Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Summary

substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors image
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors help clients recover from addiction or mental health issues, or modify problem behaviors.
Quick Facts: Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
2016 Median Pay $42,150 per year
$20.27 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education See How to Become One
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training See How to Become One
Number of Jobs, 2016 260,200
Job Outlook, 2016-26 20% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 51,600

What Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors Do

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors advise people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, mental health issues, or other mental or behavioral problems. They provide treatment and support to help clients recover from addiction or modify problem behaviors.

Work Environment

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work in a wide variety of settings, such as mental health centers, community health centers, prisons, and private practice. Most work full time.

How to Become a Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, or Mental Health Counselor

Most positions require at least a bachelor’s degree. Although educational requirements can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, a master’s degree and an internship is typically required to become a mental health counselor.

Pay

The median annual wage for mental health counselors was $42,840 in May 2016.

The median annual wage for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors was $41,070 in May 2016.

Job Outlook

Employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is projected to grow 20 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth is expected as people continue to seek addiction and mental health counseling.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors Do About this section

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors provide treatment and support.

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors advise people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, mental health issues, or other mental or behavioral problems. They provide treatment and support to help clients recover from addiction or modify problem behaviors.

Duties

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors typically do the following:

  • Evaluate clients’ mental and physical health, addiction, or problematic behavior and assess their readiness for treatment
  • Develop, recommend, and review treatment goals and plans with clients and their families
  • Assist clients in developing skills and behaviors necessary to recover from their addiction or modify their behavior
  • Work with clients to identify behaviors or situations that interfere with their recovery
  • Teach clients’ family members about addiction or behavior disorders and help them develop strategies to cope with those problems
  • Refer clients to other resources and services, such as job placement services and support groups
  • Conduct outreach programs to help people identify the signs of addiction and other destructive behavior, as well as steps to take to avoid such behavior

Substance abuse counselors and behavioral disorder counselors, also called addiction counselors, work with clients individually and in group sessions. Many incorporate the principles of 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), to guide their practice. They teach clients how to cope with stress and life’s problems in ways that help them recover. Furthermore, they help clients rebuild professional relationships and, if necessary, reestablish their career. They also help clients improve their personal relationships and find ways to discuss their addiction or other problems with family and friends.

Some addiction counselors work in facilities that employ many types of healthcare and mental health professionals. Addiction counselors may work with psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, physicians, and registered nurses to develop treatment plans and coordinate care for patients.

Some counselors work with clients who have been ordered by a judge to receive treatment for addiction. Others work with specific populations, such as teenagers, veterans, or people with disabilities. Some specialize in crisis intervention; these counselors step in when someone is endangering his or her own life or the lives of others. Other counselors specialize in noncrisis interventions, which encourage a person with addictions or other issues, such as difficulty managing anger, to get help. Noncrisis interventions often are performed at the request of friends and family.

Mental health counselors provide treatment to individuals, families, couples, and groups. Some work with specific populations, such as the elderly, college students, or children. Mental health counselors treat clients with a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, stress, and suicidal impulses. They also help with mental and emotional health issues and relationship problems.

Work Environment About this section

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work in a wide variety of settings, including mental health centers, prisons, probation or parole agencies, and juvenile detention facilities.

Mental health counselors held about 157,700 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of mental health counselors were as follows:

Individual and family services 20%
Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers 18
Nursing and residential care facilities 14
Hospitals; state, local, and private 11
Government 9

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors held about 102,400 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors were as follows:

Outpatient care centers 22%
Nursing and residential care facilities 20
Individual and family services 13
Hospitals; state, local, and private 11
Government 9

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work in a wide variety of settings, including mental health centers, prisons, probation or parole agencies, and juvenile detention facilities. They also work in halfway houses, detox centers, or in employee assistance programs (EAPs). EAPs are mental health programs provided by some employers to help employees deal with personal problems.

Some addiction counselors work in residential treatment centers, where clients live in the facility for a fixed period of time. Others work with clients in outpatient treatment centers. Some counselors work in private practice, where they may work alone or with a group of counselors or other professionals.

Although rewarding, the work of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is often stressful. Many counselors have to deal with large workloads. They do not always have enough resources to meet the demand for their services. Also, they may have to intervene in crisis situations or work with agitated clients, which can be difficult.

Work Schedules

Most substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work full time. In some settings, such as inpatient facilities, they may need to work evenings, nights, or weekends.

How to Become a Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, or Mental Health Counselor About this section

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors
Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors need a license in private practice.

Most positions require at least a bachelor’s degree. Although educational requirements can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, a master’s degree and an internship is typically required to become a mental health counselor.

Education

Most substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor positions require at least a bachelor’s degree. However, depending on the state and employer, educational requirements for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors can vary from a high school diploma and certification to a master’s degree. Workers with psychology, clinical social work, mental health counseling, and similar master’s degrees can provide more services to their clients, such as private one-on-one counseling sessions, and they require less supervision than those with less education. Those interested should research their state’s educational requirements.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in private practice must be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all states require these counselors to have a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. In addition, counselors must pass a state-issued exam and complete continuing education every year. Contact information for your state's regulating board can be found through the National Board for Certified Counselors.

The licensure criteria for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors outside of private practice vary from state to state. For example, not all states require applicants to have a specific degree, but many require them to pass an exam. Contact information for individual states’ licensing boards can be found through the Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network.

