Commentary: A Place at the Table: Master’s Degree Not Necessary

As I survey the landscape of our profession, I see some amazing developments in several areas. A national health care reform bill was passed, including parity for behavioral health. There is a growing recognition of the need for integration of addiction treatment with mental and physical health care. However, these same advances have heightened concerns that the practice of treating addiction will be limited by education level, particularly to master’s degrees. Thus in a movement to further legitimize our profession, we risk leaving many dedicated professionals behind.

Our culture has a tendency to swing wildly from one extreme to another every time we have an epiphany. Such dramatic shifts can lead to polarization. We sociologists talk a lot about this phenomenon – people taking increasingly extreme positions in response to an opposing view.

We’ve seen this propensity all around; it’s not just us! The list of examples is endless in medicine, religion, economics, politics and even our global environment. So in this world of polarizing debates and paradigm shifts, I think it is important for the leaders in the field of addiction treatment and prevention to be wary of extreme positions.

We all know the roots of our profession by now. So many of our best practitioners began with little formal education at all. Today we are fortunate to have many highly educated professionals equally dedicated to those we serve. All around the world these people work together for the benefit of others in an evidence-based, ethical practice – and we applaud their dedication.

Through the years, IC&RC has been at the forefront of setting professional standards and protecting the public. Yet, not all of our seven credentials have degree requirements. While it is incumbent upon us to continue our quest to educate our professionals, I pray that we remember that competence is more than just a degree. Our non-degreed brothers and sisters in this profession would never have found a foothold if a degree was all that mattered.

Let us remember the value of a broad-based approach. As we continue our research and evidence-based practice, as we educate our practitioners, as we insist on the highest ethical standards, let us not forget the lessons we learned about addiction and treatment so many decades ago: there is a place at our table for all professionally trained, ethically sound practitioners – not just those with master’s degrees.

Phyllis A. Gardner, PhD
President, IC&RC and Professor of Sociology, Texarkana College

81 Responses to Commentary: A Place at the Table: Master’s Degree Not Necessary

  1. Gail Karlitz | January 6, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    I cannot agree with this more. I recently completed a certificate program to qualify as a drug and alcohol recovery counselor. The program included a 2-semester internship. My state (Connecticut) does not require a master’s degree for certification. BUT… every employer insists on an MSW, which they claim is required for insurance reimbursement.

    I love the work, I received especially strong feedback on my performance, and I cannot get a job. Does this make sense? Perhaps we need to reach out to insurance companies as well as certification bodies.

    • Carol Hoffman | January 8, 2012 at 11:51 am

      I teach in a program like the one you took and see the same barriers to employment for my graduates. I agree that we need an organized effort to reach insurance companies.

      Service Definitions for state-funded services include paraprofessionals in services such as IOP and in-home outreach programs, yet contractors are not hiring them, citing insurance problems. This does not make sense.

      People in recovery have the passion to help others. Education level should not be a barrier!

      • William Tripp | December 29, 2012 at 5:25 pm

        I have so many opinions on this , I do not even know where to start.

    • Matthew Prentice | April 11, 2012 at 10:11 am

      Gail Karlitz- As a former board member of the National Association of Social Workers, I would have to concur with your statement. However, I would go beyond stating that is necessary for communication/advocacy through and to all systems- be it at the local level, to the state and federal. It is critical to gather a strong body of committed, passionate certified addiction specialists to push for change. As you would take information briefs to your legislators, you should also do the same with stakeholders.

  2. Angela Utschig | January 6, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Well said. In this particular industry in the field experience is priceless and cannot be found through traditional education. Education of the brain, etc. is needed but does not have to come in the form of a Master’s Degree.

  3. Gail | January 6, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Thank you for your article and “yes” this is so true.
    I am a certified drug/alcohol counselor,CADC, for 7 years.
    I have many certificates.. in every area you can think of, but I do not have my Master’s degree.
    The first question anybody asks you is..”do you have your Master’s degree??
    My experience, hands on, is much more valuable than a degree, yet that is the only question that is asked.
    I would love to go back to school to get my Master’s, but unfortunately finances will not allow this.
    No matter what you have suggested in your article, the..facts are the facts.
    I truly believe this will never change.
    Thank you.

    • Crystal | January 7, 2012 at 12:26 am

      I could not agree with you more. Experience trumphs education anytime.

