for specific addiction counseling careers. It is also possible to complete certificates in counseling to secure addiction counseling jobs. In all cases, individuals must complete specific supervised work experience and, most commonly, a master’s degree to become a substance use disorder or addiction counselor.
Associate Degree in Addiction Counseling (AS)
An associate degree in addiction studies might possibly be enough for a counseling support role in the state of Alaska, such as a counseling specialist or assistant counselor job title. This level of degree alone will be unlikely to secure you a full-time addiction counseling position. However, you may be able to secure entry-level positions in counseling centers and facilities to start working toward meeting the minimum supervised hour requirements in counseling to complete a specialized certificate. It is best to continue one’s education to at least a bachelor’s degree in counseling to become an addiction counselor in Alaska. Many people work toward their supervised hours while continuing with a bachelor’s degree.
Bachelor's Degree in Addiction Counseling (BS)
Most addiction counseling employers will prefer at least a bachelor’s degree in addiction studies. While addiction counseling degrees are not offered at most higher learning institutions in Alaska, it is possible to complete a bachelor’s degree in counseling or to select from many other relevant degrees within the field, such as social work and psychology. Even with a bachelor’s degree, individuals will still have to complete some hours of supervised work experience before securing addiction counseling roles in Alaska. A bachelor’s degree will reduce the number of hours of work experience required. However, many addiction counseling employers in Alaska will still prefer or require a master’s degree and full licensure, especially if you are expected to work with individuals one-on-one.
Master's Degree in Addiction Counseling (MS or MC)
Top addiction counselor employers in Alaska will likely require or prefer a master’s degree in addiction counseling. Potential candidates will have a competitive advantage in addiction counseling job applications if they have a master’s degree and licensure over a bachelor’s degree, even if they have experience. These degrees will often provide better pay, better job security, and more opportunities in an addiction counseling career pathway.
A master’s degree in addiction counseling will still require a few years of supervised work experience in the field of addiction and substance abuse. However, any relevant counseling hours logged during previous degrees may also count toward the total numbers. A master’s degree in addiction counseling could also be enough to secure a teaching position at a community college in Alaska.
PhD Degree in Addiction Counseling (PhD)
There are many reasons why a PhD in addiction counseling may be necessary. Any individual who wishes to become a professor at a major college or university will require a PhD. If a person wishes to have their own practice specializing in addiction and psychology, a PhD may also be necessary. And any individuals who want a career in counseling research will also often require a PhD.
This degree level provides a number of advantages, despite the time and dedication required to achieve this level of education. A PhD in addiction counseling will increase the pay scale of addiction counselors and provide more access to employment opportunities. A PhD can also open the door into additional addiction counseling careers such as corporate counseling, consultancy, and more.
Become an Addiction Counselor in Alaska
Alaska features four varying levels of counseling competency, which includes counseling technicians, level I chemical dependency counseling, level II chemical dependency counseling, and chemical dependency clinical supervisory. A number of two-year or four-year degrees will allow an individual to become eligible for behavioral health work such as psychiatric nursing, human services, psychology, addiction, social work, sociology, counseling, and others. To complete a certificate in counseling in Alaska, program participants must have a high school diploma or an equivalent education. The higher the degree someone has, the fewer hours of mandatory supervisory training.
Despite some certificate programs only requiring a high school diploma, advanced degrees provide a faster career path toward becoming a fully licensed and practicing addiction counselor in Alaska. Most employers will require or prefer a master’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university with a CACREP accredited program. If an individual is looking to change careers and already has a master’s degree in another field, they may only be required to complete an advanced post-graduate addiction or general counseling program.
All addiction counseling degree programs and certificate programs in Alaska require a minimum amount of supervised work experience in the counseling arena. Individuals who plan to work with addiction should request and seek out hours within the field of addiction counseling. It’s possible to work with groups, couples, individuals, and families in these work experience environments. The supervisor must be an active counseling professional with licensure approved by the State of Alaska Board of Professional Counselors.
Once an individual has completed a master’s degree, they can take the licensure and certification examination. It is each person’s choice as to when they complete licensure. It can be done at any time during one’s supervised work experience, which lasts for roughly two years. The exam is currently 200 multiple choice questions to be taken over the duration of 4 hours. Licensure renewal is also required in the state of Alaska.
Top College Programs in Alaska for Addiction Counseling
- University of Alaska Anchorage:
The University of Alaska in Anchorage is one of the best addiction counseling schools in Alaska. It provides several psychology degrees that are ideal for becoming an addiction counselor in Alaska. It’s possible to pursue these specialized degrees at all degree levels. The master’s degree in clinical psychology is the most in-demand program for those who wish to become a licensed professional counselor or a licensed psychological associate. This program also provides several scholarships and graduate assistantships. PhDs are also available.
