Fixing the Addiction Counselor Crunch: One University’s Plan to Help

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Seventy-seven percent of counties across the country are currently suffering from severe shortages of behavioral health professionals. By 2025, the expected demand for treatment will create a shortage of over 15,000 workers.

The lack of experts in therapeutic professions is hurting those who desperately need the support. A recent Harvard University study found just 17 percent of phone calls placed to get an appointment with a mental health counselor were successful. Combine that bit of information with the other reports revealing more than one million Americans with opioid use disorders aren’t even receiving treatment today…it’s pretty clear we have a problem on our hands.

With opioid and alcohol abuse on the rise, our nation is dangerously imbalanced. As treatment waiting lists continue to grow, so do the number of deaths from overdose. This deadly disproportion exemplifies why we’re in serious need of addiction treatment specialists.

New Possibilities for New Professionals

The University of Findlay (Findlay, OH) is doing its part to help fill this demand. As of this fall, the school will offer a new “substance use disorders” minor. Students will learn about many types of addictions. Once complete, the minor will allow them to apply for a counseling license.

The coursework will prepare professionals to assist those struggling with various types of dependencies, including:

  • Food
  • Sex
  • Gambling
  • Drugs and alcohol

This program approaches addiction from a disease perspective. It’s designed to support a recovery-oriented systems of care model for addiction treatment.

“It’s a new approach that they’re taking in the area of recovery, meaning they are providing different levels of support for people that are in recovery,” said Robin Walters-Powell, chair of social work and gerontology at the University of Findlay.

Laying the Groundwork

The executive director of the Hancock County Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Services approached the University’s social work department about three years ago regarding this model. The University decided the best way to develop this treatment in the community was to offer coursework in the area of addictions.

To prepare professionals to support those in need, the minor includes four core classes:

  • Alcohol and Other Drugs: The Fundamentals
  • Approaches to Addiction Treatment
  • Theory and Practice of Individual and Group Counseling
  • Professional Ethics and Evaluation

In addition to offering the minor to UF students, the University is opening its classrooms to the community as a workshop. Non-students will receive a certificate upon completion of the program. Those obtaining this certificate or completing the minor will qualify to apply for a chemical dependency counselor assistant license. This licensure indicates has “a specialized area and knowledge and understanding of addictions.”

This specialized knowledge will equip more professionals to fill the unmet need for treatment in our society. Graduates of one program won’t completely meet the need, but it’s a start.

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