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Growing need for drug abuse counselors

Aug. 12, 2009

KALAMAZOO--The demand for drug and alcohol abuse counselors is expected to increase, and Western Michigan University is rising to meet the challenge.

WMU's Specialty Program in Alcohol and Drug Abuse--SPADA--has revised the curriculum of its graduate certificate program and undergraduate minor to better train drug and alcohol abuse counselors in the latest treatment techniques. The major curriculum revision, which includes all-new class offerings, rolls out in the fall.

Several factors are combining to fuel the anticipated shortage of counselors, says Dr. C. Dennis Simpson, program director.

"The economy breeds more use of alcohol as well as cheaper and readily available drugs," Simpson says. "As people become more down on what's happening, they tend to want to avoid the realities of life, and drugs and alcohol are one way of doing it."

Other factors include the expected retirements of the high number of counselors now approaching retirement age and an increasing focus on the chronic nature of substance abuse and the more long-term treatment required.

"The whole field is shifting to a paradigm called 'recovery oriented system of care,' " Simpson says. "That goes away from the old model of just doing acute care and then putting the person back on the street, to a conceptualization of understanding that in fact substance abuse, and especially substance dependence, is a chronic condition. It is a relapsing condition, and it can repeat over time. So we have to look at a lifetime type of event."

Yet another factor that could contribute to the demand for counselors is late-onset alcohol and drug use, Simpson says. As people age, they become less structured in their lives. They may have more money to spend and may be facing unpleasant life consequences.

"When you retire, you no longer have job responsibility and you also don't have the major identification you had by being in a certain role," Simpson says. "You have less accountability, your health may be deteriorating, your children may have moved to the four corners of the earth, some of your friends may have died. All kinds of not-so-positive events may have occurred, and people in those situations tend use drugs and alcohol more."

Citing recent statistics, Simpson says an estimated 22.3 million people are classified with substance dependence or abuse and 3.9 million receive some form of treatment.

"As the demand increases for certified, experienced practitioners in the fields of counseling, social work, psychology, education and criminal justice, we want to continue to prepare professionals in the substance abuse fields," Simpson says.

The new 21 credit-hour graduate certificate program is being offered on WMU's main campus and at the University's regional sites in Lansing, Battle Creek, Grand Rapids and Traverse City. Courses are taught by seasoned researchers and practitioners, are offered weekdays and weekends, and tailored so future practitioners can apply course credit hours toward the educational requirement of the Certified Advanced Addictions Counselor (CAAC) and Master Addictions Counselor (MAC) Credentials.

The revised undergraduate minor is offered on the main campus and worldwide via WMU Online Education. The minor helps increase marketability after graduation and can be applied to the educational requirement for the Certified Addictions Counselor Reciprocal (CAC-R) credential.

WMU's Specialty Program in Alcohol and Drug Abuse is the largest program of its kind in Michigan and one of only two in the state providing similar levels of training and expertise.

For more information, visit wmich.edu/hhs/spada. For an application packet, call (269) 387-2656 or e-mail nancy.kibler@wmich.edu.

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WMU-Lansing adds specialty program in substance abuse

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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