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    By John Burke, PhD, Professor, Graduate Psychology

    Getting Started 

    I am asked sometimes, "What does it take to get into the field?" I usually reply, “Do you have a minute, I need a little time to lay this out.” In this article I am going to talk about how to step up into the field of professional addictions counseling. But first, let’s review your assets. You already “get” the Internet, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this article. And that also goes for intelligence, interest, and curiosity about what’s new. So, what else do you need?

    A Passion to Help Others 

    The first essential is a passion to help others. I could mention authenticity, empathy, and caring, but the passion to help others must be there first. Professional counselors help persons in need of aid. It’s that simple. Their professional skills and native aptitudes are used to help others. They make deep connections to people. And they use these deep connections to facilitate real change that impacts the lives of others. They build what is called a therapeutic alliance, a connection with another person which shares some of the elements of genuine friendship but also is boundaried and defined by professional skills and objectives. In psychological language, counselors provide a “facilitating and empowering environment” that makes real change possible. And while they are doing this, counselors also provide hope.

    Real Interest in People 

    Counselors show real interest in others. But other people have many different “cultural colors.” It has said that it is only possible to really learn one or two different cultures than your own in a lifetime. But counselors learn how to relate  and communicate with persons who are very different than themselves and thereby begin the change process. And, sometimes these persons who first seemed to be different than ourselves become friends when we get to know them. Learning how to approach others can be taught; but first there must be a real interest in others.

    Using Learned Skills 

    Preparation is needed to address the complex problems and challenges that modern people experience. This preparation is best gained as part of a formal educational process. For instance, depending on the program, a master’s degree in psychology allows opportunity to study current research and clinical practices under the guidance of doctoral-level licensed professors, while participating in the valuable experience of being on a common learning path with fellow students who have the same goals. Because psychological research is constantly developing, it is important to stay abreast of the latest information.

    Your Commitment Is to Your Future

    Finally, as a counselor, your commitment to yourself and your future makes the difference. Ability, desire, and opportunity require commitment to take the life-changing step into professional counseling. After you complete your education, training, and certification as a professional counselor you could pursue opportunities to work in a school, governmental agency, neighborhood mental health clinic, private agency, correctional institution, or businesses and corporations or even as a freelance writer or consultant.* 



    John Burke, PhD is a 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.

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