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Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

career resources for Mental Health Social Workers

Training and Education

What's Needed:

  • Most jobs in this field require an associate degree or bachelor degree in social work or a related discipline.
  • Social workers who intend to go into private practice must typically obtain a master's degree in order to obtain a license to practice.
  • Entry level positions might require only a high school diploma.
  • Continuing education training is available and is required in order to maintain certain high-level positions in the substance abuse social work field.

What courses you'll take

Below are examples of courses that you'll likely take as a student pursing a career in the mental health and substance abuse social work field.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health CounselingTheory of treatment for alcoholism drug abuse and various forms of mental illness from a social-work perspective; the social worker's role in guiding clients toward resources for health care financing employment and treatment; current trends and practices in social work with addicted and mentally ill clients; legal and ethical concerns in the field.Provide background knowledge of social work's role in treatment of mental illness and substance abuse.
Psychopathology and PsychopharmacologyChemical and neural abnormalities associated with various forms of mental illness; basics of pharmacokinetics (what different drugs do to the body) and pharmacodynamics (what the body does to the drug); psychology of addiction including dependence tolerance and withdrawal; diagnosis and rehabilitation of clients with drug addiction and other mental health problems.Familiarize students with healthy and unhealthy functioning of the body and mind.
Sociology of Substance Abuse and Mental IllnessTriggers that can increase an individual's tendency toward mental illness or substance abuse including stress from work pressure from friends and family and unexpected life challenges; ways in which substance abuse and mental illness impact family members and others in the client's immediate and extended social circle.Give a broad social perspective on the effects of substance abuse and mental illness.
Cognitive and Behavioral TreatmentModels and procedures for clinical treatment of substance abuse and various types of mental illness; effective communication with clients in treatment and with their doctors as well as cross-cultural and multi-generational sensitivity in communication with clients' families and with the community.Get students ready to perform social work in cooperation with clinical professionals.
Evaluation and Case ManagementResponsibilities of the social worker in the development implementation and completion of a client's clinical treatment plan including setting goals helping to locate resources providing referrals and preparing for discharge from a clinical facility; professional standards of case documentation and record-keeping.Ready students to oversee social work cases related to mental illness and substance abuse.

Video Overview

A brief introduction to mental health and substance abuse social worker careers. Produced for the US Dept. of Labor.

Certifications and Licensing

Certification and licensing requirements for mental health and substance abuse counselors vary depending on the environment in which they work. Some programs and facilities may not require that staff be licensed or certified. Private practitioners however must be licensed by the appropriate state board or governing body. The requirements for state licensing typically include the following:

  • An accredited master's degree in social work counseling or a related field
  • Experience in the counseling field
  • A passing score on the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination

Available certifications for substance abuse and mental health counselors include the National Certified Counselor Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor and Master Addictions Counselor qualifications from the National Board for Certified Counselors. NAADAC also offers a number of specialty qualifications that include Nicotine Dependent Specialist and Spiritual Caregiving to Help Addicted Persons and Families certificates.

Job Flexibility

Full-time versus part-time:

Mental health and substance abuse counselors generally work full-time hours. While scheduling may be flexible professionals in this field typically remain on call during off hours and may be required to perform shift work or to return to work if staffing needs require it.

Recommended Websites

These online resources can provide valuable information for individuals interested in pursuing a career as a social worker in the field of mental health and substance abuse treatment.

  • U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Handbook — Perhaps the most comprehensive resource for information on any career in the U.S. the Occupational Handbook provides in-depth information on the working environment typical duties salaries and job prospects in the field of mental health and substance abuse counseling and treatment.
  • National Board for Certified Counselors — The National Board for Certified Counselors provides certification opportunities and information on continuing education for those working in the counseling field. This organization offers three certification tracks two of which are specifically designed for mental health and substance abuse social workers.
  • Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network — One of the best resources for substance abuse counselors this website offers information on cutting-edge research continuing education and employment trends in the field of addiction and related mental health disorders.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse — Operating under the auspices of the U.S. National Institutes of Health this organization provides a wide range of grants services and information for professional social workers and counselors in the field of substance abuse and addiction treatment.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — This government agency provides support and information for substance abuse and mental health counselors. Its focus is primarily on grants education and support for victims of disaster military personnel and their families and local addiction and mental health treatment centers.
  • NAADAC — Established in 1974 as the National Association of Alcoholism Counselors and Trainers NAADAC is a member organization for addiction specialists and mental health counselors. The organization provides a voice for these health care professionals and offers a number of certification programs designed specifically for substance abuse social workers.

