Confessions of an Addiction Counselor: The Top 4 Mistakes I’ve Made in My Career | Addiction Professional Magazine Skip to content Skip to navigation

Confessions of an Addiction Counselor: The Top 4 Mistakes I’ve Made in My Career

October 30, 2014
by Heidi Voet Smith
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When I look back on my career so far, there are so many things I wish I’d known at the beginning. There are so many things I wish I’d done different. Here are a few that come to mind . . .

1. Placing my desire to be liked as a priority over my principles.

I really wanted to be the favorite counselor. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be cool. I wanted to be the counselor everyone wanted. In order to obtain this goal, I made special exceptions for clients, ignored their non-compliance, did not always back up my co-workers, developed inappropriately friendly and casual with clients, and devalued program rules. It goes without saying that this did not serve my clients, and ultimately, did not serve me. I had to come to grips with not always being liked. I had to be okay being the bad guy. I learned to be a united front at all times with my co-workers. I learned to be professional. I grew up.

2. Scheduling counseling sessions after lunch.

This was a personal realization for me . . . I am always exhausted after lunch. I’m sure I eat too many carbs and blah blah blah. But either way, I learned that it is not in the best interest of anyone involved for me to schedule a 1pm session. Ever.

3. Not realizing that the clients know everything.

The client’s know everything. They know which staff members don’t get along, which of you is having marital problems, who’s interviewing for another job, who actually practices what they preach and who doesn’t. In fact, the clients often have a better pulse on the staff than the management does. This was a reality that completely blindsided me as a young counselor. I had no idea that the client’s had this unique ability to see right through me. I had to increase my integrity, build on my personal boundaries, and confront areas of inauthenticity in my life.

4. Not working the 12 steps until 4 years into my counseling career.

I finished graduate school and immediately got a job as a counselor intern at a treatment center for chemical dependency. I had visited a few 12-step meetings as a class project in graduate school, but that was it. I had never worked the steps, never attended a 12-step fellowship and had never even read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I worked at that treatment center for about 4 years and did a lot of good therapy with my clients. And on their discharge plans, I told all my clients to go to AA for support, to get a sponsor and do 90 meetings in 90 days when they left.

I believed AA was a good support group for my clients. But around this time, I hit a new low in my eating disorder and out of desperation, decided to attend a 12-step program. After all, I tell my clients to do it all the time – why shouldn’t I try it? I decided I didn’t have anything to lose, so I got a sponsor and she took me through the 12-steps out of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I met with her every week. She gave me reading assignments and writing assignments. I began to truly grasp the concept of powerlessness through my personal experience being powerless over sugar, food, dieting, and my weight.




Heidi, your authenticity is so refreshing! It is so valuable that you were able to go through the 12 steps with a personal issue...though painful, I am sure. I love that you shared this, love you Heidi! Sue

Becoming a counsellor is a great job. A counsellor can help the people to guide them properly, which is good in there future. A counsellor can be addictions counseling denver also, which sort out the drug related problem.

i have been a counselor for just about 40 years. have probably seen done it all. form detox, to inpatient, co-occurring, private practice, etc,etc. all positions. i developed a workshop for new counselors. my opening line goes like this, if a counselor is in recovery they need go know that their personal recovery has nothing to do with counseling. a counselor needs to know that they can pump gas , etc, and be able to stay in recovery.

Thanks for sharing such a wonderful article and I truly appreciate your honesty. Career counselors are one of the best approach towards achieving a successful career as they are made to guide you through the correct path. I completely agree on your after lunch schedule.

Thank you so much for sharing your personal story and experiences, Heidi!
I am new to this forum and as a student in the Human Services program with a focus on working with adolescents and clinical therapy, much of what you mentioned is very familiar to me in terms of recent classes. My assignments and discussions have been on ethical concerns and professionalism and your article hit directly on these areas.
I have only worked in the counseling field briefly as a volunteer but I can empathize with you in these areas.
It is thanks to professionals such as yourself that students and up and coming professionals like myself can learn from and absorb valuable knowledge and insight to apply to my own clinical "toolbox."
Thank you again and as I always say: "There is no better teacher in life, than life itself!"

Career coaching is very important for everyone. It can make a drastic change in one's personality, knowledge and behavior. Whether study or sports or job or any business coaching does affect a lot and also in a good way. For every sports person or player, coaching is really vital for their improvement as far as performance is concerned.Thanks for this nice article. Perhaps you have written it nicely and I do realize this as I have suffered a lot before in my career also.

Hi, what a relief to read your articles. I also am not a drug or alcohol user. or abuse. I am, however, a food addict, and a codependent. I am studying to be a substance abuse counselor, and am afraid that my clients will ask if I am a substance abuser, and I will have to say, no, then they will all say, then what do you know of my plight? I am relieved that you are able to do this job, without knowing their specific plight. I do not know what its like to hate myself with a needle in my arm, but I know what its like to hate myself at the bottom of a gallong or two of ice cream. And I work the steps too.


Heidi Voet Smith

Clinical Director Chapter House Counseling Center

Heidi Voet Smith


 Heidi Voet Smith, (LPC-S, MA), is the Clinical Director and Co-Founder at Chapter House Sober...

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