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Counselor certification authorities seek to start a dialogue

July 7, 2009
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Leaders of a growing group will convene at NAADAC conference

The setting of this year’s annual conference of NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals will host a get-acquainted session that some field leaders consider long overdue. NAADAC is receiving encouraging response to its invitation for a discussion session among the growing number of national credentialing authorities for substance use treatment professionals.

A list provided by NAADAC names 10 entities as national addiction certification boards, with that number including its own National Certification Commission (NCC) and the equally high-profile International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC). While NAADAC and IC&RC for several years have held discussions about creating some form of cooperative venture that would help uncomplicate the credentialing system for counseling professionals, a number of other organizations have established their own foothold in professional certification.

NAADAC’s director of certification and education hopes a group dialogue on Aug. 18 at the site of NAADAC’s annual conference in Salt Lake City will set a positive tone for cooperative action among these groups. Yet NAADAC’s Shirley Beckett Mikell emphasizes that there is no predetermined agenda for the meeting and no blueprint for the follow-up activity that might ensue.

“We cannot continue to have just two parties talking; others might feel excluded,” Mikell says.

Mikell sees the planned meeting as a fact-finding session designed to introduce the key participants in each organization to one another and to discuss how each entity manages its certification process, in terms of testing procedures, applicant qualifications and other features.

A statement from NAADAC on the planned dialogue reads, “The purpose of the meeting will be to foster relations between the various certifying entities in hopes of working together to best serve the addictions disorders profession in today’s changing environment.” The statement also uses the word “transparency” and the phrase “to simplify the professional life for addiction services professionals” in describing NAADAC’s goals in organizing the event.

Mikell says few people in the field have stopped to realize, for example, that both the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy operate their own systems for the credentialing of substance use treatment professionals. Groups that are expected to participate in the August dialogue include the American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders and the National Association of Forensic Counselors.

“While we and IC&RC still have been discussing issues, other groups have quietly and persistently gained certificants, and some groups have been written specifically into various states’ rules,” Mikell says. “In some cases, we don’t even know the names of the chairpersons of these groups’ boards.”

Whether such a dialogue could eventually lead to a standardized procedure nationally for the certification of front-line addiction professionals remains highly speculative, even though the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) considers this an important goal for retaining qualified clinicians and maintaining high-quality services.

Also to be considered, outside of this dialogue, are the number of state boards that have a role in the credentialing of addiction professionals. It is a complex landscape, and therefore many leaders in the field will be paying close attention to this first attempt to bring the national organizations together to discuss future directions and opportunities.