High Rates of Job Leaving Among Addiction Counselors

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In the course of a single year, one in three substance abuse counselors and about one in four clinical supervisors in a national sample of 27 treatment organizations left their jobs, report Dr. Lillian T. Eby and colleagues at the University of Georgia.

Of the 739 full-time counselors on the organizations’ rosters in 2008, 245 (33 percent) left within a year, 184 (75.1 percent) voluntarily and 55 (22.4 percent) involuntarily. (Six counselors could not be tracked.) Of 188 supervisors, 44 (23 percent) left, 27 (61.4 percent) of their own accord and 14 (31.8 percent) otherwise—7 of them because of program closure and layoffs. (Three supervisors could not be tracked.)

In interviews with 80 former employees, the most common reason given for leaving voluntarily was to go to a new job or take advantage of an opportunity. Less than 5 percent of counselors and less than 3 percent of supervisors said they had left their jobs because of dissatisfaction or to seek higher pay.

Dr. Eby and colleagues say that their data point to a problem in the substance abuse treatment field. Not only were voluntary annual turnover rates in the 27 organizations markedly higher than the average throughout health care and social assistance professions—which the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts at about 20 percent—but 36 percent of counselors who quit their jobs left the field altogether. Other research has indicated that high rates of counselor turnover may increase costs, decrease efficiency and morale, and adversely influence patient outcomes. The Georgia researchers suggest that voluntary turnover may be reduced by interventions that enhance the quality of professional experience and decrease workplace stress, and that better professional preparation may decrease involuntary turnover.
Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment 39(3):264–271, 2010. Abstract Available