Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Suzanne M. Hedstrom

Second Advisor

Dr. Alan Hovestadt

Third Advisor

Dr. Dennis Simpson


The treatment of substance abuse is an anomaly within the mental health field. Historically, the treatment of addicted people has relied more on the personal experiences of those who have recovered than empirical findings (Shaffer, 1987). The founding of Alcoholics Anonymous sparked the creation of a belief system regarding substance abuse and recovery that, despite contradictory research findings, remains strong today (McElrath, 1997). This study was conducted to explore the belief systems of both recovering and nonrecovering substance abuse counselors today to determine what their beliefs are, how these beliefs were formed, and whether their belief system has changed over time. Eight master’s level therapists with over 5 years experience were selected from a variety of agency settings. Four of the therapists were in recovery, and 4 were not. These therapists participated in semistructured interviews regarding their belief systems and how they view substance abuse treatment. The interview process included treatment planning based upon a written scenario to determine the treatment philosophy and methods o f the individual therapists. Results indicated that the substance abuse counselors’ belief systems form a continuum from traditional beliefs to nontraditional beliefs. This continuum ranged from counselors who maintain the belief that 12-step programs are the single most effective means of recovering from substance abuse to counselors who believe there are many effective methods and programs and tend to individualize their treatment planning. Recovering counselors were as amenable to changing their belief system as nonrecovering counselors. While beliefs regarding the etiology and treatment o f substance abuse are changing, the belief that alcoholics or addicts cannot stop using on their own or learn to moderate their drinking remains strong. Counselors begin to change their beliefs following an activating event that produces doubt in the traditional belief system. Once this doubt begins, peer influence was found to be an influence in the continuing change of beliefs. Individuals who work without significant peer influence retain the most traditional beliefs. Recommendations for practice and research were made.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access