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Education and Training

Thirty years ago recovering individuals provided counseling services with only minimal formal training.  In contrast, a college degree has become the norm rather than the exception and credentialing organizations are in every state.  Advances in scientific knowledge, professional development, and standards of care have enabled addictions treatment to emerge as a specialty health care discipline.  As a result, the need for qualified practitioners has tremendously increased and greater academic demands are being placed on treatment professionals.9 Professional development is now vital in the development of the addictions treatment workforce. 

Furthermore, there is scientific evidence that specific practices work well in improving the outcomes in the lives of individuals.  These specific practices, grounded in consistent research findings, are called Evidence-Based Practices (EBPs).  Findings have shown that when using EBPs, the quality of care improves.  EBPs that are based upon research typically have carefully described service components and manuals to guide their implementation.10   For more information, visit the Best Practices in Addiction Treatment Workshop pages on the ATTC Network Web site.

"The addictions treatment field’s focus on evidence-based practice and
patient/client outcomes requires a workforce equipped to be lifelong
learners and accustomed to incorporating research findings in practice."

Strengthening Professional Identity:  Challenges of the Addictions Treatment Workforce

A major focus of workforce development is to improve the competencies of professionals in the field.  In cooperation with its Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) Network, the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA’s) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), published Technical Assistance Publication (TAP) 21, Addiction Counseling Competencies: The Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes of Professional Practice, a comprehensive list of 123 competencies all addictions treatment counselors should master to do their work effectively. In addition, TAP 21-A, Competencies for Substance Abuse Treatment Clinical Supervisors, was designed to specifically address functional responsibilities and essential skills of the clinical supervisor.  TAP 21 has been widely distributed and is now a benchmark by which curricula are developed and educational programs and professional standards are measured in the U.S. substance use disorder treatment field.11

Credentialing and licensing are ways to adhere to these professional standards.  They involve processes which assess, reassess and validate the qualifications of an addictions treatment professional.  Each state has its own credentialing and/or licensing board and specific requirements and many states require their counselors to be credentialed and/or licensed.  There are also national and international credentialing organizations.  To find basic information on a variety of state, national, and some international bodies offering licensing and credentialing for drug and alcohol counselors, visit the Certification Info section on the ATTC Network Web site.

In preparation for these requirements, education is a key pre-service component.  This education should include understanding and applying these professional standards.12  There are institutions across the country offering addiction education programs.  Certificate, bachelor, master and/or Ph.D. programs in substance use disorders are available, as well as programs offering a concentration, specialty or minor in the addiction treatment field.  To view a comprehensive list of these institutions and their programs, visit the Directory of Addiction Study Programs on the ATTC Network Web site.  In addition, you can visit the ATTC Network's international catalogue of distance education opportunities,


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