Psychology of substance abuse is a complex interdisciplinary field. Treatment of chemical addictions and coexisting disorders draws on knowledge from medicine, sociology, policy, and law. Psychologists trained in substance abuse collaborate with other professionals — social workers and physicians, as well as fellow psychologists — to create care plans for their patients.
Students who enroll in a substance abuse psychology doctoral program may someday attain positions as clinical psychologists. Therefore, rigorous substance abuse psychology programs prepare students with advanced coursework, supervised hours in clinical settings, laboratory work, and drug abuse research.
Why a Ph.D.?
It is necessary to obtain a doctorate degree in order to practice as a psychologist. This applies to substance abuse psychologists, as well as other professionals in the field like educational and crisis psychologists. The same holds true for psychology students who want to work in higher education as professors of psychology. Some research positions also require a doctorate degree.
If a student’s career goal is to become a licensed substance abuse counselor or mental health therapist, then a doctorate in substance abuse psychology is unnecessary. However, they must fulfill other requirements in order to practice including 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience and pass an exam. For additional licensure requirements for your state, check with The National Board for Certified Counselors. In addition, most programs. Most programs require students to complete a master’s thesis or corresponding research project.
Even so, some students feel that it is important to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible, regardless of whether the degree is essential to their job. If this is the case, the doctorate in substance abuse might be appropriate.
Inside a Substance Abuse Psychology Ph.D. Program
Students in Ph.D. in substance abuse psychology programs must fulfill different degree requirements from those earning the Psy.D. degree. The Ph.D. is a research degree, and degree candidates are expected to complete a dissertation and oral defense, and pass comprehensive examinations. On the other hand, the Psy.D. is a clinical degree. Students who work toward completion of the Psy.D. in substance abuse counseling, focus more on clinical work and examinations than research. The completion of either degree awards students the option to find work in research, clinical or counseling psychology.
Students will take advanced classes such as ‘Psychoneuroimmunology,’ ‘Neurobiology of Ethanol and Drugs of Abuse,’ ‘Neuroendocrinology,’ and ‘Behavioral Neuroscience and Drug Addiction.’ Most programs require students to complete a doctoral practicum comprising 100 or more hours in counseling, or similar prerequisite for research oriented students.
What's Next for Substance Abuse Psychology Ph.D. Holders?
Graduates who wish to practice as psychologists in either clinical or private settings must obtain a license. They will also need to achieve at least one to two years of professional experience, and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. For this reason, students will often accept a postdoctoral internship to meet the experience requirement.
Ph.D. substance abuse psychology graduates may also find success in research and teaching positions at major universities or research centers. Those who focus heavily on research during their studies make attractive candidates for research funding opportunities.
Even psychologists can continue their education, of course, and the opportunities for doing so are numerous. Certifications that might complement the substance abuse specialization include the certificates in child and adolescent development, gender diversity, health psychology, or somatic therapy.