The substance use disorder counselors shortage

A program at the University of Utah's College of Social work is working to address the shortage of substance use disorder counselors in Utah and across the nation. Every fall, the Substance Use Disorder Treatment Training Certificate Program (SUDC), pronounced "sud-see," enrolls an average of 30 students—both undergraduate and graduate from all disciplines. The program helps students develop a solid knowledge base and the treatment skills necessary to assist individuals with substance use disorders and their families. The overarching goal of SUDC is to enhance the quality of substance use disorder treatment and care delivery available in the state of Utah.

Coursework for the certificate may be completed either for academic credit or professional non-credit. Right now, new funding is available that will cover a majority of the costs for students to complete the program.

Apply by April 1, 2021, here.

Learn much more from the Q&A below with Dr. Caren Frost, Ph.D., research professor in the College of Social Work and Dr. Jason Castillo, Ph.D., associate professor in the College of Social Work, director of the Bachelor of Social Work program and director of SUDC.

Video Transcript

Morgan Aguilar:
All right, looks like we're ready to go so we'll go ahead and get started. Hey, everybody out there on Facebook live, or watching this video later, I'm Morgan Aguilar, communication specialist with the University Marketing and Communications. And today we're having a really great conversation about a topic that is so important to our state, as well as to the whole country, a shortage of substance use disorder counselors. And there's a program in the University of Utah's College of Social Work that's working to address that, has been working to address that for many years. And it's called the Substance Use Disorder Treatment Training Certificate Program, kind of a mouthful so we just call it said SUDC, S-U-D-C.

So here to talk about that today, we are joined by Dr. Caren Frost, a research professor in the College of Social work, as well as Dr. Jason Castillo and associate professor and director of the bachelor of social work program, as well as the director of our SUDC program. So thank you both so much for taking the time out of your day to tell us more about this amazing program and its impact and importance in our state and our country. We'll go ahead and start with you, Dr. Frost, on just explaining a little bit about what SUDC is.

Caren Frost:
Okay. So SUDC, actually, I think Dr. Castillo might be a better person to explain that. Sorry about that. SUDC is our substance use disorder counseling program, and it's available for students who are working on their bachelor's degrees, as well as students who are working toward an associate's degree. And it is a certificate program, which means that you can complete it outside of your classwork, but it could also be connected to some of the classes that you're taking at the U. And it really is to train people to become substance use disorder counselors, to help us meet and address this issue that we're seeing across the United States and in Utah. Jason?

Jason Castillo:
Yeah. Morgan, thanks for inviting us today. When we look at the SUDC program, we're finding as Dr. Frost was talking about, just an increase in the number of persons who are experimenting or engaging with substance alcohol and drugs. In addition to that, we're also finding that there's just a shortage of substance use disorder counselors in the state of Utah.

And so, when we look at the SUDC program, we are really looking at undergraduate students, undergraduate working on their associate's or bachelor's degree, very much individuals that are, they see this issue going on in the state and they certainly see whether it's a loved one, a family member, it is certainly embedded in our communities, where they find that they do want to do something to alleviate or eliminate this increasing issue.

So, when we look at the students that we're looking for in the SUDC program, a lot of times, it's students that are in consumer family studies, that are in social work, that are in nursing, that are in education. But we also have students that might be getting their degree in engineering, they might be getting their degree in architecture.

So, the reality is substance use is throughout all of society. I think a number of folks are seeing that, hey, what can I do. And this is very much one thing that a person can do, is like, I really want to learn more about addiction, I want to learn more about the impact that it has on the brain. What impact does drugs have on social relationships, personal behavior? How do we go about really engaging with a population that may be experiencing a substance use disorder.

Caren Frost:
And can I add to that. We do have a number of students who themselves are in recovery, and they're hoping that they will be able to work in this field to give back because if they've experienced it, sometimes that really helps in the discussions that you're having with people who are going through this process as well.

Jason Castillo:
Absolutely.

Morgan Aguilar:
So we kind of already touched on it a little bit in some different ways, but Dr. Castillo, could you elaborate maybe on why this program is so important specifically for our state? You kind of touched on the rise in some of these things, but specifically in Utah, what are you seeing?

Jason Castillo:
Yeah, yeah. Thanks for that Morgan. And certainly when we look at the use of opioids, opioid disorder, when we look at the state of Utah, it is one of the states with the highest rates of opioid use disorders throughout the United States. When we look at substance use, we certainly see a number of things, whether it's marital disillusion, family separating, breaking apart. When we look at young people, tardy, absent in school. When we talk about work employment, generating income. So we really are talking about the health and wellbeing, not only of individuals and families, but also of entire communities.

