Will my DUIs keep me from working in recovery?
January 17, 2014 12:20 PM   Subscribe

In my past as an active alcoholic, I received two DUIs. Since the last one, I've embraced recovery, and it's completely changed my life for the better. I want to transition into counseling from working in education, especially in recovery counseling as an LCDC. How will my criminal record impact my ability to do this?

I'm applying to a Master's of Counseling program and they asked about previous convictions. I disclosed (one was a year and half ago, and the other was two and a half years ago - they are both DUI firsts since I hadn't been convicted at the time of the second one), and now I'm working on my essay and wondering how I can convey my experiences in a way that makes it seem like an asset instead of a huge detriment. I also worry about finding future jobs working in recovery. I am a year and a half sober and currently finishing a DWI court program that focuses on recovery.

I want to do this, and I think I would have a gift for it, but I'm also concerned about spending tremendous amounts of time and money on a career path that is basically impossible. Any insight would be much, much appreciated!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've worked with a few recovery counselors, and I cannot think of a single one who didn't have some dark skeletons in his closet. If the program takes you, then they obviously think you're going to be able to work in the field. But it wouldn't hurt to ask them specifically.
posted by Etrigan at 12:24 PM on January 17, 2014

I think most addicts working in recovery have lots of things in their using past of which they are not proud. DUIs, other felony convictions, etc. One of the reason that recovery counseling is so profound is because most of the counselors have been there.

So, no, I don't think that in 95% of the jobs you may apply for, that a DUI in one's past would be unusual, let alone a reason not to hire you.

Since most recovery programs are 12-step oriented, you may frame your past transgressions in 12-step language. "I am currently making amends for having broken the law while I was using," should cover it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:26 PM on January 17, 2014

My sister-in-law works as a substance abuse (well, dual diagnosis) counselor, and although she does not have the sort of past you are describing, a significant enough percentage of her coworkers do that I believe her not having those skeletons may be the exception rather than the rule.
posted by dersins at 12:32 PM on January 17, 2014

I know a few people who work in the recovery counseling field. They are all in that field, to some extent, because they are in recovery also. Having been through the tribulations of addiction & come out the other side clean sober & ready to help is a very positive thing for newly sober people to witness, and it will give you tons more "street cred" than some book-learned brain shrink who's never been there. I recall in specific, the first family meeting I attended when a family member was at an an in-patient facility -- the group counselor at the treatment center spoke very openly about her past as an addict, and how she was there to help use her experience to help her patients recover.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:07 PM on January 17, 2014

To be honest, those aren't the kinds of convictions that they're going to be concerned about unless your job involves driving in some way. That would be a huge problem, no matter what you said about it, completely independent of the counseling side of things.

But other than that. . . let's just say you'd be surprised how many people have DUIs. Employers don't like criminal convictions, and for entry-level, low-skill jobs any conviction can result in your application getting tossed. But for skilled positions like LCDC, there are few enough applicants that it'll be simply one factor in the mix. The more recent they are, the more of a problem they're going to be, but it's not an insurmountable problem.

Convictions that would be real problems would be for things like violent crime (almost any sort, but especially sex crimes), theft, forgery/fraud. Those are the kind of things that employers across the board are very unhappy about, and counseling employers have to be really, really careful with sex offenders. Basically impossible to do that. Drug offenses can also be kind of a big deal depending on your clinical environment, but a demonstrated commitment to recovery since your last conviction will help, as will the passage of time.

But someone who has gone through a diversionary substance abuse court might really be valuable in a counseling environment, particularly if there have not been any lapses and treatment is complete. The one thing that might be a problem is that you're only a year and a half sober. If an employer were looking to hire you this month, that might be a little too recent, especially if there were another candidate without that issue. But as your program is likely to take at least a year or two, you'd be looking at potentially four years since your last conviction. That's a little more respectable.
posted by valkyryn at 1:30 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Work in substance abuse, not in recovery.

Without having any idea about where you live or where you're applying... it's hard to say. I suspect the bigger hurdles with school applications will be: that you're still, from what you write, under some form of court supervision; the length of time since your last DUI; your length of sobriety; and that you're currently in treatment. These would be significant factors in both jobs and graduate school admissions in my area. YMMV, of course.

If these are barriers, they're rather short term ones. As others have said, you absolutely can have a criminal record and still get into school and get a job in the field, so it's not a waste of time and money once you get in.
posted by space_cookie at 12:06 AM on January 18, 2014

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