Licensed Addiction Counselor (LAC)
LAC- another set of letters behind someone’s name. In Montana, LAC represents individuals licensed as an addiction counselor. Just like the LCPC- you are only licensed in the state in which you reside (unless you maintain good standing licensing in other states). In Montana, individuals can apply for a license if they have: an associate of arts degree in alcohol and drug studies, addiction, or substance abuse from an accredited institution; a baccalaureate or advanced degree in alcohol and drug studies, psychology, sociology, social work, or counseling from an accredited institution; or a master’s degree.
What does a LAC do? Individuals seek services with a LAC for a variety of reasons. They may be court ordered or mandated in some way to get a substance abuse evaluation or outpatient treatment. Clients may want to be admitted to inpatient treatment and need a LAC to help with the process. Family members may seek support and guidance or family/couples counseling in general.
So how did I end up where I’m at? In 2005 I graduated from Montana State University-Bozeman with a baccalaureate in Political Science. Not wanting to pursue a career in politics, a friend suggested I talk to Melissa Kelly, LAC, about a job. We met at a local coffee shop and I interviewed for the job that would be a major steppingstone to where I am today.
Gallatin County Re-Entry Program (GCRP) opened in December 2005. This 40-bed, all male, facility received its first residents – 12 men from Montana State Prison, and my life was changed. Initially working the “security” side of pre-release, I was responsible for counts, performing breathalyzer testing, medication audits, financial audits, transporting residents to work, physical checks, and anything else asked of me. Quickly realizing I enjoyed working with residents, I patiently waited for a “treatment” position to open and eventually became a case manager. Not only did I have a case load of residents that I was responsible for reporting to the Department of Corrections (DOC) on their therapeutic process, I was responsible for facilitating groups in Cognitive Principles and Restructuring, Parenting, Life Skills, and eventually a Level II Intense Outpatient Group (under the supervision of Melissa) that included DOC clients that were on community supervision.
While working on the treatment team at the pre-release, I realized that the DOC was doing their best to address the substance use disorders so prevalent in the majority of the clientele, but those with mental health issues seemed to be failing out and being sent back to a higher level of security. I realized then I wanted to be in a mental health field. I changed positions- taking over the administrative assistant duties of coordinating the screenings of potential residents, maintain finances for residents, and anything else Melissa needed to be done. Making the shift in work requirements allowed me to maintain full-time employment and get my master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling.
I was licensed in 2013 as a Professional Counselor and in 2014 as an Addiction Counselor. Having struck out on my own in private practice in late 2013 – I realized I had to stay true to the clients who inspired me. Taking on clients referred from their Probation/Parole Officers, Misdemeanor probation, Child Protective Services, and those mandated to counseling by court order, obtaining dual licensure just seemed “right”. I have yet to meet a client with substance use disorder concerns who doesn’t also have mental health needs as well.
14 years after my life changed by meeting Melissa and helping to open the pre-release in Bozeman, MT – I have come to realize, yet again, there is a population that is potentially being missed. Addiction counselors have the knowledge, ability, and skill set to help clients with concerns related to alcohol, drugs, and destructive behaviors – otherwise known as Impulse Control Disorders or process addictions. These behaviors have diagnostic labels like kleptomania, pyromania, pathological gambling, food addiction, relationship addiction (codependency), pornography addiction, and more. I will write about these in detail SOON!
What is the take-away? Being a dual licensed counselor has gifted me with the opportunity to meet many amazing people at different points in their journey. Realizing the illness has the label “addiction”, the behavior – be it substance use, gambling, eating, etc. – is neutral. We (as a society) have focused heavily on treating substance use disorder and have worked hard to address one specific behavior – thereby allowing the illness to manifest in other ways. Being a set of behaviors with 11 criteria (only requiring 2 to meet a diagnosis), addiction is SNEAKY! The addict brain often lies to us and says, “you’re fine”, “you don’t have problem”, “what you do is no one else’s business”, “you don’t need help”, “you’re not like them” and on and on. SO- I am here to offer support to those who are working to overcome addiction that looks different than using substances. I hope to destigmatize seeking treatment to address an identified illness and let people know that their experience is THEIR experience. Please don’t assume that because you are not using heroin in a gas station bathroom stall – you are not deserving of help from a professional. Your behavior will not be shamed away. In 14 years, I haven’t met a person capable of that feat YET!
There are all kinds of addicts. We each have our own pain and we all look for ways to make that pain go away. The trouble with addiction is that when you are still at a point in the disease when you can stop- you don’t want to. When it has progressed to a point you want to stop- you can’t – not without support and not without discovering new ways to survive the pain and discomfort the destructive behavior was helping you to cope with.
If you are unsure of where to start- I am always willing to answer questions! If that is not a comfortable option, a quick internet search of “addiction counselor” + the area you live should return multiple results. You can also call SAMHSA’s National Helpline 1-800-662-4357, dial the local 2-1-1, or reach out to The Help Center (locals to the Gallatin Valley) at 406-586-3333.
Wishing you patience, kindness, tolerance, and love!