Our Executive Director Dr. Lori Phelps Weighs in on Education Requirements in Addiction Counseling
The profession of addiction counseling is in a phase of rapid
growth and change and I often find myself having to explain
some pretty confusing concepts to my students. For example,
36 is greater than 315 in addiction education. Fuzzy math?
This is only the tip of the iceberg. When I cover the fieldwork
and internship requirements, I have to tell them that hours are
not the same as hours. It’s a wild and whacky world we live
in, that’s for sure. First, let me explain the education
CAADE programs require a minimum of 36 units of
coursework for completion of the Alcohol and Drug Studies
certificate programs at our community colleges. Next: some
other certifying organizations in California require 315 hours
of education. Finally: the state of California currently
requires 155 hours of education for addiction counselors to
become certified. OK. Here is your first exam question:
True or False: CAADE requires more education than the
other certifying organizations or the State. Answer: TRUE
This is just about the time in my lecture where students start
passing the Advil. How can 36 be more than 315 or 155?!!?
Simply stated, this is really just a problem of semantics.
Comparing units and hours is like comparing apples and
oranges. CAADE measures minimum education requirements
in units, while the others measure education in hours. Here is
a little background to help clarify.
Somehow, in the history of addiction counseling
education, somebody, somewhere, decided that 315 hours of
education was going to be the “national standard,” the
minimum requirement for certification nationwide.
(Actually, it’s 270 hours plus 45 hours of practicum class time for a total of 315 … well, never mind). Anyway, as far as I can tell, the actual history of how the number of hours was agreed upon, or by whom, is not recorded anywhere; believe me, I’ve searched high and low. The most I can piece together is that the two large national organizations (ICRC and NAADAC) established national credentials based on the 315 hour model in the 1980s. Theirs was the first organized attempt to establish minimum standards for addiction counselors who, at that time, were largely recovering individuals who were working in treatment settings in many states. The model caught on, and IC&RC and NAADAC were successful in getting states to officially adopt their model and join one or the other (or both) organizations as affiliates. (Note: Mainstream wisdom at the time was that recovering people were the best ones to treat other addicts; while they needed some education, personal recovery and supervised experience in the field were considered necessary and sufficient; few at that time thought that college was necessary –quite the contrary.)
When CAADE showed up, in the mid-1980s, California had not yet established any minimum requirements for addiction counselor certification. CAADAC was in its early stages of development and was using the 315 hour model because it was the only thing out there at the time and it was already being recognized as the standard in many states. CAADE’s founder, Dick Wilson, started the Alcohol and Drug Studies program at Saddleback College and soon realized that a few other colleges had been successful in establishing similar programs. Dick got them all together, got some financial help from the State of California, and together they developed the Guidelines for Alcohol and Drug Studies in Higher Education. CAADE’s Accreditation Committee began accrediting ADS certificate programs in community colleges, which have courses that are measured in units, not hours.
If you’re still with me, here’s where I’m going to bring it all home for you. Units in colleges do represent a certain amount of classroom hours. For example, one unit in college is approximately 15 hours in the classroom. A three-unit course, then, is 45 actual classroom hours. 36 units, then, is equal to … wait for it … 540 class hours. Hence, 36 (units) IS, IN FACT, more than 315 (hours). And so, 36 > 315. There’s nothing fuzzy about this math when you know what you are measuring.
QUANTITY, QUALITY and TRANSFERRABILITY
Now that we’ve done the math, I need to point out that the CAADE model of higher education is not only about MORE; it is also about QUALITY and TRANSFERRABILITY. The 315-hour model, often called the “workshop” model, allows for courses to be taken in non-accredited private schools or Adult Extension schools. CAADE courses are taught in regionally accredited colleges, which have to meet rigorous standards that are enforced by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). CAADE accredited programs also have to meet the additional requirements set forth in the Guidelines Manual for Addiction Studies in Higher Education. What makes this so very important is this: CAADE College courses can be applied for credit toward AA/AS degrees and transferred to universities; most courses from private schools or extension programs cannot be transferred. Why is that important? Because the day is coming when addiction counselors will be required to have college degrees to work in the field, and people who don’t have college courses or degrees will have to either change jobs or go to college and start from scratch, because their 315 hours will not qualify—they don’t transfer because they aren’t from regionally accredited colleges. Those counselors with certifications based on the 315-hour model will most likely have to work as sober coaches or peer advisors at lower rates of pay. While those workers will still be very important to clients in treatment, they will not be able to do the same work as counselors or therapists. Keep that in mind as you plan your future and consider your options.
Stay tuned for the next edition of the Chronicles where I’ll discuss why “hours” are not the same as hours.