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Education Requirements for Careers in Treatment

Embarking on a career in the drug and alcohol treatment industry will provide you with a challenging, exciting career through which your learned and inherent talents and skills can help many people.  The industry offers several career paths from which to choose, including laypersons and professionals, such as psychologists, counselors and therapists.  Each type of career choice within the industry itself has specific educational requirements you must meet, and some require licensing by the state in which you will practice or work.

Dietitian or Nutritionist

This position can be incredibly important in the world of alcohol and drug recovery.  Most the individuals who suffer from the disease of addiction have starved their bodies of health and nutrition for quite some time.  A nutritionist is not a cook or a chef.  This is a specialized position that generally requires at least a bachelor’s degree in the field of dietetics.  Because you will be planning food in a professional setting, even if that setting seems more like a residence in some instances, you may also need experience or training in food service management or a related field.

A few of the courses you may need to take while in school include:

  • Biology and biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Chemistry and biochemistry
  • Institution management
  • Business

Business may seem like a strange course for someone preparing to work in what might seem like the food services industry; however, an experienced nutritionist may find himself organizing a kitchen to the extent that he or she is managing the overall food costs for the meals the residents will consume.  Understanding how to adequately nourish residents while maintaining and balancing the kitchen budget is important.  You may also be in a position to oversee various members of the nutrition staff and kitchen personnel, therefore business management skills are also important.

Whether you will need a license to practice as a nutritionist depends entirely upon the state in which you will work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 46 of the 50 American states govern and regulate this particular field of practice.  Of these states, most will require you to have a license to practice, while the remaining jurisdictions will require you to either register with the state or be certified.

Once you have obtained your education and experience in your field, you can expect to earn in the neighborhood of $50,000 per year, depending upon the area in which you live and work, and the type of facility you choose to work in.

Psychologist or Therapist

There are two types of psychologists or therapists.  The first type of degree a psychologist can achieve is a Ph.D, and the second is a Doctor of Psychology, or a Psy.D. degree.

An individual who obtains either of these distinctions can work as a researcher, a teacher, a clinician in healthcare, or for the government as a school psychologist in the public sector.  Many psychologists choose to work in the field of alcohol and drug abuse rehabilitation.

The competition to gain admission to a good school of psychology is fierce at the present time.  In fact, there are so many students applying for the advanced degree programs that the schools are generally requiring that prospective students have a bachelor’s degree with a major of psychology.  Majoring in education or another course of study may not be enough to get into a psychology program, so you’ll need to decide early about future career choices.

Obtaining a doctorate in psychology can take roughly five years of fulltime graduate work.  At the end of the five years, in order to graduate, you may need to complete a project known as a dissertation.  A dissertation can take a year or more to complete, and it is similar to a science fair project for future doctors.  The student will conduct experiments, usually with live subjects, and make meticulous notes concerning their research.  If you choose to obtain a Psy.D. degree, rather than a Ph.D., it is possible that you can be judged on more practical requirements such as actual practice and examinations.

In either case, if you wish to work in a practical, clinical setting, such as an alcohol and drug rehabilitation facility, you will need to work under the supervision of a licensed and practicing psychologist for a period of one year.  This year of supervised, practical experience will be necessary before you can be awarded your doctorate credentials.

While completing graduate work to obtain your doctorate, you can work in clinical settings.  A B.S. degree in psychology means that you can assist fully licensed and accredited psychologists in private practice. This can give you experience and help you fund your further education.  Simply remember that obtaining your doctorate will take considerably longer if you are not going to school on a fulltime basis.

It is possible, however, to work as a psychologist without obtaining your doctorate in some situations.  An individual with a bachelor’s degree with at least 24 credit hours in psychology can be hired by the United States government to work in government facilities.  Competition is high when it comes to obtaining these positions, and the compensation is generally less than a fully qualified psychologist might expect to earn in the private sector.

The licensing laws vary for each state in the United States; however, every state does have some form of licensing laws for psychologists.  Two states allow psychologists to prescribe medication so anyone working in those states who wishes to have this privilege must pass additional requirements.

Once you have completed all of the requirements and obtained your license, you’ll be ready to being working in a drug and alcohol treatment center.