  4. Carole | January 6, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    I am a Registered Nurse with a Bachelors in Health Arts, A Senior Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor, and NADACII. I have been counseling in the addictions treatment field at all levels of care since 1976. This education requirement would essentially remove me from the field of addiction treatment. Wages are low and returning to school at the age of 60 is not something I believe I should be required to do. Actually, I feel that based on my experience I am competent to teach a Masters Level Course. If this is required, I will simply return to medical nursing.

  5. Sharon | January 6, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    Thank you so much for saying this. I am a new CADC II and work with many other professionals with varying therapeutic credentials, none of which require the level of addiction education needed for CADC. I was fearful that my certificate wouldn’t be worth the paper it was written on and am so relieved to know that we are still recognized as valuable professionals.

  6. Richard Kite | January 6, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    Well said

  7. Fred C, MS, MA, LPC | January 6, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Well said, I have two Masters degrees but most of my valuable knowledge came from experience. When you are working in the field, 95% of what you learned in college is worthless anyway. I mean, in this day, who cares how Sigmund Freud would have handled it? What’s important today is what works, and the people who know that are the ones who are out there working with the problem everyday. I learn new things from every LADAC, peer support specialist and social worker I have the privelige to work with.

  8. PMA, CATC | January 6, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    I wonder what happened to the parity law? I’ve been a credentialed substance abuse counselor (CATC) for 10 years, am Program Coordinator for the COD program in a community mental health agency and train staff on substance abuse issues, yet due to DMH requirements and state reimbursement regulations, only master’s level clinicians may provide certain services. This, despite the fact that they may have very limited knowledge about providing treatment for substance abuse issues. Sad, and a disservice to clients.

  9. Bill | January 6, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Well said. I am 23 years in the field with an LSW and 25 years recovery. Started as a CAC here in PA with a High School Diploma and an opportunity to give back. Keep the door open for our recovering brothers and sisters, I want them to have the same amazing opportunities and rewards that I have had.

  10. Susan | January 6, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    I truly appreciate this article. As a Director of AD services I hire many people some with Masters Some with Bachelor’s and there tends to be a snobbishness with new Master’s levels who think because they have the educational component they have a corner on the knowledge market. Many do not understand that education alone does not equate to competency in their skill level and that to learn the arrogance has to get out of the way so people can become teachable.

    • Christopher Tang | February 6, 2012 at 10:03 am

      Thank you for the post. I have many thoughts regarding this topic. I hope that I do not offend anyone by what I share as it addresses both sides of the coin.

      I am going to speak from the perspective of sn MSW student, as well as a former Crisis Center “Clinician” evaluating persons in Crisis at an emergency room to determine whether they met the criteria for inpatient hospitalization either on a voluntary or involuntary basis. While I did not work exclusively with drug/alcohol cases, or have formal psychotherapy training/experience in either an agency or private practice —- I still consider myself to have entry-level competencies to perform a variety of roles.

      However, most non-profits are funded through grants. The grants that are funded through NIH (National Institute of Health) and some SAMSHA grants require that “clinical” servicees and they define clinical services as the provision of IOP services, Individual Psychotherapy, Group Psychotherapy (also a form of IOP), to be provided by a master’s level therapist —– who is “license eligible”. OR, already has their license. Agencies I think are not aware of how accepting the grants with these terms actually limits their ability to provide service by a well-rounded staff (both degreed and non-degreed) and I think that NIH and SAMSHA and other funding sources will need to begin to check their motives for requiring such high levels of education or training for services that we all know can be provided by people with less formalized education as there are people with years of experience that truly have the skills and knowledge that is consistent with one who has a master’s or higher level of education. Until the funders and those seeking the funding can agree on this, it’s not likely to change no matter how much we defned this turf or that turf.

