Comparison of Professionals

Social Work Compared to Substance Abused Counseling

In the late 1800s the concept of social work was born with the first course in social work being offered at Columbia University (National Association of Social Workers (NASW), n.d.). This course was supported by an increasing number of volunteers who were reaching to meet the social needs of increasing poverty levels during a growing economy.  Social workers throughout history voiced support for civil rights and equality, and worker rights (unemployment insurance, worker compensation, disability allotments, a reduction in child abuse, and support for mental illness) J.  There have been many notable social workers throughout the one-hundred-year history of the program.  Nobel Prize winner Jane Addams who brought about the Settlement house in the city of Chicago for immigrants and coordinator of peace activity within the community was one of the earliest noted social workers that championed support for those in need. Under president Roosevelt, Frances Perkins became the first woman to be appointed to a presidential cabinet to develop what would become the New Deal in which social security was established and numerous public works programs were developed. Throughout the history of Social Work, the focus has remained on poverty, and has been expanded into women’s and children protection and promoting social projects such as social security.  A part of social work is supporting those with substance abuse, social workers assist clients and families that have addiction issues.

Social workers have long since worked with those suffering from substance abuse and carry a history of assisting others with self-help methods, Alcoholics Anonymous, and revelation programs that have supported those within the community. A few programs of social involvement stand out, the NIDA Social Work Infrastructure Development program which aids in funded research into substance abuse and how best to address prevention, coexisting mental disorders, abuse, and aiding under supported communities. The national Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare aims to provide technical assistance and development of effective programs at various levels of local and national government. Each of these programs highlight the engagement of social work with substance abuse and its commitment to serving the communities hit hardest by abuse. With the recognition of substance abuse as a formal disorder and direct response given to this growing problem in America as noted in the Affordable Care Act, social workers have pushed further into the realm of treating addiction. This is due to the level of direct contact of client/ social worker relationship and frequency in which social workers maintain clients with substance abuse programs.  Social workers of this modern age will need to provide specialized treatment through a series of proven effective base treatments that can support the recovery from addiction. Social workers have begun to and continue to develop best treatment practices for clients through the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Relapse Prevention, Contingency management, Community Reinforcement Approach, Motivational Interviewing, family therapist, and use of the 12 step models. Through the use of CBT  a limited number of sessions are established in which treatment is provided the goal of this method of therapy is to provide the client skills needed to identify triggers that activate the desires to abuse, then to develop coping skills that can be used to navigate environment/ situational events that can mitigate the desire to return to substance abuse. Often role play and feedback, are involved in the therapy sessions.  Contingency Management through a social workers support provides observation of desired behavior through drug testing, receipt of rewards for obtaining or continuing to maintain appropriate behavior and disallowing the availability to be rewarded for appropriate actions if undesirable behaviors are continued. Community Reinforcement Approach is used by a social worker in two main forms, one is designed to target adolescents and the other is a modified form that addresses involvement of family with therapy information altered for the involvement of parents.  CRA is tailored for use on an individual basis and does not provide a one fits all approach in treatment. Clients are required to be intimately involved in the treatment process where various techniques are covered to include role play and practice of one’s behaviors.  CRA focuses on stirring up change in recreation, relations, family, and employment. It also provides the client with understanding what their triggers are, results of abuse, self-management, “sobriety Sampling”, communication, time management, critical thinking, mood monitoring, and much more.  The underlying principle goal of CRA is to reconstruct the user (Wells et al., 2013). The aforementioned demonstrates how social work has become integrated in working with those that suffer from substance abuse.

    Substance abuse counseling differs from Social work in a few direct and indirect ways.  A Social Worker is typically employed by a government office local or national.  A social worker scope of work is broader in nature and consists of primarily connecting individuals or families with community-based services that can provide support in reestablishing a functioning life that is sustainable. Programs such as reduced rent, subsidized housing, food stamps, free counseling services, Medicaid and numerous additional programs that are available and can provide support.  Though both social work and substance abuse can both be equally important neither are interchangeable with the other.  It takes specialized skill and training to operate in both career fields.  A substance abuse counselor like a social worker will be training in various treatment methods such Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, and approaches in substance abuse prevention. However, a substance abuse counselor will specifically focus on the scope of treating the root cause of addiction.  Through specialized training and a narrow path a substance abuse counselor is trained in identifying coexisting disorders for referral, identifying triggers that set in motion the abusive behaviors, developing coping skills, identifying environmental factors that contribute to continued abuse, support groups that can assist in maintenance of sobriety and prevention of abuse. Substance abuse as a mental health issue in recent years has become its own field of study and has gained significant steps in being recognized as individual mental health issues that must be addressed through a counselor with specialized training. Professionals in both fields require strong characteristics that are needed in providing support to clients. Confidence, empathy, stress management skills, ability to manage professional boundaries that maintain strong relationships without crossing lines, are all characteristics that will be needed in both social work and substance abuse counselor.


National Association of Social Workers (NASW). (n.d.). Retrieved May 17, 2020, from

Wells, E. A., Kristman-Valente, A. N., Michelle Peavy, K., & Ron Jackson, T. (2013). Social Workers and Delivery of Evidence-Based Psychnosocial Treatmets for Substance Use Disorders. Social Work in Public Health, 28(0), 279

Published by stmd1980

Hi, and thank you for joining me on my new site. Here I want to take time to discuss different aspects of Mental Health that I have observed over the last 17 years. I wanted to use this blog as an opportunity to discuss research, personal experience, and though the comment section have you the reader share your personal experience with mental health either yours or in a support role for your loved ones. Here on this form I will be targeting topic such as personality disorders, Autism, addiction, and other such aspect that effect many of us throughout the course of our lives. It is my hope through sharing information we can learn from each other.

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