Substance-abuse therapists need to wake up to their superpower

August 4, 2023

In our recent announcement of new mental-health therapist openings at Key Recovery and Life Skills Center, we added a PS note indicating that we’d soon be coming back with a blog post on “just how high the demand is for mental-health and substance-abuse-treatment professionals – and how unprepared many practitioners in those fields are to maximize their opportunities in this incredibly dynamic and socially important market.”

So here we are – ready to share a few thoughts on what has got to be one of the oddest job markets in our entire labor economy.

What makes it so odd? For all the reasons we hinted at in that Key Recovery announcement: Demand is very high, and growing quickly – and the people best suited to fill these roles seem to generally be both unaware of their market position and disinclined to take full advantage of it.

For the moment, let’s keep our focus strictly on substance-abuse therapists, since that’s the specific workforce we’ve been working with lately. What we’re saying in this brief post is not meant to apply to mental-health therapists generally – though there may be some insights that apply to that broader group as well.

So, a few observations based on our rather intensive recent engagement with this particular corner of the labor market.

For starters, the growth of that market is torrid indeed. Places that employ substance-abuse therapists are desperate to fill their openings.

You can debate endlessly whether this is a symptom of societal disintegration or a hopeful harbinger that we are finally waking up to a crisis that has been consigned to the shadows for far too long. Maybe it’s both. Whatever – if you’re a qualified substance-abuse therapist, your unique skills are in serious demand, and that demand is only growing.

But what’s really strange is that for all the energy that employers are putting into looking for these therapists, no one can find them. It’s as if these hospitals and treatment centers were sending up a Bat Signal every night – and Bruce Wayne just ignored it.

Well, “ignore” might not be exactly the right word to use here. We get the sense that a lot of substance-abuse treatment professionals have some sense that they’re in demand. But they have (speaking in generalities here) a rather shocking lack of understanding of how to position themselves to meet that demand. Which, let’s face it, is functionally the same thing as ignoring the demand altogether.

We’re talking about professionals who have no LinkedIn profile, no email address, in many cases not even a phone number. There was a search recently in which, out of 179 applicants, only seven even had a resume.

This, in a market where employers are so hungry for qualified applicants that they’re offering signing bonuses of $5,000 – or more.

None of this is intended to be overly critical of substance-abuse professionals. To the contrary, we want to summon them to recognize their full power and potential. They’ve historically been at the lower rungs of our addiction-recovery system – but we’re now seeing that they’re actually superheroes whose powers are more needed than ever.

A very high proportion of them have their own histories of substance abuse. Perhaps the extraordinary personal challenges they have faced make it harder for them to establish the typical markers of professional “brand identity” – the highly curated social-media page, the tightly edited CV, the snappy business card, the polished interview patter.

This isn’t about trying to transform substance-abuse therapists into investment bankers or software engineers. If your calling is to help rescue people who are lost in addiction, we don’t want you to be anything other than exactly who you are. The world needs you – exactly as you are.

But in order to meet that need, you need to let the world know you’re out there. And that may mean taking a somewhat more active role in making sure you’re ready to heed the Bat Signal the next time it comes up.

Whether you’re a prospective employer or a prospective employee in the substance-abuse treatment sector, please feel free to reach out to us at Peckman Search Partners for pointers on how to find the right applicant or the right opportunity. When the right treatment centers find the right treatment professionals, everyone wins – and we want to help make it happen.

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