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Learning Center Experience
By Elizabeth G. Donnellan
is a powerful, powerful force—a screaming siren. Ask anyone who attempts to
give up chocolate or television for a month. Ask any former or current
cigarette smoker about his/her attempts to quit smoking. Most people struggle
to persist in their abstinence and often return to the target behavior much
sooner than anticipated. The subsequent self-talk is often unkind and fuels
self-doubt about the person’s ability to control urges. In short, we feel
powerless to those strong urges that seem to drive our decision making despite
our efforts to control it.
The draw of a pleasurable activity
can be so strong that it defies common sense and can create a physical reward
that ultimately sabotages our efforts to control the activity. Students of
addiction science learn that the force that drives this urge is a complicated
combination of biological, psychological, and social motivators. No one force
seems to be more powerful than the others are. Those who choose to work in this
field have a passion for helping others. This is the driving force for the
professional, be it counselor, case manager, or advocate, from the first day of
may be attracted to the behavioral health field for personal reasons, for
example, battles with their own addiction, addiction of a family member, or a
strong curiosity about the nature of addiction and mental health. Whatever the
attraction, a simple interest in the field is not enough to sustain a long and
successful career. How does someone harness his/her passion for helping others
into a satisfying clinical career?
interested in working in any of the behavioral health fields should carefully
plan their own career path, including research of license/certification
options, education, training, volunteer/part-time work, and full-time work. The
plan does not require a specific chronology, as these items are not steps as
much as items designed to give students what they need most: knowledge,
experience, and professional support. Most students begin their career in jobs
or college classes (psychology/addictions or clinical track) or both. Many do
not realize that they can pursue work in the clinical fields without a
license/certification and that is one of the best ways to begin.
example, addiction agencies may allow students to volunteer time working in
clinics without being hired and without applying. Often, program directors are
happy to have students volunteer for events or prevention activities that are
not confidential. This is a wonderful way for novice professionals to gain some
networking and agency experience. Students who continue to volunteer on an “as
needed basis” may have the opportunity later to apply for a job. Sometimes, the
novice professional is offered a part-time weekend or evening technician
Occasionally, addiction or mental
health agencies have too many volunteers or interns already. In that case, the
novice professional could pursue volunteer work with a local crisis hotline.
Most require volunteers to have a high school degree and either some education
or experience in a clinical field. There are many benefits to volunteering for
these types of agencies, including free training and opportunities.
professionals can use their education and volunteer or part-time experience as
a basis for career planning. Gaining experience from working with a few
different agencies helps in deciding whether one wants to focus on working in
the addiction, mental health, domestic violence, prison treatment, or
crisis-counseling fields. Probably one of the best advantages of being
interested in working in a behavioral health field is that every experience and
certification/license strengthens the professional’s ability to switch paths
(e.g. from domestic violence to addictions to school counseling).
many other careers, behavioral health (e.g. addictions, mental health)
professionals are expected to change agencies and disciplines. Most
professionals work in a few different agencies while changing career focus
(e.g. counselor to case manager) over the course of their career. For this
reason, it is important for the novice professional to create 1 year, 5 year,
and 10 year career goals so that he/she can pursue the proper training and
experience. These goals might include licensure tests, internships, specialized
training or certificate programs, graduate school, or other possible
disciplines of interest. Creating a plan will neither ensure success nor will
it ensure that the novice professional will follow the planned path, however it
does are require a crucial step by challenging the novice professional to
appraise his/her ability to make sacrifices (e.g. salary, time with family,
moving) with career plans. Once the novice professional understands exactly how
much he/she can give up to feed the “helping others” addiction, the plan can
become a reality.
a career plan or at least understanding of the field and its requirements,
novice professionals can make the same kind of costly mistakes that cigarette
smokers who return to smoking make. Novice professionals often allow their
passion for helping others to obfuscate some important factors. Professionals
who are switching fields are often shocked by starting salaries in behavioral
health entry-level jobs. They are often equally displeased with the hours or
lack of control in the job (depending on job and agency). For these reasons, it
is important that novice professionals develop a full understanding of their
options, ability to make sacrifices, and passion for helping others before
committing to a career path in the clinical helping fields.
Elizabeth G. Donnellan is a
full-time faculty member at
Kaplan University. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the
author and do not represent the view of Kaplan University. The University
cannot guarantee career advancement.
Student Spotlight: Cheri Schummann--Using Her Firsthand Experience to Help Others Live Clean and Sober
Government Spotlight: National Institute on Drug Abuse
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And if you are considering pursuing higher education we invite you to find out more about Kaplan University’s programs and explore our undergraduate and graduate degree offerings.It is important to note that certain career paths are growing and our degrees are designed to strengthen your knowledge and prepare our students to advance their careers. But Kaplan University cannot guarantee employment or career advancement. Several factors specific to a student’s or alumni’s backgrounds and actions, as well as economic and job conditions, affect employment. Also, keep in mind that national long-term projections covered in articles may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
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