      I think that we need to think like a lot of 12-step programs and look at our “common bond” and look to stay unified instead of divided and that can only happen by the two fields SA and MH coming together recognizing that we have advanced beyond Freud and a lot of these other theorists to a place where direct hands-on not so much theoretical orientations is more important. I do become discouraged as a MSW student wondering will need a PhD eventually to answer the phone. This is not rocket science. However, we do need to recognize the other piece to things as well and that is that although Parity is something we spend a great deal of time talking about there are certain sectors or businesses including government that can be excluded from providing coverage that endorses parity. Our insurerrs are going to gravitate to those entties who opt out of parity by way of communicating to the Department of Banking and Insurance how it would be burdensome to provide coverage for substance abuse and MH that is limitless because we all know there are treatment providers out there that bilk insurance as much as they can aiming for $60,000 treatment for a 30 day stay when someone can’t even get a bed at the Salvation Army for 41,000 a month. I know we have a clause saying that there is a 450,000 lifetime maximum to MH disorders that is “non-biologically based” so that excludes personality disorders and now if we do research the largest population of substance abuse are those who have an Axis II disorder. SO right away, we know that substance abuse is not biologically based, at least not by DSm standards such as Bipolar Disorder ….again, we have great ideas. I love to hear them. I love how supportive everyone is suddenly becoming of each other.

      What I would like to ask now is what are we willing to do about it to stay unified and bring our efforts together to strengthen our opportunities to be there for the clients who really need us. We have a lot of political debates going on right now. Most of people I talk to on Campus have no idea whose running for political office. Yet, their in school to provide services to us that are likely to be impacted by who gets elected. I do not understand how you cannot be interested in what’s going on politically especially given that we have almost the rest of the year (until November) to decide who we’ll vote for if your registered to vote even. That’s a whole different story. I think that now that we know what the prbolems are, we have ideas of what potential solutions are, that we start to hold these politician’s accountable for what comes out of their mouths. They want to improve our economy well then let’s help them realize how much of a contribution we can make and that on a federal level they can impact things by not being so rigid in credentialing requirements. This might open the door to employment opportunities for many. I also think we need to re-visit ways to help people with felony convinctions that were drug related and south treatment and are now in recovery re-claim their opportunities to find employment. I do not think after a period of time that they should have disclose all of this information. There has to be a way that we can give people a second chance …..maybe even a 3rd because we do recognize addiction a “chronic, relapsing and progressive” disease and so if this is the case then why are we not conforming our policies and such to the reality of what we know today versus policies that served us only 20 years ago. Is anyone interested in finding a solution to this also.

      OK, I know I probably wrote a dissertation, and I apologize to anyone who did not want to read all of this. Any of you were interested, or will be interested in addressing things on a broader scale let me know. I woul like to send some stuff off to our elected-officials and get them to start doing some work now (show me now) what you an and WILL do before I cast my vote and then this will be a good way of seeing whether they are just giving us a bunch of political jargon or are they really serious about prmoting the change they say they are going to promote. Because the last thing I want to do is vote someone in for another four year term only to bring us through another four years of turmoil. I do not think you need a Master’s degree either to see that we are in serious trouble and that many of the social issues we are facing can be addressed by those of us dealing with them on a daily basis. Perhaps we can narrow our focus, those in academia, and who have access to peer reviewed literature and journals can maybe look for data to support our position. There’s ways we can work together to accomplish what people are wanting but we can’t simply post about it as a problem and not start to organize ourselves around a solution. Email if anyone is interested in finding a solution and I’ll email everyone as a group and we can exchange ideas that way. I’m at I look froward to hering from people.

  11. Joshua | January 6, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    it really comes down to whether or not addiction is a disease. if it is, then it should be treated by doctors – degrees required. if addiction is the result of a series of bad decisions, and can be treated simply by making better ones, then a master’s degree shouldn’t be necessary.

    • Laura Kidd | January 9, 2012 at 10:27 am

      I am not sure of the logic in “only a doctor can treat a disease” but even if that were so, I doubt many in need of treatment could afford the cost of paying a physician.

    • Michelle | January 30, 2012 at 10:10 pm

      Addiction is considered a disease. And it’s one I suffer from. It sucks. But the best help I recieved was at a local rehab where I lived where I attended intensive outpatient groups with a counselor who only had a BS in Psych. Not all diseases need a doctor to treat. Mental health problems are often considered diseases and are not always treated by a doctor. There are LMHC (therapists), etc. Now I am lucky enough to be changing careers from nursing to getting my BS in Psych to be an Addiction Counselor in order to give back.

