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Workforce Development Needs of Addiction Professionals in New Jersey

A unique structure has been created to support the training and workforce development needs of addiction professionals in New Jersey. Through the NJ Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, a statewide Addiction Training & Workforce Development (ATWD) program has been funded to provide all required educational courses for initial certification and renewal credits to support individuals interested in becoming New Jersey addiction counselors. As CEO and Executive Director of NJPN, I am proud that our agency is the steward of a comprehensive workforce development program that has remained ahead of the curve in preparing New Jersey’s counseling professionals. It is a model that is worthy of attention and replication to provide opportunities for qualified individuals to receive quality education focused on addiction.

The ATWD program also attends to internship placement for students under approved supervision, and provides training for clinical supervision credentialing. As a result of this coordinated effort, students learning is reinforced in their work environment and required clinical hours and 270 educational hours are accumulated simultaneously. The ATWD program has produced 582 credentialed professionals of which 54% became licensed certified Alcohol and Drug Counselors (LCADC) and 46% became certified alcohol and drug counselors (CADC). The ATWD students reflect NAADAC’s direction that provides for a tiered system of credentialing, indicated by increasing levels of education (beginning with a minimum of an associate degree, and progressing to a bachelor’s and master’s degree). Each tier leads to an increase in the clinician’s scope of treatment. (www.naadac.org) Of students who have already become licensed or certified since graduating from our program, 54% are Master’s-level LCADC clinicians; 25% are CADC’s with a Bachelor’s degree; and of the ATWD Bachelor’s-level graduates, 25% of them then earned a Master’s degree after obtaining their CADC.

New Jersey Prevention Network (NJPN) has been trusted with the ATWD grant to provide all initial certification coursework, mandatory renewal courses, internship connections and customer service to guide professionals along the path to state certification. The emphasis in class and throughout the internship is on learning and employing empirically-tested best-practices for clinical effectiveness in the treatment of substance use disorders. This requires extensive attention to emerging trends in the field, including diagnosis and treatment for Co-occurring Disorders, identifying and treating trauma issues, the use of Medication Assisted Treatment, and providing a culturally competent, diverse, and welcoming environment for clients from all walks of life.

Tony Polizzi, LCADC, has been an ATWD instructor since 2006. “I have seen remarkable growth in new and credentialed students while teaching these courses. I have taught on both the undergraduate and graduate level at state universities, and the diversity of experiences, academic training, and backgrounds of the participants in this community-based program provide an even richer environment for learning. The ATWD structure gives me the opportunity to provide a combination of counseling, teaching, modelling, supervising, and mentoring while delivering educational material, theoretical foundations, and intervention skills. A favorite theme that runs through most classes is the process of change taking place, the adaptation of new ideas, the exposure of and elimination of biases, the ‘cultural’ transformation of the students over the course of their involvement in the classroom environment. It is very rewarding to see the evolution of an empathetic person willing to develop the attitudes and skills necessary to become an effective counselor.”

A primary goal of the Addiction Training Workforce Development initiative is to produce well-trained, competent clinicians to be employed in stable, effective treatment agencies. To achieve this, several scheduling models were tested and the result was the creation of multiple statewide training sites within or local treatment or substance abuse prevention facilities. The program model for initial certification includes multiple training sites from which students select a primary location to attend the 45 required courses that are staffed by rotating trainers. This structure promotes student networking among local treatment professionals to support job placement and community-learning circles. Additionally, this allows trainers to work with students for up to a year of nearly weekly engagement (45 classes), promoting growth in theoretical foundations and clinical skills for those just entering the field of addictions, as well as, for those who had been employed in the field for some time but lack formal education or training. There is also a marked improvement in the understanding of the nature and development of substance use disorders for credentialed social work and mental health clinicians with little experience treating this population.

This opportunity supported professionals like Elizabeth, LPC, LCADC with Masters in Mental Health Counseling, who graduated the ATWD program and is working as a supervisor at Jersey City Medical Center. “Knowing the dynamic layers of mental health care, in regards to substance abuse I came to understand that this enmeshed co-occurring population would require more education on my part to obtain employment and provide competent clinical care.”

It more frequent to see ATWD graduates with multiple behavioral health credentials. It is essential that a variety of health care professionals gain a solid understanding of substance use disorders. With the prevalence of substance use, abuse and various process addictions the cross training to multiple professions requires so much more that then the few hours of attention. The ATWD program has prepared over 1,400 professionals to staff New Jersey’s behavioral health field and provide the trainings, courses, and support services that that have advanced the field of addiction and behavioral health in New Jersey.

The New Jersey Prevention Network is a public health agency working to create healthier communities by reducing the burden of substance abuse, addiction and other chronic disease. For more information about the Addiction Training Workforce Development program visit www.njpn.org.

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