And so along those lines, we see it everywhere in a number of institutions, organizations and communities. And so, when we look at this, how can we as a college of social work, how can we as a SUDC program, work with other community-based agencies and organizations to ensure that the workforce, how about this, first the students and trainees are there, individuals that are a part of the workforce, that we are one strengthening and enhancing the services that we're providing really to individuals, families, groups that are in need.

Morgan Aguilar:
Thank you. Okay, and we'll go to Dr. Frost for this one, and then certainly Dr. Castillo, if you want to weigh in as well, but who is perfect for this program, who should consider completing the SUDC certificate?

Caren Frost:
I think anybody who is really interested in what substances do to the body would find this a fascinating certificate. Also people who want to do social welfare activities or work in social service agencies that provide services interventions for people who are trying to recover from substance use. I think people who are in, as Dr. Castillo said, in social work, people who might be in sociology, people who might be in education, family and consumer studies, nursing, public health. I think there's a whole gamut of people who would be really a perfect fit for completing the certificate. Yeah, Jason?

Jason Castillo:
I think so many folks that we think are in corrections, criminal justice system, and I know this might be a little bit interesting, Morgan. However, when we look, certainly substance use disorders is around homelessness as well. And so I know that some of our colleagues in the school of dentistry, I mean, very much, dentists, orthodontist, those who are working with persons that are experiencing substance use disorder.

So I know that we also look at folks, like first responders, we look at those, even school teachers, how to properly identify whether or not the student is having an issue around substance use. I got to tell you, I mean, it really is open to any individual and diverse groups regardless of one's background, because it really doesn't matter the sector, the industry you're in, you're seeing it.

We think of folks in the clergy, faith-based agencies and organizations. I think this is an opportunity to provide folks with some knowledge and some skills to act in a proactive manner, ensuring that, hey, I might not know necessarily therapy or counseling per se, but I do know enough to recognize that this is occurring, and then to refer that person on to adequate resources.

Morgan Aguilar:
Yeah. Such a great point, thinking of all the ways that this could really supplement any industry or field of education that you're going into, and an important certificate to have. So, Dr. Castillo, can you also share some of the just nuts and bolts of the program, things like how long it might take, cost, etc, that folks that are thinking about getting involved need to know?

Jason Castillo:
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. This is a program that students can complete as part-time students, they can complete as full-time students. And that really determines the length of the program. So students can complete it in two, three or five semesters. All of the courses are sequential. And what I mean by that is students, the program typically begins in August, yeah, typically begins in August. Students take about three classes in the fall semester, they take two classes in the spring semester, take three classes in the summer semester. And all of these courses build upon one another.

So, our students have an introduction to dynamics of addiction. So, what is addiction? Our students have a counseling practice class, how to do assessments, how to do intake screening assessment. And they also professional development class that really lends itself to what is the scope of practice for a substance use disorder counselor? What is the ethical framework in which substance use disorder counselors are expected to operate from?

In addition to that, students also take a neurochemistry pharmacology course. What is the impact that drugs have on the brain. What are the different types of interventions, medication, treatments that folks may use to reduce cravings of substance use? In addition to that, students will take a counseling class where it's focused entirely on groups. So when we think of AA, when we think of Narcotics Anonymous, when we think of just different types of intervention where a lot of group work is done, students are then trained on how to prepare plan, facilitate, and conduct focus, not focus groups, but group psychoeducational groups, social support groups, therapy groups as well.

Following that, students are afforded with the opportunity to take a class around how to work with individuals and how to work with families. And last but not least, we always talk about, being able to work with individuals, families, and groups. But it's also important to be able to work with our elected officials, appointed officials. And so, how do we engage in advocacy? How do we engage in policy changes? So, students do take a class in regards to policy advocacy.

So we really do try to catch across the gamut as far as what substance use disorder counselors do within the scope of practice. So again, it sounds like a lot, but a number of students are able to work on their degree classes while also taking classes in this certificate program.

When we look at the program, it is broken up into two tracks, the SUBC track, and ASUDC, advanced substance use disorder counselor track. And I won't go into too much detail, love to hear from everybody that's watching this as well, as going on to our website to get more information. But the curriculum in and of itself is broken into didactic instruction where students do take courses with an instructor with their peers. In addition to that, they also do a 200 to 350-hour field practicum placement. And based upon how students do one, in the course room, and then also in their field practicum placement are also afforded with the opportunity should they choose to engage in an apprenticeship opportunity as well.

