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Job: Addiction counsellor

Role: The responsibilities of an addiction counsellor are many, but each has the same goal: Helping clients to conquer their addictions, either through abstinence, maintenance or reduction.

Addiction counsellors work in a variety of settings, including residential, private and public treatment centres, non-profit agencies, hospitals and correctional facilities.

Depending on the setting in which they work, many addiction counsellors answer inquiries on the phone from those who are affected by a friend or family member's addiction. They also provide intake treatment assessment for walk-ins and referrals, run group education and therapy sessions – which could range from life skills to relapse prevention – provide aftercare treatment and one-on-one counselling, and fill out plenty of paperwork.

"And then there's always the crises management, which can happen at any time," said Brian Paterson, a Canadian certified counsellor in private practice, and the former director of the Tamarack Recovery Centre, a Winnipeg-based non-profit addiction treatment facility. "Addicts often have very troubled families and their lives are very messy and crises are part of their weekly therapy."

Education: Though not all provinces legally mandate training and certification, salary and job prospects are often tied to education and experience levels. Addiction counsellors in Canada typically earn a bachelor's degree in humanities or social work, and have the option to earn a master's degree in counselling, psychology or social work, which is offered by a variety of colleges and universities across the country.

Addiction counsellors can also apply for designation from professional associations like the Canadian Addiction Counsellors Certification Federation, which can increase job opportunities and future income, though it is not legally mandated in order to work in the field.

"It isn't necessary across the board, but it would be for some of your higher-end private treatment centres, so they could narrow the field," Mr. Paterson said.

Salary: The salary of an addiction counsellor is often tied to their level of training and experience, as well as the type of facility in which they work.

Mr. Paterson says that those who have a diploma in addiction counselling often work at non-profit detox centres, and earn approximately $30,000 to $40,000 a year. Those who have earned a bachelor's degree find work in both the public and private sector, earning an approximate average salary of $40,000 to $55,000 a year, depending on experience, while those with professional association designation and, in many cases, a master's degree, operating in for-profit treatment centres typically earn between $55,000 and $70,000 a year.

Job prospects: Mr. Paterson says that job prospects are strong for addiction counsellors, in part because of provincial and federal initiatives to expand mental health services, and because a high rate of burnout leads to significant turnover.

While addiction treatment centres are more commonly found in urban areas, all Canadian provinces and territories provide some form of addiction treatment and intervention services.

"Not-for-profit treatment centres, all provinces have those," Mr. Paterson says. "The higher-end places, the job prospects there are good for the person with the right combination of education and experience, because there is a lot of turnover."

Challenges: Helping patients who are suffering from addiction can be mentally exhausting work, which is why many in the field succumb to burnout over the course of their careers.

"In order to be an ongoing addict, you need to have some pretty good skills in deception and manipulation, so when you're working with these people, you're working with quite a range of talent in getting you to look in the wrong direction," Mr. Paterson says. "Dealing with people like that day-in and day-out can be pretty challenging, especially if you're at street-level [treatment facilities], hospitals and prisons."

Why they do it: Just as the work can be emotionally draining, it can also be extraordinarily rewarding.

"It provides amazing insight and training into the human spirit, the human potential," Mr. Paterson says. "There are success stories, there are lots of them, and success is defined in lots of different ways."

Mr. Paterson, who is now 40 years sober after a struggle with alcoholism, adds that some addiction counsellors enter the profession having overcome similar challenges, and enjoy the opportunity to give back to the support networks that once helped them.

Misconceptions: Many people are under the impression that all addiction counselling follows a 12-step program, which is only one of the many approaches to addiction treatment. Furthermore, the goal of addiction counselling isn't always abstinence, explains Mr. Paterson, and often focuses on intervention, harm reduction and personal growth.

Give us the scoop: Are you an addiction counsellor? Write a note in the comments area of this story or e-mail your comment to and let us know what you would tell others who are interested in the profession.

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