Building a Curriculum: Efforts to More Clearly Define the Skills Counselors Need Could Produce National Education Standards

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From the Editor

Addiction counseling certainly has a shorter history as a profession than many other disciplines in health care. So it should come as no surprise that the educational infrastructure for counselors does not yet resemble a fully functioning pipeline feeding the addiction services system. Yet there are many exciting developments in the education of the next wave of clinical professionals. This special section of Addiction Professional outlines the history of addiction studies in higher education and offers a glimpse of how counselor education is adjusting to present demands for the profession.

The articles to follow examine topics such as trends in classroom offerings, opportunities to reach non-traditional students through distance learning, and why some students are opting for a career in addiction treatment despite numerous challenges. This is a time when dramatic developements appear on the horizon, with growing talk of standardizing the addiction studies curriculum and tying it more closely to professional credentialing.

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The most gratifying aspect of this project for us involved hearing from so many students of diverse backgrounds, all of whom share a desire to make a difference for a population with obvious needs. If the enthusiasm of these students offers any indication of how care will be delivered in the future, there is much reason for hope as the counseling field seeks greater legitimacy in the health arena.



The field of addiction counseling currently is without a nationally standardized curriculum. While a good number of certificate and degree programs in addiction exist at the community or junior college level, they vary with regard to hours and content--even within the same state. Very few degree programs or courses exist at the bachelor's or master's degree level. If this remains the case, the profession of addiction counseling will languish. Other helping professions, including social work, marriage and family therapy, and mental health, understand the need to establish national standards in higher education, and they have done so through approved, certified, or accredited degree programs.


Throughout most of the addiction profession's history, the work of counseling has been provided by lay individuals who themselves have battled an addiction.(1)Many individuals in recovery relied upon "what worked for them" in helping others. The presence of counseling skills and the understanding of addictions was rare to nonexistent; the main goal was to keep an individual alive. Today, a number of forces have changed this approach. This article will review where addiction studies have come from and where they are going.

Research over the years has indicated that there indeed remains much room for progress. Several studies of clinical training programs approved by the American Psychological Association (APA) found "a low level of training in the evaluation, treatment and prevention of substance abuse."(2) A follow-up study five years later "found few changes in the quantity or nature of university training in substance abuse."(3) Lawson and Lawson concluded in a review that there was consensus toward a need for minimum training standards for human service professionals, yet they found little agreement on prerequisites, curriculum, or instructor qualifications.(4)

Organizational development

The profession of addiction counseling began to solidify in the early 1970s when Congress passed the Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation Act. Adoption of this legislation provided substantial funding in the form of block grants to the states, both for treatment of patients with alcohol use problems and for training of individuals to work with this population. …


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