How to Become an Addiction/Substance Abuse Counselor in Texas

Addiction/Substance Abuse Counselor discussing research.

Texas is undergoing a rapid expansion in the field of substance abuse counseling. In fact, the projected job growth rate for substance abuse counseling is 22%, much higher than the average job outlook. Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) is working with students to fill the growing need for more health professionals in this area. TTUHSC’s School of Health Professions offers one of the few master’s degrees in addiction counseling programs in the country and is one of only two programs in the state of Texas.

Dr. Zach Sneed, Ph.D., the Program Director, states that TTUHSC’s goal is to help students earn their master’s degree and provide them with greater career mobility, better pay, and the tools to work with patients. TTUHSC takes a hands-on approach to help students succeed. “We try to help students when they ask. The faculty have contacts across the state in different communities that students may not know about,” says Sneed. The program provides students with clinical courses, a counseling practicum, and internship opportunities. It even covers students’ malpractice and professional liability insurance for the duration of their enrollment.

Substance Abuse Counseling Is a Quickly Growing Field

Across Texas, and at a national level, more employers are requiring master’s degrees for entry-level counseling positions. Sneed explains that this shift is happening for several reasons. The Affordable Care Act offered substance abuse counselors the chance to bill as mid-level providers, but only if they have a master’s degree and are appropriately licensed. Soon after, treatment facilities began to require a higher counseling degree for incoming staff. Changes in billing structure and increases in addiction and substance abuse treatment overall have also led to an increase in inpatient and outpatient facilities, all needing staff. Today, the medical field is facing a shortage of substance abuse counselors, and this need continues to grow.

How to Become a Substance Abuse Counselor

Each state has different requirements for getting a counseling license. TTUHSC’s program has been specifically designed to meet the requirements set by the state of Texas. “What sets us apart is that addiction counseling is actually our specialization,” Sneed explains. “The program has more hours in the curriculum, than other general counseling programs, and is one of only 11 addiction counseling programs in the country. Our mission is to train counselors to be ready to work with people who are struggling with addiction, either through prevention, treatment, or recovery services. All of our clinical course work is tailored around addiction and addiction facilities.”

Prospects After Graduation

After completing the master’s program, students are qualified to pursue a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Credential, which is a supervised work experience. TTUHSC’s program has been designed to set students up for success in earning their LPC. Sneed explains, “We go far beyond basic counseling theories, or basic counseling techniques. We train people not only in what that is but also in the evidence-based practice that they are going to be expected to use when they get into the field. Our graduates walk into the door being fully prepared in whatever that treatment facility is doing. They'll walk in with more readiness than the person next to them.”

With the major growth in the medical field and increased awareness about substance abuse, employment prospects look good for counseling professionals. Sneed goes on to say, “Whenever people get health care, they expect to be treated compassionately and they expect to benefit. We know from the research that counselors who are trained at the master’s level provide significantly better treatment. Their outcomes with patients are better. Now at the same time, whenever we talk about addiction counseling it's one of the most complex behavioral disorders or syndromes that exist. And people are typically at almost their worst point by the time they see an addiction counselor. They're particularly vulnerable and sensitive and they need a highly skilled provider that can walk them through the treatment and recovery process.” Graduates of the School of Health Professions are prepared to work with patients in their most dire time of need through drug and alcohol counseling.

Counselors in Texas have many choices when it comes to choosing a work environment as well. There are opportunities to work in populated cities or more rural areas. Remote working options, or telemental health, are also becoming more available for those with experience. TTUHSC’s counseling program is one of the few in the nation that includes telemental health in their curriculum.

“What we are looking for in students is a passion to help other people. I think if you pick addiction counseling as your specialization that really says something about the level of compassion in that person's life,” adds Sneed.

To learn more or enroll in TTUHSC’s Master of Science in Addiction Counseling program, please visit the program page. You can also email health.professions@ttuhsc.edu or call 806-743-3220 for additional information.

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