I am a storyteller by nature and often incorporate narratives into my “talks,” whether I am addressing clients, families of clients or healthcare professionals. I find that a story, an illustration (changing the personal identifying data), can put ideas into better context. In my master’s program as well as in my LADAC training, we called these “vignettes” and I found them a useful tool to coalesce my thoughts. In this short blog, I will share several personal stories that should illustrate why I find the LADAC credential critical in substance abuse counseling, and the need for counselors holding advanced degrees and alternate licensures to consider pursuing the state license specifically for addiction counseling.
I came about my education a little backwards, as I suspect some in our field can relate to. I had a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and knew that I wanted to work in the substance abuse field. I was not sure what educational path I should pursue and received my BSW later in my life at the age of 31 after a career change from a totally different field (I was a chef for over a decade). I had completed a practicum for my BSW at an outpatient substance abuse facility and they liked me apparently, hiring me on as a group facilitator post diploma. I decided at that time to pursue my LADAC as I was blessed with a supervisor who was also a QCS. I put off my Masters program until after I earned my LADAC in 2012, pursuing my MSW later.
A desire for a more robust clinical education along with changes looming in healthcare were driving factors for seeking my advanced degree. I was sure that I would learn much and to my surprise, my LADAC credentialing studies and experience working in the field were great assets to my course studies. However, much to my dismay, I realized that there was no focus on substance abuse. Working in both mental health and substance abuse facilities, I knew that these two issues often overlap. How could so much counseling and clinical focus not involve substance abuse? There was one class, an elective that offered substance abuse. One class, an elective…let that sink in ... Understand that obviously someone received some education but I am certain EVERY clinician will encounter clients with issues related to substance use despite what population or specialty they choose to work in. It would naturally behoove anyone to add this background to their repertoire to assist in becoming a more competent and effective clinician. A former medical director who also taught at a state medical school related the same in his educational programs. I have heard similar stories from professionals with other academic and clinical backgrounds.
I was once hired at a mental health agency for a grant program that had a significant substance abuse component (greater than 90% of the clients had a substance-use disorder). My supervisor at that time had zero training in substance abuse and their entire career was with a totally unrelated population (one that they were an expert at). Obviously these created issues relegated around treatment planning, proper interventions and needed service recommendations. It was an unfortunate reality for this agency and one they were unaware of. That agency was ill-equipped to handle the chemically dependent clients they were tasked to serve. As the LADAC on this team, my supervisor continually needed to seek my experience and training on how to address clinical issues related to the clients we served. I am grateful I could be of assistance.
To summarize, not all substance abusers come through the doors of treatment centers or AA/NA but rather through mental health agencies for related co-occurring or drug induced mental health conditions or as a referral from a private practitioner. We, as Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors, are the experts in this state regarding substance abuse. This is our specialty.
Today, we have a Tiered system in this state which allows those with advanced degrees in counseling related fields the opportunity to become LADAC’s with only 2000 of supervision (along with the other requirements listed on our state website). This allows clinicians a very achievable path to this licensure. It also prepares individuals who work with substance abuse clients in a way that they were not prepared for through traditional educational settings. I know this firsthand and am extremely grateful for the non-traditional education, training and supervision I received while working towards my LADAC. It has made me the clinician I am today. I would encourage any clinician who works with substance abuse clients, to learn more about serving this growing population. The eight domain training modules prepare the clinician to become a well-rounded provider and any counselor will benefit by adding the LADAC letters behind their name. In my opinion, this is an invaluable experience and can only add to the competency of one’s clinical expertise.
Sincerely, Jon Buffington