Ask an Expert: How Can I Find a Good Drug Counselor?

By Tessie Castillo 11/05/14

Today's question is on what to look for in a substance abuse therapist.


EDITOR'S NOTE: "Ask An Expert" is guidance for the general public. Responses from our experts are not to be construed as doctor/patient relationships, which require private and extensive consultation.

I am kicking meth, mostly on my own, and need a substance abuse counselor. I met a couple who were to me creepy. One was very pushy, the other was a woman who I thought was spacy. Separate from that, what are the right questions to ask to tell the good ones from the shitty ones? I don't have a lot of people to ask for recommendations so I am asking you to help me figure this out. I can collect names but I want to be able to know how to evaluate these people. Thanks. - Carlton

Tessie Castillo
: Dear Carlton, I’m sorry you have had such a negative experience looking for substance use counselors. There are questions you can ask to evaluate the counselors you meet, but that doesn’t mean that during the search you won’t come across some people who might not be a good fit. It is all part of the process of searching for someone who can work well for you.

Here are some questions I would recommend:

1.    First off, ask for the credentials and licenses of the counselor. Then at least you know you are dealing with a professional. They should be certified with an accredited institution such as the National Board for Certified Counselors, The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification, and/or The National Association for Addiction Professionals. 

2.   Figure out what your goals are and what you think you can realistically achieve. Then ask the counselor how he or she plans to help you meet those goals. A good counselor will know that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan and should be flexible enough to work with your unique circumstances.

3.    Different counselors have been trained in different treatment theories or types of therapy (see a list here). Ask what their specific training is, how long they have worked in the addiction treatment field, and how often they receive continued training and education.

4.    Ask about the counselor’s goals with the therapy and how they measure the success of the treatment.

5.    If you think you may have other issues such as anxiety or depression, ask if the counselor has any background working with co-occurring disorders (treating substance use and mental health at the same time).

The most important thing to finding a good substance abuse counselor is to look for someone with whom you feel comfortable and can build trust and rapport. That process can take time, but if you persevere and find someone who is a good fit, it could be a major help to your recovery. Good luck!


Tessie Castillo is the Advocacy and Communications Coordinator at the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, a leading public health and drug policy reform organization in the Southern United States. She is an expert on harm reduction, overdose prevention and response, naloxone, the drug war, and policy reform.   Full Bio.

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