Counseling is a profession that uses a specific body of knowledge and skills to assist others (clients) to reach certain goals. Counselors help clients mobilize resources to solve problems and modify attitudes and values. Most people go to a counselor with a specific problem they can’t seem to solve without help.

In your recovery you may need counseling at times for specific problems. Some of these are: you can’t stay sober or abstinent, you have trouble with relationships, you become aware of abuse or incest issues, or you may want to do more intensive self-searching and growing.

Choosing a Counselor

How do you decide whom to see? Try to identify what you need as best you can. Talk to others who have had similar experiences. They can steer you in the right direction. To help with prioritizing, see the module on Codependency.

Counselors should have models and techniques they are skilled in using. See if their ideas fit and are comfortable for you. Don’t hesitate to say so if they are not. See the module on Models and concepts.

Addictions counseling If you are involved in addictive behavior, you need someone trained and skilled (and preferably certified) to work with that addiction. If you are abstinent from or moderating your primary addiction, any addiction counselor or other mental health professional may be fine if they have the skills to help you with your specific problems.

Credentials When shopping for a counselor, feel free to ask about credentials and experience. Remember that you are the employer. Have an initial interview, even if you have to pay for it, to see if a counselor seems right for you. Many addicts with low self-esteem may feel they have no right to choose their therapist. The counselor is selling you their skills. You are the one who must live with the results of your mutual work.

Remember that a counselor should be a professional. You may feel more comfortable with an addictions counselor who is in recovery, but that is not why you are hiring them. Many people who are not in recovery themselves are excellent counselors. Also, being in recovery does not make one a counselor. Choose a counselor for their skills and a sponsor for their recovery.


The National Certification Reciprocity Consortium/Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (NCRC) defines counseling as: The utilization of special skills to assist individuals, families, or groups in achieving objectives through:

  • exploration of a problem and its ramifications
  • examination of attitudes and feelings
  • consideration of alternative solutions
  • decision making

Techniques Counseling is a relationship in which the counselor helps the client mobilize resources to resolve problems and/or modify attitudes and values. Counselors should be familiar with various counseling techniques and methods, like Reality Therapy, Rational Emotive Therapy, Behavior Therapy, Systemic Counseling, Transactional Analysis, Client-centered Therapy, etc.

Mastering several It may be unrealistic to expect a counselor to be highly skilled in many different approaches to counseling. Each may take several years to master. It is important, however, that counselors have a high level of skill in more than one technique. Craig Johnson, a noted authority on eating disorders, reminds us that if a hammer is the only tool in our tool belt, everything we meet is in danger of being treated as a nail.

Aware of limitations It is equally important that counselors be aware of and be able to admit their limitations. Many counseling techniques are very powerful and potentially dangerous. The Health Care Professions (note that the middle name is Care) owe much to the noble ideas that have been passed down since the time of Hippocrates. Part of that tradition states that first, do no harm.

Counseling, see also: Aftercare, Certification, Core functions, Disease concept, Dual diagnosis, Employee assistance programs, Impaired professionals, Intervention, Professional organizations, Psychological problems, Sponsorship, Therapy & treatment, Withdrawal.

Updated 12 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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