So again, classroom, field practicum, and then also on-the-job training in the form of an apprenticeship. And Morgan, there's always, oh, sorry, go ahead, Caren.

Caren Frost:
I was going to say, I just want to add to it that one of the things with the first grant that we got because we have two grants on this, was that we were able to provide some opportunities for workshops that are really, really focused specifically on skill building for people who are in the SUDC or ASUDC program. So we have people coming in and talking about motivational interviewing, CBT, [inaudible 00:12:20], all of these wonderful acronyms for things, how to work with different client populations. So anyway, those are afforded to the students too. They're just wonderful opportunities for people.

Jason Castillo:
Yeah. Yeah. And thank you for that, Dr. Frost. Certainly when we talk about evidence-based interventions, certainly mindfulness oriented recovery enhancement when we talk about [inaudible 00:12:42], certainly when we talk around the relationship with substance use and suicide. Morgan, you asked earlier, why is this important? Certainly when we look at opioid use disorder. But let's not dismiss the suicide rate in the state of Utah as well. So, certainly being able to attend to that as an issue in Utah as well.

And Morgan, there's always this question going, yeah, this is great, how in the world do I pay for this? When we look at the cost of the program, and it depends upon the track, whether you're a SUDC student or an ASUDC, the program itself, it ranges from 6,000 to $9,500. However, I know we're going to talk a little bit more around scholarship and funding opportunities, and I think this is really one of the exciting things about this particular certificate program.

Morgan Aguilar:
Thank you. Yeah. So we'll dive right into that because that of course is what holds a lot of people back, we know, so that's what we're here to talk about is some really incredible new scholarship stipend opportunities that are going to be available really soon. So we'll go over to Dr. Frost to tell us a little bit more about that.

Caren Frost:
So, as I mentioned before, we had two HRSA grants, and HRSA is the health resource services administration, it's out of the federal government. And they're really, really interested in getting people trained from a variety of professions to work through and help people deal with substance use issues.

And so, on our first grant, we had very small stipends. If you were a part-time student, you got $1,500, if you were a full-time student, you got $3,000 for the entire time that you were in the program. But for our second HRSA grant, we're going to be able to do an awful lot more. And so, it's really exciting because a student would complete the SUDC or the ASUDC program, and then they would go and work in an agency and become an apprentice for a year. And both of those options both for the classes as well as for being an apprentice, there are funds available to support those activities. And I'm going to turn rest of that over to Dr. Castillo.

Jason Castillo:
Yeah. Yeah. Thanks for that, Dr. Frost. Certainly, when we look at just the increasing costs of higher education, one of the things that HRSA has really tried to do is make education and training like this affordable and accessible for students. And when we look at the SUDC program, we feel that we've got the curriculum, we feel that we've got the faculty, many of the faculty are indeed licensed practitioners out in the field. So that helps in the classroom as well as in field practicum placements. So very experiential and applied certificate program.

But going back to the funding is through an HRSA and the external funds. With this new HRSA grant that we have, we are definitely able to cover a majority of the costs for students to partake in the certificate program. So students are afforded with funds to cover supplies and tuition, students are also afforded with funds in the form of a stipend as well. As Dr. Frost was talking about, certainly students are, how about this, graduates of the SUDC program who are now apprentices, are also available or eligible to receive funds as well.

So when we look at the HRSA grant, when we look the cost of the program, the scholarship funding that is available, it does cover a majority of the cost. And so, I'm a huge proponent that students should get paid to go to school and I think we've achieved that goal here.

Morgan Aguilar:
That is so incredible. Thank you so much for sharing that. So if you're just joining us or kind of to wrap this up, we're here talking about a program at the U College of Social Work that is addressing the shortage of substance use disorder counselors in the state of Utah, as well as across the country. And we keep referring to SUDC, and that is the Substance Use Disorder Treatment Training certificate program.

So if you're interested at all in what you've heard Dr. Frost and Dr. Castillo talk about today, please check out the website, socialwork.utah.edu/sudc S-U-D-C, and we'll be sure to put that in the description of this video as well because don't let cost hold you back. If you're interested, there's this new funding and stipend and scholarship opportunity available. And the deadline to register or apply for that is going to be April 1st. So be sure to check that out in the next few weeks and head to that website if you have any more questions.

So, Dr. Frost, Dr. Castillo, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about this today. I appreciate it.

Caren Frost:
Thank you, Morgan. Thank you for setting this up. This is fantastic.

Morgan Aguilar:
Absolutely. Thanks for watching, everybody.

Media Contacts

Morgan Aguilarcommunications specialist, University of Utah Communications