- University of Alaska Fairbanks:
The University of Alaska Fairbanks also has a number of psychology degrees designed for addiction counseling career pathways. A few options individuals can choose from a counseling certificate program or a master’s degree in school counseling or clinical mental health counseling. Hands-on experience is available through internships and field practicum. And the university has a counseling clinic on campus that provides various mental health treatments to the local and surrounding Fairbanks communities.
- Alaska Pacific University:
Alaska Pacific University has a master’s degree in counseling psychology that is a popular choice for individuals who aspire to become a licensed professional counselor in Alaska. The program is designed specifically for working adults and made to end in licensure featuring skill development and wellness. Program participants will also have access to internship and mentorship opportunities. Graduates often become mental health clinicians, child and family counselors, chemical dependency counselors, and doctoral students.
- Alaska Christian College:
Alaska Christian College is a good college to begin for individuals who wish to start with an associate degree and work their way up to a master’s degree over time. The associate degree with an emphasis in behavioral health combines general education, behavioral health courses, and several credits dedicated to biblical core courses. Upon completion of this degree, many individuals either transfer to another school to complete a bachelor’s degree or become a behavioral health aide as outlined by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. These graduates often work in rural Alaska.
Careers for Addiction Counseling Graduates
- Group Counselor:
Group counselors are more in demand these days, with a growth rate of 11% expected through 2028. These individuals work with several people at the same time who are experiencing similar life challenges. Groups often consist of at least 5 people and up to 12 people. The role of the group counselor is to not only listen, possess empathy, and communicate well, but they will also have to exude leadership qualities to keep a group in line and on point at all times. Many group counselors only require a bachelor’s degree; however, a master’s degree is often preferred.
- Residential Counselor:
A residential counselor will focus on all aspects of daily living for residents at various facilities. These counselors will be responsible for the overall well-being and safety of residents including providing transportation, baths, grooming, meal preparation, housekeeping, accompaniment to doctor visits, and more. They will also be responsible for safety guideline enforcement, activity development, and conflict resolution. While residential care is part of the job, counseling is also important to help residents live a successful life in a new environment.
- Mental Health Counselor:
Mental health counselors are greatly in-demand at the moment, with an expected career outlook growth rate of nearly 20% from 2014 to 2024. These mental health professionals typically offer general mental health counseling to a variety of people including groups, families, couples, and individuals. They often use a wellness approach, or rather a mind and body approach, to counseling by focusing on the strengths of a client. Clients can work on emotions, experiences, substance abuse, anger management, bullying, relationships, stress, careers, depression, suicidal thoughts, and more.
- Grief Counselor:
Unlike other more general counseling careers, a grief counselor has a highly specialized area of expertise. These counseling professionals are also often referred to as a bereavement counselor. It is primarily understood that most grief counselors work with clients who are dealing with the loss of a loved one. However, they will work with people who are dealing with any type of personal loss such as a job, divorce, a home, a miscarriage, a pet, and others. Grief counseling can be offered in both an individual, private session or through group therapy. In some cases, clients benefit from both options.
- Behavioral Therapist:
A behavioral therapist is a licensed therapist with a PhD and thousands of hours of supervised work experience. These therapists are considered both mental health and medical professionals. They will work with patients to help diagnose various mental health disorders as well as analyze specific behavioral patterns. Once a diagnosis is made, they will work with patients to develop a treatment plan. They also work with a patient to provide aftercare.
- School Counselors and School Psychologists:
A school counselor will often only require a master’s degree and licensure; however, a school psychologist will typically require a PhD and more supervised work experience. School counselors work with students regarding student-specific issues and concerns such as course selection, general academics, careers, college, and social and emotional development. A school psychologist on the other hand will be recommended to students who need greater assistance with learning, behavior, mental health, and more severe cases of emotional and social developmental issues. School psychologists will often work with other teachers, parents, administrators, and colleagues to develop the right treatment plan.
- Substance Abuse Counseling (Addiction Counseling):
Substance abuse counseling, which is also referred to as addiction counseling or chemical dependency counseling, centers around individuals who suffer from substance abuse and addiction. These professionals require a highly specialized set of skills and understanding to be able to treat their patients. The type of substance abuse and behavioral addiction will vary from patient to patient but may include eating disorders, alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, the Internet, video games, etc. These counselors can also specialize in the type of patient they treat such as veterans, teens, the divorced, the unemployed, and others.