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Addiction Treatment Professionals Pay Comes Up Short in Survey


You can make more money as the manager of a fast food restaurant than as a licensed social worker with a master’s degree, according to a new survey. The 2011 Behavioral Health Salary Survey found that addiction treatment and mental health professionals are paid much lower salaries than their counterparts in other healthcare sectors.

The survey, released by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare (National Council), included more than 850 mental health and addictions treatments organizations. The results indicate that the median salary of a direct care worker in a 24-hour residential treatment center is $23,000 a year compared with $25,589 for an assistant manager at Burger King.

The survey also found that the yearly salary range for a chief medical officer at a behavioral health organization is $101,000–$150,000, much lower than the national average of $183,947–$292,395 for the same position in other types of healthcare organizations. Social workers employed in a mental health-addictions treatment organization also make less than their colleagues in general health care agencies.

25 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of jane sinclair
    jane sinclair / April 9, 2012 at 9:17 am

    I have a dual BA from a liberal arts college (prior to addictions specific training)and I returned to school to obtain a “Certificate in Addictions Counseling” 24 cr. hours. I worked for three years in the field, applied for certification and was told I had to return to school and get a BA or AA in a Human Services field. (This is after my certificate and 3000 hrs as a trainee) How do I pay to return to college at $12 dollars per hour? I had excellent performance evaluations doing exactly the same job as a certified counselor! What is up with this “profession”?

  2. Mara / July 24, 2011 at 10:54 am

    qualified than MSWs, unless they have taken extra classes. In fact, at my grad school, unless you took an elective about substance abuse, you will barely learn anything useful about the subject. One last thing, I take exception to Fr. Jack Kearney’s comment about the lack of ethics in our field. The social work & CASAC codes if ethics maintain high standards, however, in any profession, there can be individuals who lack an ethical or moral compass- that goes for higher paid psychologists & psychiatrists.

  3. Avatar of Jose Drasich
    Jose Drasich / May 16, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    The issue here is the counselor can not prescribe Rx., where the real profit is.

  4. Avatar of arthur flax, lcadc
    arthur flax, lcadc / April 19, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    In Maryland and elsewhere we need to employ persons’ who have an intimate understanding of alcohol and drug addiction. Too much emphasis is placed on “certifications” (wizard of Oz -cowardly lion receives a badge of courage when all along he was couragous). Many persons’ seeking help cannot afford to pay, and lack skills. There needs to be intergration of services. Many nursing assistants with a GED perform extremly well and carry more responsibility than counselors providing supportive counseling. Simly put, as long as the addiction field is primarily a public health service grant funded, it will either be a training experience or a depository for those who are either dedicated and or do not need to earn much money for various reasons, or a depository for those who cannot attain higher paying positions or train for other professions.

  5. perryrants / April 18, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    the duh answer is: when you have an industry that “prides” itself in using para-professionals (those in recovery) you are then able to keep wages/salary down.

    in other health care professions you DO NOT have workers treating you whose only experience is “having had” the disease!

  6. Avatar of Darryl Norris
    Darryl Norris / April 18, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    AZ moved from certification to licensure and I have noticed that saleries have increased dramatically in the last 8 years. I believe that there needs to be a process for licences, but that being too restrictive forces good professionals out of the system. In our state: 1) if you don’t have the exact curriculum in your degree, you can’t get licensed- GO back to School. 2) if you don’t have a licensed and trained supervisor with detailed documentation in the last couple of years, then you can’t get licensed -Start supervision over again.

    It’s like a bad Home Owners association, if you aren’t on the board, then you get the brunt of the impact.

  7. Avatar of Jan Beauregard, Ph.D., LPC
    Jan Beauregard, Ph.D., LPC / April 13, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    I have been an addictions specialist for over ten years. I was shocked by the salary range you quoted as in private practice I make a great salary working only 4 days a week. My advice to these lower paid counselors would be to begin a private practice part time and find a supervisor who has knowledge about growing a practice. Break away from agency work. To be successful in addictions work, train in trauma techniques like EMDR and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy – trauma is at the heart of most addictive disorders.

  8. Avatar of Dave
    Dave / April 13, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    It’s not just low salaries compared to other healthcare fields or to private industry. The bigger problem right now is the lack of salaried positions. Most workers at my agency and other agencies in my area are per diem, working w/o benefits. And therefore out of luck unless they have a partner with benefits.

  9. Avatar of Kenneth Hall
    Kenneth Hall / April 13, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    And it took how long to figure this out. It is so obvious when there are so many highly skilled professionals leaving the field because the pay is lousy. Then too, there are an increasing number of us who are unemployed because even unemployment pays more than what we would make if we were employed.

