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October 22, 2013
by Joan E. Standora, PhD, LADC, CADC, CASAC
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The field should unite behind licensure of specialty counselors

What will be expected of this “expanded workforce”? The possession of credentials, licenses, national standards and outcome measures for client success is certain.

Advancing a standard of care

Most importantly, of course, is the quality of care provided to those seeking our help. A case repeatedly has been made for upgrading the professionalism of the substance abuse counseling field. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) national review of credentialing and licensing of substance abuse counselors in 2005, all states have certification boards offering varying levels of requirements and standards pertaining to educational and practical experience. How do these varying approaches to the addiction workforce ensure a standard of care commensurate with other behavioral health standards?

The difficulty is that there is no assurance of a “standard of care” given the lack of nationally accepted competency standards of education officially integrated into all states’ certification and licensing procedures.

A promising step in this direction was taken by the newly formed National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC), whose work will develop procedures that can yield curriculum and scope–of-practice standards for addiction counselors from the associate’s through the doctoral level. This emphasis on education is welcomed as a way to legitimize the profession, while efforts still must be made to include a scope of practice that will not remove current, non-degreed individuals from their jobs at treatment centers.

In New York state, the goal of upgrading and standardizing education and training for substance abuse counselors was realized in the formation of a subcommittee of stakeholders—treatment and prevention professionals, educators, and administrators in the addiction community—to develop and implement a statewide curriculum required of all education and training programs. The subcommittee, part of the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services’ (OASAS’s) Talent Management Committee, has proposed a curriculum in agreement with the national core competencies curriculum formulated through the efforts of SAMHSA in conjunction with NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals, the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium (IC&RC), and NASAC.

Importantly, this curriculum also maintains the integrity of New York state legislative requirements for the credentialing of substance abuse counselors. A decision on implementing this requirement should occur early in 2012. This kind of collaborative effort is an example of what can be done not only to improve standards but also to establish a greater professional reputation. And this can be done nationwide.

It is time now for the addiction workforce to make a major push forward into the behavioral healthcare field, to support its unique professional status in the care of so many who have substance use disorders.

Joan E. Standora, PhD, LADC, CADC, CASAC, is Director of the Chemical Dependency Counseling degree program and the Substance Abuse Certificate program at Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York. She currently co-chairs the Curriculum Standards Committee for the New York State Talent Management Committee. Her e-mail address is j.standora@verizon.net.

References
1. Smith DE, Lee DR, Davidson LD. Health care equality and parity for treatment of addictive disease. J Psychoactive Drugs 2010 Jun;42:121-6.

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