Salaries by City

See typical salaries and ranges for this career below*. Shift click to sort by more than one column — for example first shift-click on state and then shift-click on salary to find best and worst salaries in each state.

StateCity / RegionTypical SalarySalary RangeJob Count% of All Jobs
AKAnchorage$40450$32K – $55K4600.27%
ALAuburn – Opelika$27060$21K – $57K400.09%
ALBirmingham – Hoover$30730$22K – $47K2300.05%
ALDecatur$27380$21K – $58K500.10%
ALDothan$37660$33K – $56K400.08%
ALMobile$28690$21K – $54K1000.06%
ALMontgomery$32530$24K – $45K1600.10%
ALTuscaloosa$45870$32K – $60K400.05%
ARFayetteville – Springdale – Rogers$44840$29K – $60K800.04%
ARFort Smith$28610$18K – $54K600.06%
ARLittle Rock – North Little Rock – Conway$44090$27K – $61K1900.06%
AZPhoenix – Mesa – Glendale$35780$25K – $53K11400.07%
AZPrescott$38150$32K – $76KN/AN/A
AZTucson$29310$22K – $49K5100.15%
CABakersfield – Delano$49070$20K – $71K2300.08%
CAChico$48850$20K – $69KN/AN/A
CAFresno$41850$19K – $67K4000.13%
CALos Angeles – Long Beach – Glendale (Metro Area)$50240$31K – $74K32100.08%
CAModesto$62740$29K – $75K1500.10%
CAOakland – Fremont – Hayward (Metro Area)$55170$34K – $93K6100.06%
CAOxnard – Thousand Oaks – Ventura$47790$22K – $83K1600.06%
CARiverside – San Bernardino – Ontario$50060$30K – $93K6000.05%
CASacramento – Arden – Arcade – Roseville$40840$27K – $60K6800.08%
CASalinas$35490$28K – $45K900.05%
CASan Diego – Carlsbad – San Marcos$40460$22K – $81K7400.06%
CASan Francisco – San Mateo – Redwood City (Metro Area)$43160$28K – $87K12200.12%
CASan Jose – Sunnyvale – Santa Clara$46730$35K – $100K2700.03%
CASan Luis Obispo – Paso Robles$53620$26K – $74K500.05%
CASanta Ana – Anaheim – Irvine (Metro Area)$39960$29K – $60K7000.05%
CASanta Barbara – Santa Maria – Goleta$45400$36K – $85K500.03%
CASanta Cruz – Watsonville$32740$19K – $86KN/AN/A
CASanta Rosa – Petaluma$45350$29K – $94K300.02%
CAStockton$53180$41K – $84K800.04%
CAVallejo – Fairfield$38840$21K – $105K1100.09%
COBoulder$37360$26K – $53K1400.09%
COColorado Springs$42960$22K – $56K1500.06%
CODenver – Aurora – Broomfield$38880$25K – $61K8800.07%
COFort Collins – Loveland$48430$35K – $70K700.05%
COPueblo$38490$30K – $58K2500.46%
CTBridgeport – Stamford – Norwalk$57750$24K – $85K2800.07%
CTDanbury$66580$44K – $91KN/AN/A
CTHartford – West Hartford – East Hartford$58860$36K – $87K10900.20%
CTNew Haven$38580$31K – $67K5600.21%
CTNorwich – New London$62440$41K – $84K1700.13%
CTWaterbury$69940$33K – $91K800.13%
DCWashington – Arlington – Alexandria (Metro Area)$54800$34K – $81K13000.06%
DEDover$50290$37K – $72K700.12%
DEWilmington (Metro Area)$44580$29K – $59K2900.09%
FLCrestview – Fort Walton Beach – Destin$35230$32K – $39K600.09%
FLDeltona – Daytona Beach – Ormond Beach$39380$27K – $55K1100.07%
FLFort Lauderdale – Pompano Beach – Deerfield Beach (Metro Area)$43190$28K – $59K2500.04%
FLGainesville$33770$25K – $45K700.06%