  10. Avatar of Terrance Newton
    Terrance Newton / April 13, 2011 at 9:02 am

    I have been in the addictions field since June of 1978. The level of education has improved immensely since my early days in the field. I run a program that has almost all of it’s counselors having Master’s degrees. They are either limited licensed psychologists, MSW’s, Licensed Professional Counselors, Graduate Addictions Program Degrees, etc. The pay needs to be commensurate with education and experience or we will continue to be nothing more than a training ground for other human services occupations. The remuneration from the state is lousy and we keep getting cut year after year.

  11. Avatar of Alexander Gittinger
    Alexander Gittinger / April 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    4. take out the criminal aspect and treat addiction as a health issue, rather than a criminal issue.
    And by doing that,
    5. change the public’s perception of addicted people and treat them as human beings, who are equally worth of treatment, like people (“normies”) who suffer from various other illnesses.

  12. Avatar of Fr. Jack Kearney
    Fr. Jack Kearney / April 12, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Perhaps we can get decent salaries when we:
    1. raise standards for counselor education
    2. get our ethical act together (we are lowest among all human services professionals)
    3. push to get decent salaries built into government contracts….

  13. Avatar of Becky Swift
    Becky Swift / April 12, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    This is also true of substance abuse prevention professionals. Many of whom work second jobs just to make a living wage. Clearly workers in these profession are not viewed as professionals with a specific skill set, nor is their work valued.

    We lose many good professionals to other fields because they can make a living wage and because they feel valued by society.

  14. Avatar of Pam
    Pam / April 13, 2011 at 7:49 am

    I don’t know where your certification and or licence are from, but mine have very strict ethical standards and counselor education also has a high standard.

  15. Avatar of Becky
    Becky / April 15, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    SW has a code of ethics and a master’s degree is a significant education. What were you thinking we need to achieve?

  16. Avatar of Ruthe Griffin
    Ruthe Griffin / June 29, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Hi Father Jack: You said it all in a nutshell but I am not sure it is ever going to happen. I know you and others in the field are working hard towards the goal. Thank you for your efforts in our behalf and God Bless You.

  17. Avatar of Brendon Kerton
    Brendon Kerton / April 14, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    I just graduated from Hazelden Grad School and I make a much higher salary than was quoted in this article. I work in Aspen, CO so the pay rate may be different from where this sample was taken however the discrepancy is quite large. I would say keep looking and find a reputable place that will pay you what you’re worth if you have the education to back it up. Also, get your L.P.C. this adds measurable value for you as a potential employee.

  18. perryrants / April 18, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    too restrictive? NO! in Maryland you can work as a “professional” in a “trainee” status. that means that you are in recovery and have a high school diploma. and do that for 2 five year periods (supposed to attend college and get a bachelors before moving to the next level of ceritication).

    So, how can a master’s level person compete for a position with someone who has “trainee” status? YOU CAN’T!

  19. Avatar of mike lyons
    mike lyons / May 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    I live and work in San Francisco. I will be testing for my first level of CAADAC certification, which means I will be a state certified associate drug and alcohol counselor. I attended UC Berkeley Extension taking course work in the Drug and Alcohol Abuse Studies Program. I often inquire about curriculum with recent graduates from Masters degree programs in psychology, counseling, rehabilitation, etc. They tell me that their required course work doesn’t include one class about addiction. My point is that having a Masters degree will prepare you to become a good therapist, but it doesn’t teach addiction science. What is up with that?

  20. Avatar of Lisa
    Lisa / July 7, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Unfortunately, most of those in recovery are NO longer in the field. We now have alot of “educated” counselors, who the clients run circles around.

  21. Avatar of jking
    jking / June 6, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    And yet there are many who are not only themselves in recovery (did your professors teach you something they themselves did not know?)and are also formally educated. Just because someone is in recovery does not mean they would do well as an addictions professional, but just because someone has a degree doesn’t either.

  22. Avatar of Jim Russell
    Jim Russell / June 27, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    Thank God for organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and others for their singleness of purpose – recovery. In contrast, the alcohol and/or drug industrial complex (prevention, research and treatment) seems more concerned about their own self-interests; organizational survival and job growth at the taxpayers’ expense, of course. Since the effect of mandated alcohol and/or drug policy has been such a failure these past forty plus years, perhaps the time for new policy advanced by the recovery community is needed.

  23. Avatar of jeff
    jeff / October 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    That is good,Ihave my LPC but it is in VA.,my CAP in Fl and teh LMHC do make more yet we have the same caseload?
    Have not seen evidenced=based research on imporved clinet outcome based upon degrees,have you? I dedicde to just retire for now and do UR work

  24. Avatar of pradyot voleti
    pradyot voleti / October 5, 2012 at 12:34 am

    hey im from india planning to come to the US to do a professional course in substance abuse counselling and working post the completion how is the scope for addiction counsellors in the US?secondly would you advice me to go for the hazelden masters of addiction program or would you suggest i go for the certificate the course module for different and are there any other schools like hazelden??thankyou so much

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