When NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals, the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals (NCC AP), and the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC) announced in March that they were discussing collaboration, it almost felt like the other shoe dropping. IC&RC and NAADAC had openly discussed an actual merger in 2005, but since then talks of this type between the two organizations had essentially ended.
Now, in a scenario that has a sense of anticlimax and urgency at the same time, the two associations (NCC AP is affiliated with NAADAC) are talking about collaborating (not merging), more for mutual survival—of the field and of the organizations—than for separate gain.
The collaboration is at such an early stage “that we’re not even 100% sure what areas we’re going to be collaborating on,” Mary Jo Mather, IC&RC executive director, said in an interview with Addiction Professional in which she, NAADAC executive director Cynthia Moreno Tuohy, and NCC AP director of certification Shirley Beckett Mikell participated together.
The plan is to form a small workgroup that will set the agenda for other areas of collaboration, says Mather. “We’ve identified the players,” she says. One of the challenges is logistical—everyone is in different time zones, and busy—so the first meeting will be a conference call sometime in May.
“If the addiction profession is going to stay relevant, we’re going to have to be more unified,” says Tuohy.
The key areas for unified efforts are workforce advocacy, reimbursement, and licensure and certification, she says, adding that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has become a driving force in the need to collaborate.
“For years the workforce has had some difficulty keeping up—we have more people retiring, dying, moving into different professions, and we’re now at a crisis point,” Tuohy says. “Even the Department of Labor has addressed the addiction workforce as being in crisis.”
Among the three groups there is “a lot of thought leadership,” Tuohy says. “We need that as we develop a strategy.”
The addictions workforce currently makes up a continuum from master’s-level to recovery support specialist, she says. “We’re making sure that all of the people along that continuum have a place,” she says.
Merger vs. collaboration
How did IC&RC and NAADAC move from stalled merger talks to collaboration? “For a lot of good reasons, those talks broke down,” says Tuohy, adding that the two organizations are “trying to stay far away from the ‘m’ word.” But, she added, “That’s not to say that down the road, who knows, maybe the ‘m’ word will come back into our vocabulary.”
In fact, NAADAC and IC&RC do collaborate already. “This is a softer, gentler way to look at the things our associations are knee-deep in,” says Mather. “Collaboration seems to be easier than a merger, which seems to have so many tentacles to it.”
Mather noted that the standards for NCC AP and IC&RC are very similar. IC&RC, however, has standards that are state-specific, while NCC AP has national standards. Under the ACA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has said that states can determine their own standards, but it is also talking about national standards.
“NAADAC started national standards as a voluntary certification based on state standards,” says Tuohy. “It was never set up to compete with IC&RC.” Counselors always had to have a state certification as well. “Now that SAMHSA is talking about national standards, we’re at a place that is primed to move forward,” she says.
“Ironically, when you’re talking about national standards, you’re really talking about state standards,” adds Mikell. “The national standards are met each time a person applies, if they have met the state standards. I don’t understand sometimes what the fuss is about.”
But some state licensing requirements now are more specific and academically rigorous than others, and others are blending mental health and addiction. That is what’s causing at least some of the fuss.
“What I’m seeing with states looking at an integrated system is, for the most part, they are trying to honor both the substance abuse and the mental health professions,” says Mather.
“This is where the workforce issue gets very important,” adds Tuohy. “If you don’t train an integrated workforce, the strategy is not complete. What does it mean to an addiction professional who can’t stay in addiction because such a large percentage of our clients have co-occurring disorders?”
“Our state credential will be the entrée for them to apply for the national,” says Mikell. “Many of our certificates already hold an IC&RC certificate.” She sees the collaborative efforts as benefiting these professionals.
“There are not many differences between what Shirley does with NCC and what we do with IC&RC,” says Mather. “It’s all credentialing. We are twins.”
IC&RC members pleased
The news of the collaboration with NAADAC and NCC was greeted warmly by IC&RC member certification authorities, according to Mather, who recently returned from the semi-annual meeting of the IC&RC board of directors in San Diego. Delegates from 76 member boards attended.
“Since the small workgroup of representatives from the three organizations has not yet had its first meeting, there were no specific details or action steps to share with the IC&RC board, but the news of collaboration with NAADAC and NCC was very welcome by our members,” says Mather. “There were no negative comments whatsoever. Most expressed hope that our efforts will deliver great benefits for the field and for the workforce.”