Last Updated on August 9, 2019 by Morris Green
We’ve talked about what a substance abuse counselor is and the role they play in alcohol and drug treatment. But how do counselors become skilled at assisting clients during recovery? Like any other specialty, they receive specific training. Substance abuse counselors are equipped to do their job with specialized knowledge, training, and experience.
If you’re studying to become an alcohol and drug abuse counselor (or thinking about taking this career path), then you’ll need to be intimately familiar with the 12 core functions. In this guide, we’ll break down the basic highlights you need to know about each function.
Drug and alcohol screenings are used to determine whether a potential client will benefit from admission to a specific program. It’s an important process because not all people who take screenings require treatment and not all treatment plans are created equal. Screenings are comprised of four major elements:
- Establishing the client’s drug or alcohol use history including any psychological, physiological, and social signs and symptoms of substance use and abuse.
- Completion of a structured substance use assessment questionnaire.
- Determining the client’s appropriateness and eligibility for admission or referral.
- Identifying any co-existing conditions that require additional assessment by a qualified professional.
The intake process is an extension of the screening. During this process, the recommended course of treatment is made official and properly documented. When completed correctly, the intake process safeguards the confidentiality and rights of the client while contributing to a strong foundation for the client + counselor relationship.
Once a client is enrolled in treatment, orientation takes place. The goal is to familiarize the client with their program and establish the beginnings of a support network. During orientation, the following topics are covered:
- The goals and general nature of the program.
- The rules that govern conduct and the procedure regarding infractions that warrant disciplinary action or discharge from the program.
- The hours or schedule of service.
- The cost of treatment and who is responsible.
- The client’s rights.
Not to be confused with screening, the assessment is the procedure used by a counselor to identify and evaluate a client’s strengths, weaknesses, issues, and needs for the purpose of creating a treatment plan. At this point, the counselor uses all of the information already gathered to ensure they are fully versed in their client’s:
- Relevant history including (but not limited to) alcohol and drug use
- Approved methods and procedures for gathering corroborative information from significant secondary sources
- Identified appropriate assessment tools
The goal of the assessment is to develop a diagnostic evaluation of the client’s substance use as well as any co-existing conditions. Additionally, the counselor will explain the rationale behind the assessment to the client.
#5: Treatment Planning
Based on all information gathered from core functions one through four, the counselor next facilitates treatment planning. During this phase, the counselor works with the client to both identify and prioritize issues in need of resolution. Immediate and long-term goals and strategies are established. Appropriate treatment methods and resources are identified and incorporated to create a personalized, comprehensive treatment plan.
Once a treatment plan is in place, counseling begins. Sessions can consist of individual, group, and sessions with significant others. The goal of counseling is to actively assist and support the client in achieving the objectives of their treatment plan. During counseling, the client will explore an issue, its consequences and impact, the connection to attitudes and feelings, and consider alternatives.
#7: Case Management
The road to recovery is not often walked alone. For many, it becomes a group effort that encompasses more than the client and substance abuse counselor. Case management involves bringing services, agencies, resources, and/or people together to achieve the established goals of the client’s treatment plan. It becomes especially important in cases where co-existing conditions, such as depression or anxiety, are present. Coordination is vital.
#8: Crisis Intervention
Crisis intervention is defined as a service or services that respond to an alcohol and/or drug abuser’s needs during acute emotional and/or physical distress. Intervention encompasses everything from suicidal actions to relapse. As a counselor, you must be able to recognize the elements of a crisis and implement an immediate and appropriate course of action without hesitation.
#9: Client Education
Addiction is a disease, and the majority of the population (especially substance users) are unaware of exactly what drug and alcohol use can do. Counselors have the unique opportunity to educate their clients using formal and information interventions. They assist in teaching life skills that lead to better decision-making and more.
Sometimes a client’s needs cannot be adequately met by their counselor. In such cases, your job will be to recognize their needs and refer them to the appropriate service or agency. Not only will you need to match their needs with a viable resource, but you’ll also have to work within the applicable laws, regulations, and agency policies governing referrals.
#11: Report and Record Keeping
The eleventh core function flexes your administrative skills. Recording and charting the results of assessment and treatment are vital to establishing working techniques and improving your ability to meet the needs of your clients. You’ll be responsible for analyzing relevant information to write reports and progress notes, discharge summaries, and other client-related data.
#12: Consultation with Other Professionals
A substance abuse counselor’s ultimate goal is to ensure their clients receive comprehensive, quality care. Consultation with in-house and out of house professionals can become an intricate and vital element of care. Your ability to recognize issues beyond your knowledge base or skill and then identify and consult with the appropriate resources and professionals will be critical to your success and your client’s wellbeing.
The 12 core functions create the blueprint to effective substance use treatment. Learning the details of each is fundamental to your career. In the coming weeks, we’ll be talking in depth about each one. Be sure to subscribe or follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up!