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Progress for the Counseling Profession

November 1, 2008
by Peter L. Myers, PhD
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An association works toward curriculum standards for addiction education

This article is intended to serve as a follow-up to the special report on higher education programs that appeared in the May/June 2008 edition. We in the addictions higher education network are grateful that NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals is emphasizing college/university preparation of the addiction workforce.

While anthropology, psychology, and economics have been entrenched in academia for more than a century, the training of addiction counselors in a college or university setting goes back only about 30 years. When Essex County College in Newark, New Jersey started an addictions track in a human services degree program in 1981, we had to appear before the state alcoholism counselor certification board for approval of our coursework toward the “CAC” certification (a separate drug counselor board had no educational requirements for credentialing). It seems odd today that there would be separate boards for different psychoactive substances!

At that meeting before the alcoholism counselor certification board, a course on the psychopharmacology of drugs, and even this writer's CV listing of work within two therapeutic community settings, was derided as “irrelevant to alcoholism.” Nevertheless, we were ultimately approved. The next problem was that many people who were considering enrolling in our program were advised at their agencies that they didn't need so much “book learning,” and that they should take the credentialing courses without matriculating toward a degree.

Finally, in those early years we encountered a lot of dogmatism: At a planning session for an in-service training conference, a suggested session on the 12-Step program alternative called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy/Rational Recovery (now known as SMART Recovery) was seen as heretical. It testifies to the rapid sea change vis-à-vis addictions and higher education that these stories meet with disbelief when they are related to today's students.

Credentialing bodies, themselves now largely populated with degreed professionals, are seeing that the passing rate on national credentialing exams for college graduates is twice as high as it is for those who go the “workshop” route, at least in the few states that have looked at the data. The completion of a supervised professional practicum in addiction counseling, following the models developed in social work and professional counseling, also makes graduates highly employable. There is a move toward requiring at least an associate's degree among many state credentialing bodies.

Signs of professionalization

Addiction counseling has followed social work and nursing in moving from paraprofessional status to a profession, and the creation of appropriate professional training programs has followed. Addictions curricula started to appear in the late 1970s, and it was another dozen years before addiction educators started to network on a national level.

The International Coalition for Addiction Studies Education (INCASE), founded in 1990, is a professional association of professors, teachers, professionals, and programs at colleges and universities specializing in addiction studies. The organization began to hold national conferences in 1994. In our early years, there was tremendous excitement at being able to share curricula and pedagogical techniques, and to debate some of the ideological issues within the field.

Like similar small and underfunded grassroots networks, we struggled along and made various organizational missteps until we started to attract some of the textbook authors in the field, as well as establishing our Journal of Teaching in the Addictions. Now in its seventh year of publication, the journal recently was acquired by publisher Taylor and Francis. Members of INCASE were involved at several levels in working on the first published version of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Technical Assistance Publication (TAP) 21 consensus document, entitled Addiction Counseling Competencies: The Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes of Professional Practice. In addition, we partnered in recent years with several of the regional Addiction Technology Transfer Centers (ATTCs) to hold successful national conferences.

Both in our conferences and on our listserv, there has been the opportunity for senior faculty to mentor new and apprentice academics on critical issues of theory, practice, and pedagogy, and for faculty to learn how to integrate new evidence-based practices into their coursework. The Volume 6, Number 2 issue of the Journal of Teaching in the Addictions was a compilation of articles on teaching evidence-based practice, from INCASE and ATTC leaders. As in the addiction field in general, there is a lot of camaraderie, humor, and informality among our members and at our meetings.

INCASE has a strong interdisciplinary flavor. Our presidents and board members have included human services educators, a nurse, counseling psychologists, sociologists, rehabilitation counselor educators, and criminologists. Many of our board members also have held leadership positions in organizations such as NAADAC, the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (ICRC), and the ATTCs.

INCASE's agenda

The goals of INCASE include:

  • Providing a global forum for the examination and debate of issues concerning post-secondary education in addiction studies;

  • Disseminating professional know-ledge on the use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs, as well as evidence-based treatment and prevention strategies;

  • Promoting quality assurance through the development of program/curriculum standards;

  • Promoting the development of career mobility for students, including through portability of matriculated certificates and degrees;