FLJacksonville$37740$27K – $53K2300.04%
FLLakeland – Winter Haven$36830$26K – $49K400.02%
FLMiami – Miami Beach – Kendall (Metro Area)$40560$27K – $54K4700.05%
FLNorth Port – Bradenton – Sarasota$35850$26K – $57K600.03%
FLOcala$37420$32K – $48K600.07%
FLOrlando – Kissimmee – Sanford$$25K – $54K3100.03%
FLPalm Bay – Melbourne – Titusville$36750$31K – $69K1100.06%
FLPensacola – Ferry Pass – Brent$29750$24K – $45K1100.07%
FLPort St. Lucie$53730$38K – $60K700.05%
FLTampa – St. Petersburg – Clearwater$36360$25K – $121K4500.04%
FLWest Palm Beach – Boca Raton – Boynton Beach (Metro Area)$32250$20K – $47K4100.08%
GAAtlanta – Sandy Springs – Marietta$40930$30K – $60K7500.03%
GAMacon$65470$45K – $82K800.08%
GASavannahN/AN/A – N/A900.06%
HIHonolulu$35720$26K – $58K2700.06%
IACedar Rapids$41540$32K – $58K600.04%
IADavenport – Moline – Rock Island$28760$19K – $50K1900.11%
IADes Moines – West Des Moines$42650$34K – $59K1500.05%
IADubuque$36320$27K – $49K800.15%
IAIowa City$36570$26K – $64K1100.13%
IASioux City$31040$26K – $55K1900.28%
IAWaterloo – Cedar Falls$43670$29K – $66K300.04%
IDBoise City – Nampa$36270$31K – $49K4100.16%
IDPocatello$36750$27K – $48K800.23%
ILChampaign – Urbana$23170$21K – $38K500.05%
ILChicago – Joliet – Naperville (Metro Area)$$20K – $56K21300.06%
ILKankakee – Bradley$$32K – $47K8702.18%
ILLake County – Kenosha County (Metro Area)$36020$26K – $58K1700.05%
ILPeoria$28010$25K – $35K1300.07%
ILSpringfield$35970$21K – $48K600.06%
INColumbus$29730$25K – $53K400.09%
INElkhart – Goshen$42940$32K – $54K400.04%
INEvansville$34820$22K – $48K1700.10%
INFort Wayne$32080$22K – $47KN/AN/A
INGary (Metro Area)$34340$26K – $55K2000.07%
INIndianapolis – Carmel$42830$32K – $57K3300.04%
INMuncie$50400$33K – $59K400.08%
KSLawrence$54520$33K – $75K500.10%
KSTopeka$38030$27K – $54K1100.11%
KSWichita$38990$27K – $55K1000.04%0.11%
KYLexington – Fayette$37830$26K – $52K2600.10%
KYLouisville – Jefferson County$40450$21K – $56K3800.06%
LAAlexandria$43990$22K – $70K600.10%
LABaton Rouge$35980$18K – $65K1900.05%
LAHouma – Bayou Cane – Thibodaux$30860$26K – $42K1800.20%
LALafayette$33350$23K – $68K600.04%
LALake Charles$34090$22K – $49K600.07%
LAMonroe$35540$25K – $60K500.07%
LANew Orleans – Metairie – Kenner$37930$24K – $59K4200.08%
LAShreveport – Bossier City$53280$37K – $74K1100.06%
MABarnstable Town$34170$27K – $68K1800.18%
MABoston – Cambridge – Quincy (Metro Area)$41690$23K – $72K13300.08%
MABrockton – Bridgewater – Easton (Metro Area)$37600$20K – $60K400.04%
MAFramingham (Metro Area)$34890$27K – $67K700.04%
MAHaverhill – North Andover – Amesbury (Metro Area)$42250$31K – $64K400.05%
MALawrence – Methuen – Salem (Metro Area)$29300$23K – $64K1300.22%
MALeominster – Fitchburg – Gardner$30480$26K – $38K600.13%
MALowell – Billerica – Chelmsford (Metro Area)$44580$32K – $73KN/AN/A
MANew Bedford$29170$26K – $60KN/AN/A
MAPeabody (Metro Area)$42920$2

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