Addiction Psychology Defined Part I – What is it? Who practices it?

Addiction psychologists research, treat, educate and affect public policy on on all issues relating to addiction.

Addiction psychologists, among other addiction professionals may research, treat, educate and affect public policy on on all issues relating to addiction, drug and alcohol use and the behavioral or process addictions.

There are many professional disciplines which focus on understanding and treating addiction including medicine, psychiatry, psychology, social work and the legal and other counseling realms. It can be complicated for the public to discern accurate information and evaluate treatment options or find therapists for loved ones. This is one part in a brief series of blogs I will complete defining the broader field of addiction psychology which generally encompasses most of the disciplines addressing the disease of addiction and treatment of addiction in general.

Addiction psychology mostly comprises the clinical psychology and abnormal psychology disciplines, and fosters the application of information obtained from research in an effort to appropriately diagnose, evaluate, treat, and support clients dealing with addiction. Throughout the treatment process addiction psychologists encourage behaviors that build wellness and emotional resilience to their mental and emotional problems. With prolonged use the substance or behavior becomes compulsive resulting in the likelihood that relationships, daily responsibilities, and health will become negatively affected.  Addictions may be addressed with a variety of therapeutic approaches including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, integrative, and harm reduction to name a few.

Addiction Psychologist is a doctoral-level profession in which the psychologist has engaged in education, training, and/or supervised experience in the field of addiction. An addiction psychologist may work with people who struggle with addictions and/or he/she may be involved with research. They are trained to carry out psychological assessments, facilitate individual and group counseling, and perform consultations. They may be employed at an in- or out-patient rehabilitation treatment center, detox facility, group practice, or they may be self-employed.

An Addiction Psychologist may be either of the following:

1. PhD & CAC- A psychologist who also holds a certificate as a Certified Addiction Counselor

2. PhD who is a member of Division 50- A psychologist who is a member of the American Psychological Association’s Division 50, ‘Society of Addiction Psychology’

3. PhD specializing in addiction- and who has completed research in the field of addiction.

Categories of addiction

Addictions will fall under one of two categories. Substance Addiction- related to drugs, alcohol abuse, and smoking.

Behavioral Addiction (process addiction)- non-substance related behavior such as gambling, internet, gaming, shopping, eating and sexual activity.

Who practices Addiction Psychology?

Many degrees provide credibility for the treatment of additions. The educational background that each professional obtains will contain similarities but the philosophy and the viewpoint from which the material is delivered may vary. The minimum amount of education required to earn a certificate or degree also varies.  A few of the more commonly recognized fields of study are included.

Psychologist
Psychologists receive their education in psychology and pursue either a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) in clinical or counseling psychology. Psychologists may choose to study the brain and the behavior of humans and animals through research or they may choose to work with patients as a clinician.

Psychiatrist
Psychiatrists are physicians with training in the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illnesses. Their four years of residency training is completed in the mental health field. Additional to their residency they may further their training by completing additional work in the treatment of addiction, geriatric, and child and/or adolescent psychiatry. As psychiatrists are medical doctors they have the authority to prescribe medication.

Social Worker
The field of social work permits different options for licensure. Two options are Licensed Counselor of Social Work (LCSW) and Licensed Social Worker (LSW). Regardless of their licensure they identify and help people overcome challenges in their lives. They help with a wide range of situations and work with many populations. The social worker may facilitate group and/or individual counseling sessions, diagnose and treat mental health issues, develop a treatment plan, help clients adopt new strategies for dealing with their behavior, and assist in accessing outside resources.

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
A Licensed Professional Counselor diagnoses and treats people with mental health and emotional disorders. They use techniques focused on the prevention of disorders while providing treatment to individuals, couples, families, groups, and the community.

Paraprofessional
A job title given to people in various occupational fields that have earned a certificate by passing an exam, but lack the occupational license to perform at the professional level in the field. Paraprofessionals perform tasks that assist the professional. This title is often used in the healthcare and education occupational fields.

A future blog, Addiction Psychology Part II will focus on the history of addiction, treatment, modalities of care and relapse prevention. 

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