      • Joshua | January 31, 2012 at 4:43 pm

        name another disease (that can kill you) where you wouldn’t want to see a doctor. if i get cancer, i’m going to see an actual doctor, and a cancer specialist at that. there is no circumstance where i can see someone with a new case of cancer being ok with being treated by someone with a BS and an additional certification. to say that you don’t need a doctor to treat a disease is valid only to the extent that the disease is not serious. anyone can get over a cold with a day’s rest and a bit of discomfort.

        • gloria Yocum MS,CSAC | February 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm

          I agree there needs to be some middle ground, and if we are moving toward more education then we should be making sure the education is available, not every masters program address addiction, in our state we did a small survey and only two master level human service field offered classess in addiction much less speciallized in it. Our junior colleges do an excellent job of educating students who come in but unfortunately unless they move forward they will not be able to go any were.

        • pam | March 2, 2012 at 1:55 pm

          Joshua, it is not only the doctor you want to take care of you. They have precious little time. They diagnose and prescribe (it is needed). But, you also want the nurse who will carry out a treatment, question if it is the correct treatment, advocate for you if the treatment is not working well for you, caring and nurturing you, the lab techs that obtain your lab work, the housekeepers that help keep out other infections by keeping your room clean, XRAY techs that help pinpoint what and where the cancer is… it is a whole gammit of people that make up your health team and not all of them have masters or are doctors. A doctor can’t and would not do it alone. But, we are all, as a team, helping you get better… be it cancer or addiction… or any other disease whether or not “it” can kill you.

        • WH | February 8, 2013 at 1:16 pm

          Do you have any idea how many doctors have no clue when it comes to addiction?

          • Sherrie | June 10, 2013 at 4:43 am

            Amen to that! I just graduated from Penn State with a Bachelor’s in Psych and am already discouraged because of the lack of opportunity! I am going to go for a Master’s degree but it is very unfortunate that you basically “need” one in order to “get anywhere in this field” and have been very depressed about all this, especially since I have to wait until next year to go to grad school. I am a recovering addict myself and suffer from MH issues too like Major Depressive Disorder and ADHD. I am also a Christian and have shared my own testimony to help others. My desire to help and importance of empathy, understanding, compassion and willingness to listen were not learned in the college textbooks but through a combination of life experience, personality traits, God’s purpose and talents He gave me! I am trying to not be discouraged and want to work in the substance abuse field now even though I don’t have my master’s! Also, I am afraid I will be discriminated against due to a misdemeanor charge of possession of paraphenalia that is over 3 years old.

  12. LukeSr | January 6, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    I will begin school next month for my run a a Bachelors in Psych and Substance Abuse but I have been serving at my church in this field for 2 years as an “off the street” counselor from the invaluable experience that only come from having been through addiction for 35 years. I’ve been studying addiction and I know the value of the book knowledge but there is nothing that can take the place of the real life experience of being an addict. I look forward to school and I’m blessed to have this oppurtunity but the thought of Master’s right now is almost overwhelming. I pray that we don’t loose sight of what’s most important.

  13. Juan Carpio | January 6, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    Well said, I am an LCDC since 2001 and also have a BA in psychology; however, I have learned the skills and the knowledge from seasoned counselors in the field of substance abuse and I really appreciate that experience. I would like to earn a masters degree; however, at 55 with a family, a kid in college, and other financial commitments, it is a little bit hard. If a Masters degree is requested to obtain a job position, probabaly I will be leaving the field of chemical dependency.

  14. perryrants | January 6, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    why is this the only licensed profession that insists on employing less educated persons? if you had cancer do you want a doctor or someone in recovery treating you?

  15. Margaret | January 6, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    It’s fine to have different levels of credentialing, but there need to be well-defined guidelines for how people with different credentials are allowed to practice. For instance, in the field of dietetics, a dietetic technician cannot function in the say that a registered dietitian can. While some places make such distinctions in addiction treatment settings, others don’t.

  16. Wanda | January 6, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    I believe education is important but experience and dedication supercede book learning. I have been a CADC since 1999 and my main focus is the recovery of my clients. I have worked with Master degree counselors and some were uncomfortable with certain environments and having to deal with group counseling instead of individuals sessions.

