Helping News                                                   April, 2011   Issue 33

The Reality of a Diminishing Profession:

NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, is predicting that the U.S. could face a dramatic shortage of addiction counselors as a cadre of longtime professionals reach retirement age without younger counselors to replace them.

The Associated Press reported June 22 that according to NAADAC, 80 percent of addiction counselors are between ages 40-50; in Ohio, the average age is better than 50, and most counselors say they plan to retire during the next decade.

Lack of good pay is preventing young professionals from entering the field: an entry-level addiction counselor can expect to earn $16,000-$25,000 a year, and the average salary of an entry level mental health counselor being only $30,000. "Within a year or two, they're leaving the field because the money isn't good enough to stay," said NAADAC deputy director Shirley Mikell, who has worked in the addiction field for 34 years. "You've got to be crazy like we were to stay all these years."

NAADAC is trying to improve counselor recruitment and retention by seeking salary support from the federal government and loan forgiveness for graduate students. But stigma also plays a role in the shortage of counselors; many young people have been told from a young age that people with addictions, and mental illness should be avoided. "People look at this field and they think, I don't want to spend the rest of my life dealing with ... for this pay," said Stacey Frohnapfel Hasson, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services.

Additionally, the predictions of a modest shortage of all mental health counselors seems unavoidable as well. With the hoops required (education, practicums, internships, supervision, and state testing) for independently licensed counselors being numerous, a growing concern is for students completing licensing. Some  Psychologists have admitted that, doctoral course work aside, the licensing process and years of supervision many counslors are required to complete, far exceed what the average PhD candidate may have to complete.   

Insurance companies report that the trend is to cover more counselors as a cost saving alternative to psychologists and psychiatrists, yet often make reimbursement so cumbersome and unmanageable that practitioners simply give up. The conclusion is that although some stigma toward getting help has been lifted, it still may be a service not valued enough to survive. 

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