Welcome to the Counseling People Who Use Substances course. In this course you will learn about commonly used substances, how substances impact people's physiology, how to assess, diagnose, and treat substance use, and so much more. This information is designed for all counselors in training, and all counselors will likely encounter clients who use substances or clients who are in systems that are impacted by substances.
To get the most out of this unit, please review the following:
Playback problems? This video is available on YouTube: youtu.be/rRnWkRlzZpw
A transcript of this video is available as a .pdf file as well as a plain (.txt) file.
Research has demonstrated that language significantly impacts one's perceptions and behaviors. It is crucial that counselors be aware of how their language impacts their clients. Often, clients with substance use disorders experience substantial stigma, including some counselors who use stigmatizing terms. Shaming is not an effective way to treat substance use disorders, and counselors should practice using the less stigmatizing terms in the below table.
Some counselors in training worry that using destigmatizing language takes away responsibility. Effective substance use treatment is about identifying and remedying underlying causes such as low social support or a need to fit in, physiological predispositions and changes, problematic patterns within families, and many other potential factors. Treatment progresses more smoothly and is more effective when the counselor engages in a warm, genuine, empathetic relationship (similar to that described by Rogers). While well intentioned, counselors who shame or otherwise stigmatize their clients are more likely to perpetuate the problematic behaviors their clients seek to change, rather than actually helping their clients.
|Preferred Term||Stigmatizing Term|
|"Person with a substance use disorder"
"Person who uses substances"
|"Person with an alcohol use disorder"||"Alcoholic"|
|"Tested [positive/negative] for [substance]"||"Clean/dirty"|
|"Person without housing"||"Homeless person"|
Read through this article before considering the following reflection prompts.
During this course, we will routinely use several external resources. Familiarizing yourself with these resources early and referring to them during other units will make the course easier.
Everyone develops their own values, biases, and beliefs. Psychoactive substances can be a particularly loaded topic, with some condemning all people who use substances, while others advocate for complete decriminalization and acceptance of substances. One of our aims in developing this course is to structure activities that encourage you to explore the ways in which your personal values, biases, beliefs, & culture intersect with your identity as a counselor and your professional work with people who use substances.
Before beginning this course, please reflect on the following: