Ask the Expert: Sadie Broekemeier of Recovering Hope

We feature an expert in the mental health and substance use disorder field to answer questions. This issue we talk to Sadie Broekemeier of Recovering Hope about attending school for addiction studies.

Q: Could you please share a little bit about your background and what led you to pursue a career in alcohol and drug counseling and education?

My name is Sadie Broekemeier and I have been working in the field of behavioral health since 2008. I pursued my higher education through Anoka-Ramsey Community College while I was a junior and senior in high school. This allowed me to begin at the University of Minnesota with a head start on a degree in psychology. Upon graduation, I enrolled in a master’s program through Hazelden’s Graduate School of Addiction Studies. Later in my career, I pursued additional education to be dually licensed in the State of Minnesota. I have worked in various settings including residential substance use programs, outpatient substance use programs, outreach and education on a national level, adolescent mental health services for inpatient and day treatment, and currently in a family treatment program for mental health and substance use.

My career in education was by happenstance. We recently opened a residential substance use program for families a half hour from the Cambridge campus and attended an Open House for the new track at Anoka-Ramsey Community College. My initial goal for attending was to recruit interns for our site. After speaking with the Dean of the Allied Health program, I left with a teaching position. I currently act as the program coordinator and teach Practicum, Case Management and Assessment. Getting involved in education had been a long-term career goal of mine and I am grateful it was put in my path at this part of my career.

Q: Is there a demand for professionals in the field of alcohol and drug counseling?

Currently, there is a major shortage for drug and alcohol counselors in Minnesota, in addition to a workforce shortage overall. Every program that I know of in Minnesota is currently hiring for this position. It is a buyers’ market right now.

The vacancy rates for mental health and substance use providers is one of the highest in healthcare. (Chart from the MN Dept. of Health)

Q: Is it necessary for individuals interested in becoming drug and alcohol counselors to have personal experience with recovery?

Most people in this field have a personal touchpoint with substance use or mental health challenges whether it is themselves, friends, or family.It is not. That is one of the things that students usually ask me the first week of class. There is no research that states being in recovery is more effective than not being in recovery. The main indicator of client success is the therapeutic relationship. Being in recovery allows for a way to connect with clients that help develop that therapeutic relationship. However is not the only way to develop rapport. Most people in this field have a personal touchpoint with substance use or mental health challenges whether it is themselves, friends, or family.

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Q: What are some key interests and strengths that students bring to your program and the classroom? What are some of the key challenges, and what kind of support can educational institutions provide for students?

Currently, the main challenge is helping students navigate the “hard” of this job. Working with clients is emotional and can lead to burn out in the field, especially when you compound the challenges of the world. The strengths that my students have shown in the classroom that have led to success in the field is the resiliency. COVID and the increased mortality rate of the clients we work with, have taken a toll on this field and I keep telling my students that if they can survive going to school during COVID, they can do anything in this field.

Q: Different colleges and universities offer education programs for drug and alcohol counseling. What factors should individuals consider when evaluating various programs to find the best fit for their goals and needs?

Important things to consider:

  • If you are an online learner or in person learner. There are many types of both programs.
  • Location
  • Certificate program, AA degree, bachelor’s degree or master’s. A lot of students that I work with have started with the Peer Recovery Specialist credential and worked in that role while attending school for their AA degree. Then they received their temporary license to work in that capacity while they pursue their bachelor’s degree. The drug and alcohol role has multiple stepping stones and ability to have a living wage while attending school.
  • Talk to the different schools and identify if any previous courses transfer. There are many programs in Minnesota such as Mankato State, Minneapolis College, Metro, Fon du Lac, Saint Cloud State and Anoka-Ramsey Community College.
  • Cost

Q: After completing their education in alcohol and drug counseling, what are the subsequent steps for individuals to become counselors? Do you have any tips for finding employment opportunities?

I know that I mentioned this earlier, but it is a buyers’ market for those seeking employment. My students have all found employment, most have continued at their practicum sites. Most begin with a starting wage of $50,000 or more. I have seen offer letters that include tuition reimbursement, high rates of paid time off, relocation packages, even a stipend to decorate their office.

Q: What are the benefits of pursuing a dual license for someone who is already licensed and working in another field, such as mental health?

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Being dually licensed, providers are able to work in both scopes of practice. There is such an overlap of mental health and substance use and sometimes it becomes a question similar to the old adage, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” I.e.: Does the substance use cause the mental health challenges or does the mental health challenge cause the substance use? It allows for better client care and gives you more tools in your tool box as a provider. The external benefit is more compensation (and sometimes less paperwork depending on your role). There are multiple master programs that complement your drug and alcohol license: Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker or a Doctor of Psychology. I have also seen students pursue master programs in Public Health and Leadership.

Q: Are there any additional resources that our readers can explore if they are interested in becoming a licensed alcohol and drug counselor?

Call one of us. If you were to reach out to any substance use program and ask to talk to a provider, I know that most would be happy to talk to you about the unique benefits and challenges of this field.

Sadie Broekemeier, MA, LADC, LPCC, is co-president of the Treatment Collaborative and a member of the board of governors of the Minnesota Association of Resources for Recovery and Chemical Health (MARRCH). In addition, Sadie serves as an adjunct professor for practicum, case management, and assessment in the Drug and Alcohol Counseling Program at Anoka-Ramsey Community College. Sadie holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota Duluth, a master’s degree in addiction counseling from Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies. She holds Minnesota licensures as a professional clinical counselor (LPCC), and alcohol and drug counselor (LADC). She is also President of Recovering Hope Treatment Center in Mora, Minnesota.

If you have a question for the experts, or you are an expert interested in being featured, please contact us. Experts have not been compensated for their advice.

Last Updated on July 14, 2023

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