All states require mental health counselors to be licensed, after completing a period of postdegree supervised clinical work under the supervision of a licensed counselor. 

Other Experience

There is a long tradition of people who have overcome their own addictions to be involved in counseling others to overcome their addictions. Counselors with personal experience overcoming alcohol or drug addictions are sometimes viewed as especially helpful and insightful to those seeking treatment.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors often work with people who are dealing with stressful and difficult situations, so they must be compassionate and empathize with their clients.

Interpersonal skills. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors must be able to work with different types of people. They spend most of their time working directly with clients or other professionals and must be able to develop and nurture good relationships.

Listening skills. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors need good listening skills. They must give their full attention to a client to be able to understand that client’s problems and values.

Patience. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors must be able to remain calm when working with all types of clients, including those who may be distressed or angry.

Speaking skills. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors need to be able to effectively communicate with clients. They must express ideas and information in a way that their clients easily understand.

Pay About this section

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Median annual wages, May 2016

Counselors, social workers, and other community and social service specialists

$43,020

Mental health counselors

$42,840

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors

$42,150

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors

$41,070

Total, all occupations

$37,040

 

The median annual wage for mental health counselors was $42,840 in May 2016. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,950, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $70,100.

The median annual wage for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors was $41,070 in May 2016. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,210, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $65,080.

In May 2016, the median annual wages for mental health counselors in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $50,840
Hospitals; state, local, and private 46,390
Individual and family services 41,720
Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers 41,650
Nursing and residential care facilities 36,800

In May 2016, the median annual wages for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private $48,300
Government 45,990
Outpatient care centers 39,820
Individual and family services 39,130
Nursing and residential care facilities 36,740

Most substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors work full time. In some settings, such as inpatient facilities, they may need to work evenings, nights, or weekends.

Job Outlook About this section

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Percent change in employment, projected 2016-26

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors

20%

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors

20%

Mental health counselors

20%

Counselors, social workers, and other community and social service specialists

15%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is projected to grow 20 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth is expected as people continue to seek addiction and mental health counseling services.

Demand for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors is also expected to increase as states seek treatment and counseling services for drug offenders rather than jail time. In recent years, the criminal justice system has recognized that drug and other substance abuse addicts are less likely to offend again if they get treatment for their addiction. As a result, sentences often require drug offenders to attend treatment and counseling programs. In addition, some research suggests that these programs are more cost effective than incarceration and states may use them as a method to reduce recidivism rates.

In addition, there will be a continued need for counselors to work with military veterans to provide them the appropriate mental health or substance abuse counseling care.

Job Prospects

Job prospects are expected to be very good for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, particularly for those with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. In addition, many workers leave the field after a few years and need to be replaced. As a result, those interested in entering this field should find favorable prospects.

Job prospects are also expected to be very good for mental health counselors, particularly in rural areas or other communities that are underserved by mental health practitioners.

Employment projections data for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, 2016-26
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors

260,200 311,700 20 51,600

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors

21-1011 102,400 122,800 20 20,400 employment projections excel document xlsx

Mental health counselors

21-1014 157,700 188,900 20 31,200 employment projections excel document xlsx

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2016 MEDIAN PAY Help
Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists

Marriage and Family Therapists

Marriage and family therapists help people manage and overcome problems with family and other relationships.

Master's degree $49,170
Physicians and surgeons

Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses. Physicians examine patients; take medical histories; prescribe medications; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. Surgeons operate on patients to treat injuries, such as broken bones; diseases, such as cancerous tumors; and deformities, such as cleft palates.

Doctoral or professional degree This wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year.
Psychologists

Psychologists

Psychologists study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how individuals relate to one another and to their environments. They use their findings to help improve processes and behaviors.

See How to Become One $75,230
Registered nurses

Registered Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members.

Bachelor's degree $68,450
Rehabilitation counselors

Rehabilitation Counselors

Rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, mental, developmental, or emotional disabilities live independently. They work with clients to overcome or manage the personal, social, or psychological effects of disabilities on employment or independent living.

Master's degree $34,670
School and Career Counselors

School and Career Counselors

School counselors help students develop the academic and social skills needed to succeed in school. Career counselors help people choose careers and follow a path to employment.

Master's degree $54,560
Social and community service managers

Social and Community Service Managers

Social and community service managers coordinate and supervise social service programs and community organizations. They manage workers who provide social services to the public.

Bachelor's degree $64,680
Social and human service assistants

Social and Human Service Assistants

Social and human service assistants provide client services, including support for families, in a wide variety of fields, such as psychology, rehabilitation, and social work. They assist other workers, such as social workers, and they help clients find benefits or community services.

High school diploma or equivalent $31,810
Social workers

Social Workers

Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Clinical social workers also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.

See How to Become One $46,890
Health educators

Health Educators and Community Health Workers

Health educators teach people about behaviors that promote wellness. They develop and implement strategies to improve the health of individuals and communities. Community health workers collect data and discuss health concerns with members of specific populations or communities.

See How to Become One $44,390
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists provide social services to assist in rehabilitation of law offenders in custody or on probation or parole.

Bachelor's degree $50,160
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-behavioral-disorder-and-mental-health-counselors.htm (visited November 16, 2017).

Last Modified Date: Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What They Do

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Contacts for More Information

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2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2016

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2016, which is the base year of the 2016-26 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2016-26

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2016-26

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026.

2016 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2016, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,040.