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The Professionals in Your Addiction Care Team

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When you choose to attend an addiction treatment program, you will receive care from a team of treatment professionals, such as an interventionist, psychologist, certified substance use counselors, and psychiatrists. The more you know about your addiction care team professionals, the easier it becomes to reach out for the care you deserve.

In this article:

What is an Interventionist?

Interventionists know how to create a plan of action that helps everyone get on the path to recovery. Interventionists are qualified to do their work because they have at least a bachelor’s degree in a mental health or substance use program. Many who have a bachelor’s and master’s degree are credentialed as addiction specialists by national organizations.1 They also earn certifications as interventionists, showing they have acquired additional knowledge and training.2

Hiring an interventionist takes the pressure off of the family to try to hold an intervention themselves. They oversee the planning and implementation of the intervention. They may serve different roles during the process, such as a teacher explaining the disease of addiction and how alcohol and drugs affect the brain. Interventionists may spend time encouraging everyone to participate or intervene with other family members misusing substances.2

The goal of the interventionist is to disrupt the routine of the person with a substance use disorder. Interventionists are not seeking confrontation. They focus on healing the family and lovingly but firmly, encouraging the family to set boundaries, stop enabling, and work as a team to help their loved one enter treatment.2

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What is a Certified Substance Use Counselor?

Certified substance use counselors commit to years of extra training, state testing, continuing education, and supervision.3 With six types of substance use counselor certifications, there are more opportunities for diversity among professionals.

Certified substance use counselors often work in addiction treatment facilities, inpatient or outpatient, but are different than interventionists, who don’t participate in active treatment. Substance use counselors usually work closely with psychologists who can provide more detailed assessments and psychiatrists who can evaluate someone physically and mentally and see if medication is an excellent supplemental treatment.

National Certified Addiction Counselor Level 1 (NCAC1)

National Certified Addiction Counselor Level 1 is for those who do not have an undergraduate degree but have three years or 6,000 hours of supervised counseling. They are also credentialed with the state board and have 270 continuing education training in addiction.

National Certified Addiction Counselor Level 2 (NCAC2)

National Certified Addiction Counselor level 2 refers to those who have completed an undergraduate program in counseling or addiction and thousands of hours of supervised work. They also must acquire 450 hours of continuing education in substance use and addiction. An NCAC2 must also have a current license or certification in good standing with the state in which they work.

Master Addiction Counselor (MAC)

Master Addiction Counselor certification is for substance use counselors who have completed graduate-level coursework or a master’s degree, 6,000 hours of supervised employment, 500 hours of additional training, and a license or credential in good standing.

Nicotine Dependence Specialists (NDS)

Nicotine Dependence Specialists have unique training and experience specifically for overcoming a nicotine use disorder. NDS are typically nurses or counselors with a bachelor’s degree and 6,000 hours of supervised employment.

National Certified Adolescent Addiction Counselor (NCAAC)

National Certified Adolescent Addiction Counselor has specialized training and education in treating substance use disorders among teens. They must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in substance use or a counseling-related field. Credentialing of some kind, like a license, by the state is also required, along with five years or 10,000 hours of supervised work experience.

National Certified Peer Recovery Support Specialist (NCPRSS)

NCPRSS are support staff who are in recovery or have co-occurring disorders. Their life experiences allow them to support others seeking recovery. They have at least two years of recovery, 200 hours of direct work in a peer recovery support role, and a high school diploma or GED. They must also have 60 hours of training on topics that impact their role.

What is a Psychologist?

Although the two are commonly mistaken for one another, a psychologist is actually different than a therapist. Because both are considered mental health and substance use professionals, the titles are sometimes confusing. However, there is a significant difference between a therapist and psychologist.

