Assessing Counseling Students' Attitudes regarding Substance Abuse and Treatment

By Chasek, Christine L.; Jorgensen, Maribeth et al. | Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Assessing Counseling Students' Attitudes regarding Substance Abuse and Treatment


Chasek, Christine L., Jorgensen, Maribeth, Maxson, Thomas, Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling


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Although substance use, abuse, and dependency have long been national problems, there has been a lack of attention in the counselor education field regarding addiction counseling training. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA; 2010) reported that the rate of illicit drug use of Americans over the age of 12 years is 8.7% of the population. An estimated 51.9% of Americans age 12 years and over use alcohol and 8.9% can be classified with substance dependence or abuse based on the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., text rev.; American Psychiatric Association, 2000). The large number of people in need of substance abuse services is reflected in these statistics. As society becomes more knowledgeable about addictions, it is becoming increasingly common for people to seek addiction treatment. The Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09, predicts that the number of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors is expected to grow 21% over the next 7 years. This growth is classified as much faster than the average for all other occupations (United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008). Given this climate, counselor education programs are challenged to develop programs that adequately train future counselors to address substance abuse issues by adding addiction counseling courses to their program of study.

There are currently no uniform national curriculum standards for preparing addiction counselors; this has been identified as a serious problem that needs to be rectified (Hutchings & King, 2009; Miller, Scarborough, Clark, Leonard, & Keziah, 2010). To adequately address the need to serve clients with substance use issues, counselor education programs must develop addiction counseling curricula. The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) and SAMHSA have provided a comprehensive list of competencies that substance abuse counselors need when providing substance abuse counseling (CSAT, 2006). These competencies include the knowledge and skills addiction counselors need and the attitudes that reflect an openness to alternative approaches and a willingness to change.

Salyers, Ritchie, Cochrane, and Roseman (2006) specifically addressed the need for training counselors in the provision of substance abuse services. Salyers et al. surveyed counselor education programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and found that a high percentage of counselors-in-training see clients in their practicum and internship experiences who present with substance abuse issues. They also found that counseling students had minimal training related to substance abuse counseling. This is true despite the fact that previous research has shown a clear need for an increase in addiction counseling training in master's-degree programs (Morgan & Toloczko, 1997; Sias, Lambie, & Foster, 2006). This deficiency in addiction counseling training was addressed in CACREP's 2009 Standards, which increased the emphasis on addiction counseling and added an addiction counseling program area standard. Counseling education programs are now beginning to develop courses and curricula that provide academic instruction and supervised field experiences in substance abuse counseling. Lee (2011) found that 50% of accredited counselor education programs are offering one or more courses that are focused on addiction counseling to meet the new CACREP standards.

As counselor education programs move to meet the new CACREP standards of including substance abuse training in the core areas of the curriculum and add substance abuse specialty programs, there is a need to better understand students' attitudes, beliefs, and biases regarding addiction and addiction treatment. Students bring into the classroom their attitudes, beliefs, and biases regarding addictions. …

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