Nursing Aides and Psychiatric Aides

For those individuals who have a knack for the direct and daily care of patients or residents in a facility like a drug and alcohol rehab treatment center, working as a nursing aide can be quite rewarding.  Nursing aides and psychiatric aides are responsible for the day-to-day care of those who need the most support and human contact.

Training to become a nursing aide (NA) is generally far less intensive than the schooling required for a registered nurse (RN).  Courses are offered in high school, community colleges and vocational training centers around the country.  You can expect to study human anatomy and physiology as well as basic nutrition and how to control infections.  You will learn how to recognize certain symptoms in a patient because you will have the most contact with them.

In some cases, an individual who is going through detox from drugs or alcohol abuse and addiction may not be able to care for themselves. In other cases, the use and abuse of drugs may have damaged the individual’s brain and they will need specialized care for longer periods of time.  Because of this, nurse’s aides will train in the correct procedures for helping a patient or resident complete simple tasks, such as bathing, personal hygiene and feeding if they are unable to complete the task alone.

The training for becoming a nursing aide can depend upon the state or the program, but generally it will be several weeks to several months in length.

In the case of a psychiatric aid, few states require formal education. Most individuals will learn this skill through intensive on-the-job training.

All states require that nursing aides pass a certification and licensing test.  Once they have completed this test, they will become certified nurse assistants (CNA) and be registered with the state in which they practice.  Because of this certification process, each individual will need to pass a thorough background check for criminal activity as well as a health exam.

Registered Nurse

There are three distinct pathways to becoming a registered nurse in an alcohol and drug abuse treatment setting.  An individual will generally need to achieve one, or more, of the following milestones:

  • A diploma from a nursing program that has been certified by the state in which they attend school
  • An associate’s degree that covers all of their general studies as well as nursing specifically (ADN)
  • A bachelor’s degree in nursing sciences (BSN)

A bachelor’s degree program is a four-year college degree program that is offered by colleges and universities around the country on a fairly regular basis.  There are usually waiting periods to enter these programs and you must be a solid student with a high grade point average in order to be accepted.  If you are thinking about obtaining a BSN, it is a good idea to begin preparing while you are still in high school.

The associate’s degree program to obtain an ADN can generally be found at a community or junior college and take less time to complete.  In two or three years, you can begin working in a clinical setting.

Finally, the diploma programs are found far less frequently. These programs take a full three years to complete and are offered by teaching hospitals.  They are more difficult to find, simply because there are so few of them left.

When you make the decision as to which kind of program you would like to attend, you will need to consider your long-term career goals.  Working hands on in a drug and alcohol treatment program is a very rewarding career where you can help people in immeasurable ways simply by attending to their needs; however, you may eventually want to advance into an administrative position within a treatment center.  Generally, in order to advance into a position of authority such as this, you will need to have your BSN firmly in place early on.

Regardless of the type of program from which you graduate, all nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination in order to practice legally in the United States.

Health Information Management

In recent years, health information management has been subjected to some incredible changes.  The government has very strict regulations concerning privacy and how medical records are handled because they contain such sensitive information.  Working in health information management will generally not involve any contact with patients as this is entirely an administrative position.

Many individuals who work in this particular administrative health care field will have at least an associate’s degree, although certification is relatively new to the industry and there are still a few in-house trained HIM clerks working today.  Most employers, however, due to the need to stress the importance of privacy and security, prefer to hire an individual who has completed the certification classes that cover these topics.

This is not to say that the coursework is quick or easy.  In order to obtain the certification many employers require, you must graduate with an associate’s degree from a program that has been approved by The American Health Information Management Association. When you have completed this task, you can then take the formal examination.  If you pass, you will become a registered health information technician or RHIT.

The physicians and psychologists who work directly with the patients of a rehab treatment center count on the abilities of the administrative staff to maintain the records they need to do their jobs.  The patients and residents rely on these records as well, to keep them safe.  Insurance billers use the records to bring in prompt payment from insurance companies.  The RHIT position is one of skill and importance within the health care community.

Administrative Positions

Drug and alcohol treatment centers are businesses.  They have a need for individuals trained in the fields of business, advertising, marketing and insurance billing in order to continue providing the essential services in which they specialize. If an individual wishes to work in an alcohol or drug treatment center but has chosen not to enter the medical field directly, he or she might consider one of these professions in order to contribute.