Therapists are master-level treatment providers who engage in individual and group therapies. They receive licensure by the state and must stay up to date with annual training requirements. A psychologist has more education and training than a therapist. Most have a Ph.D. in psychology.4

Both therapists and psychologists can assess you for treatment needs. However, psychologists can provide more comprehensive evaluations using multiple tools only they can interpret.4 Psychologists conduct scientific studies and research, diagnose disorders, and supervise interns and other clinicians. There are various types of psychologists, but only a few work with substance use disorders, including:5

  • Clinical psychologist
  • Counseling psychologist
  • School psychologist
  • Forensic psychologist

Both therapists and psychologists engage clients in evidence-based behavioral therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, CBT is most effective with marijuana, alcohol, cocaine, and amphetamines. Additional behavioral therapies prove to improve recovery results with specific types of substances, including:6

  • Contingency management is most effective with alcohol, stimulants, opioids, and marijuana
  • Motivational interviewing is most effective with alcohol and marijuana
  • Community reinforcement is effective with alcohol, cocaine, and opioids
  • Matrix model is primarily used for stimulants
  • 12 Step facilitation groups are useful for all substances

Family therapy, medication maintenance, and multi-system therapies can benefit recovery.6 How they use these therapies in individual and group settings may be another difference between therapist and psychologist. Again, there are no restrictions on the use of therapies, just the preferences of the treatment professional. And this is true in outpatient or inpatient substance use treatment.

There is also a difference between counselor and therapist. Counselors work with clients in a more general format and may have educational social work, psychology, or substance misuse backgrounds. Some counselors can have an associate degree, and licensure is not always required. Therapists often specialize in certain areas. Their specialties usually require extra training, certifications, more education, more supervised work, or all the above.4

Examples of specialties include marriage and family therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or holistic and alternative therapies. Counselors don’t typically specialize in any area. They have a broader list of jobs for which they can apply, including case management, behavioral health, social services in the school and community, and the criminal justice system.

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What is a Psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who completed an undergraduate program then attended and completed medical school and a residency. They also spent extra time and effort studying and practicing in the mental health and substance use treatment specialty.7

Many people with substance use disorders also have co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety.7 Psychiatrists can prescribe medications to treat these issues so you can stay focused on learning the necessary skills for recovery.

Psychiatrists typically order lab tests and psychological tests to make an accurate diagnosis and prescribe the correct treatment protocols. You may meet with a psychiatrist in any of the following:7

  • Private practice
  • Hospitals and emergency rooms
  • Community medical centers and clinics
  • Addiction treatment facilities
  • Mental health treatment facilities
  • Military clinics
  • Government hospitals and facilities
  • Nursing homes
  • Juvenile centers

What is Addiction Medical Staff?

In both inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment programs, medical staff provides care when needed. They may also administer medications to treat withdrawal symptoms. A list of medical professionals in your addiction care team may include:8

  • Psychiatrist, physician, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner for medication prescriptions and monitoring
  • Registered nurse for nursing assessments, monitoring, observations, and administering medicine
  • Toxicology services
  • Laboratory collection and testing
  • Clinical addiction counselors or therapists to treat mental health symptoms
  • Technicians to monitor vital signs

The list does not end here. Many psychiatrists work in multiple locations and with varied clientele. Also, primary care physicians and nursing staff can prescribe medications for treating substance use disorders on an outpatient basis, specifically for alcohol and opioid treatment.

You now have a better understanding of the duties of an interventionist, the difference between counselor and therapist, and the difference between therapist and psychologist.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to do it all on your own. The first step is to obtain an evaluation at a treatment facility. We can save you time and effort. We can connect you directly with a treatment center capable of meeting your needs. We can make that connection for you 24/7. Give us a call any time, day or night, at 800-948-8417 Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers .


  1. National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals. (2022). Certification.
  2. Association of Intervention Specialists. (2019). Learn About Intervention.
  3. National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals. (2022). Types and Eligibility.
  4. Northeastern University Graduate Programs. (2021). Counselors vs. Therapists vs. Psychologists.
  5. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Psychologists.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Behavioral Therapies.
  7. American Psychiatric Association. (2022). What Is Psychiatry?
  8. Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. (2020). Level 3.7 Medically Monitored Intensive Inpatient Services by Service Characteristics.
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