Learn / Who Works in Rehabs? Understanding Roles and Titles
When you choose something as important as a rehab, you want to be sure you’re in good hands. Addiction treatment is a life-changing process, and surrounding yourself with the right people can set you up for success. Everyone who works at your treatment center has an important role to play in your recovery.
As you consider different rehab programs, knowing what to look for in a treatment team can help you find one that meets your needs.
Rehabs employ a diverse range of professionals. The size and expertise of the staff vary from program to program. But at most facilities, you’ll interact with these team members:
Rehabs in the U.S. are regulated at the state level. That means staff credentials and licensing requirements vary by location. If you have specific questions, you can easily learn more about the laws in a given area. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) lists state regulations for substance use disorder programs1 and staffing requirements. You can also view credentials and licensing requirements of substance use disorder workers,2 as outlined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Admissions team members are your first point of contact with a rehab. Their job is to help you find a program that suits your needs. To do that, they’ll want to learn as much as possible about your recovery goals. While admissions staff essentially function as a sales team, they may also have recovery-specific skills:
First impressions matter, and your initial contact with a rehab is no exception. This call is your opportunity to make sure they have your best interests at heart. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. There are even fake hotlines designed to trick people who are looking for treatment. But there are ways to determine whether a rehab center is legitimate, even over the phone.
A good admissions specialist should be able to address your concerns and share clear, helpful information. A great one makes you feel seen and supported.
Admissions specialists must have a high school diploma.4 Many also have 1-2 years of experience in admissions or healthcare settings.
Talk therapy is a core component of most treatment programs. There are many different approaches, but a few are especially common during rehab:
These are examples of evidence-based treatment. In other words, data shows that they can help with addiction recovery. Your therapist may recommend these methods as part of your care plan.
Counseling helps people work through acute issues5 and kickstart the healing process. A counselor is more like an ally than a guide. They’ll get to know you, learn about your goals for recovery, and help you decide what to do next.
Counseling is a broad field, so most counselors choose a specific focus. For instance, you might see someone who mainly treats gambling addiction, or helps patients heal from trauma. Substance abuse counselors concentrate on addiction treatment.
Licensed professional counselors (LPCs) can diagnose patients,6 unlike other types of counselors. LPCs can also create treatment plans and advise in their area of expertise.
A psychotherapist, or talk therapist, can provide longer-term treatment than a counselor. They serve as a guide during talk therapy, helping you explore your mental health. In many programs, they also take the lead on designing your treatment plan.
During rehab, you’ll likely attend both 1:1 and group therapy sessions. You may also receive talk therapy sessions from another type of expert, like a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Psychologists are licensed mental health professionals, much like therapists. However, they have more rigorous educational requirements.
Practicing psychologists need a doctoral degree. They are qualified to both treat patients and do clinical research. Because of their academic background, psychologists might use more specialized treatment techniques. It’s also more common for psychologists to treat patients with severe mental health symptoms.8
Practicing psychologists have a Ph.D. in a field of psychology or a doctorate of psychology (Psy.D.). They also adhere to state licensing laws.
The responsibilities of a CAS depends on their background and specialization. For example, you could see a medical doctor certified to treat alcohol use disorder. They would take a different approach than a CAS whose background is in psychology.
Some states require that certain professionals have an addiction specialist certification.9 For example, all opioid medical directors in Ohio must be addiction specialists.
All certified addiction specialists must have a bachelor’s degree. To provide patient care, they also need a master’s degree and certification from an accredited organization.
Addiction can damage relationships. For the person with addiction, unhealthy relationships can trigger mental health symptoms. And those symptoms can lead to drug use, which can erode your loved ones’ trust. Without professional support, it’s easy to get stuck in this loop.
LMFTs provide family or couples counseling to help you heal interpersonal dynamics. Treatment can be transformative for your relationships and for each individual family member. For many people, this is an essential part of healing from addiction. A strong support network increases your chances of long-term recovery.10
LMFTs hold a master’s or doctoral degree. They also need a state license from the Association of Marital & Family Therapy Regulatory Boards.11
Many rehabs also employ medical professionals. Depending on their licensure, they may treat physical issues, prescribe medication for mental health, or both.
Some facilities have a special focus on medical treatment. If you’re planning to go through medical detox, for example, it’s important to find a qualified provider. Unsupervised detox can be extremely dangerous. These professionals can help you manage the physical and emotional symptoms of recovery.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (an M.D. or D.O.)12 who specializes in mental health. They can give you an official diagnosis and prescribe medication. For people in addiction recovery, this type of treatment usually requires close supervision, to make sure you only take your meds as directed.
Talk therapy almost always accompanies psychiatric treatment. Your psychiatrist may provide therapy, or they may work in tandem with another professional, like a psychologist. But even if you’re seeing some else for psychotherapy, you’ll have regular check-ins with your psychiatrist. They’ll ask you about your life, your symptoms, and whether you’re experiencing unwanted side effects. Over time, they may adjust your dosage to achieve the best results.
Some patients need ongoing medical treatment for mental health issues, even after finishing rehab. In rare situations, you may be able to keep seeing the same person when you return home. But most of the time, you’ll need to sign a release form so they can share your medical history with your new psychiatrist.
Psychiatrists may be medical doctors (M.D.s) or doctors of osteopathic medicine (D.O.s). They also need a state physician’s license.
Many rehabs have doctors on staff. In medical detox programs, they ensure patients’ safety throughout withdrawal.13 But they can also support other aspects of recovery. For example, some people develop addiction in the attempt to manage chronic pain. In that case, a doctor might help you find non-addictive medications to serve the same purpose.
Some diagnoses, like eating disorders, have both physical and psychological symptoms. Medical care can be a major component of treatment for these conditions.
ADMs specialize in addiction-related health issues. They can give you an official diagnosis, and treat both physical and emotional symptoms. ADMs may also treat the loved ones of a person in recovery.
RNs may have a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), or an associate of science in nursing (ASN). All of these programs include supervised clinical training. RNs are also licensed by the state.21
Mental health and addiction can affect every aspect of your life, from relationships to nutrition.
In holistic treatment, you’ll approach recovery as an integrated, whole-self experience. Instead of just treating your symptoms, you’ll reconnect your mind, body, and spirit with each other.
Holistic addiction treatment is increasingly popular.22 As a result, it’s easier than ever to find a rehab that employs the following specialists:
Requirements for holistic practitioners vary widely. For example, massage therapy is regulated at the state level. And in most U.S. states massage therapists must pass the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Exam (MBLEx)23 to get a license. But in some states, like Minnesota, there are no licensing regulations.
Other complementary treatments are relatively new to the U.S., even if they have a long history in other countries. As a result, not all of these professionals require licenses. But as researchers continue to study these therapies, those requirements may change.
Starting recovery is a major commitment—to yourself and to the program. You don’t need to spend your time in rehab wondering if you can trust your team. Look for a center that employs experienced professionals who work well together. With their support, you can focus on what really matters: your healing journey.
Review our list of rehabs to compare the essentials about each center, from treatment team information to pricing and insurance options.
Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod
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