  17. John T Doheny III MAC LPC | January 7, 2012 at 9:07 am

    I could not disagree more. It is time for our Profession to professionalize itself by requiring higher education and licensure. I believe this is also an ethics issue but that is an issue for another article. For those already in practice there can be a structure for being grand-fathered into a license based on developed criteria. Given that, those existing competent counselors could continue and the others would be eliminated. There are plenty of the others and it is not good enough to just be “dedicated”. Higher eduction is a must. I have been in the mental health/substance abuse field for over 30 years. I started in 1981 as an aid in a state psychiatric hospital, where substance abuse was rampant with our psychiatric patients. I became an “Alcoholism Counselor” in 1983, when all you needed was a few years of sobriety and your own Big Book (the book “Alcoholics Anonymous”). I was first certified in 1986. Luckily for me I worked in an environment that was a combination of substance abuse and mental illness. I also worked with people who could see way down the road as far as the development and complexity of treatment and what was needed by the people who provided that treatment. I was told to, first become certified by my state agency and then by the national agency and second, to get an education and not stop until I had at least a Master’s Degree. I did that. As far as certification I pursued and obtained my state and national certifications. As time passed there became different levels of certification and I obtained the highest level. I also became a Certified Clinical Supervisor when it became obvious to our profession that supervision was necessary. I became licensed by my state as a mental health professional. You state that “competence is more than just a degree”, which I totally agree with. I also supervise graduate students in the practicum and internship phase of their degree. I’ve not met one that I would just hand a license to once they graduate. That is why, at least in my state, there is a period, four years here, after obtaining a Master’s Degree where one must work under supervision prior to licensure. The human condition, complicated by addiction and, in many cases, mental health issues, is too complex to continue to rely on “the roots” of our profession. That knowledge is essential but not sufficient. In addition, basic and advanced knowledge and passing a test is insufficient. There is another issue here to consider. From my sociology background I learned that human beings create institutions, hospitals and universities for example, to serve a human need. As those institutions evolve the human need becomes secondary to the life and continued existence of the institution. In our universities the process of education and academic freedom has been lost to political correctness, marketing and finding ways to increase enrollment numbers. I believe many of the professional organizations at the State and National level have succumbed to this development. If State’s required higher education and licensure most of the State certifying associations would cease to exist and a lot of the “big fish” in those groups would lose their status and possibly their livelihood. In addition, I have seen the political/economic turf issues that arise with overlapping professions. There are many who have an extraordinary investment in maintaining exclusive ownership in the provision of services. A new profession with equal status as far as the economic aspect of treatment would cause a higher degree of competition for providing services. Many licensed professionals support the idea that addiction treatment professionals do not need licensure simply because they want to continue to have exclusivity when it comes to providing services that they get paid for. Many hospital and treatment centers support us not being educated and licensed because they would then have to pay us accordingly. As far as I’m concerned there is only one direction for our profession to go and that is towards a minimum of a Master’s Degree and then licensure.

  18. Ron Pritchard | January 7, 2012 at 10:01 am

    This article is very timely. As some sort of health care reform takes effect, more and more the classic Addictions Counselor’s services will be required. Sadly, the usual types of reimbursements won’t cover the services the SAC provides. Clinical oversight from a person having a “L” before their credentials may be necessary, since, IMHO, we never will have a uniform standard for credentialing and re-cert of SAC’s. Much has been discussed – little has been resolved in the 30-odd years I’ve been in the field. Face it, General Medicine/ER docs don’t know addiction as well as SAC’s do. We need to be part of the Treatment Team. Do Doc’s realize this?

  19. Michele | January 7, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Agree partly as I started out it the same position however the credibility of the profession is priceless…. So many people think their personal recovery journey provides them with all they need to be a great clinician… they couldn’t be further from the truth. Even with the best of intentions they cause harm. I see it every day. I chose to pursue my masters to be a better cliniciam. We should never lower the bar. Take the initiative be an assett to the profession rather than a liability

  20. Nelson Hadler | January 7, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    I do agree, one learns this field by watching and doing. This seems to be a double edge sword though, as the profession has strived to become an accepted practice through licensing and education requirements. I am an LCADC and an LCSW. The social work field has gained a higher level of acceptance as a profession over the past ten years or so. Licensing with educational requirements had much to do with this.
    The substance abuse field also has come a long way as far as being an accepted discipline and this has much to do with educational requirements and licensing. Twenty years ago you went into recovery , took special non-college courses, stayed sober two years, passed a test and got a CAC. Many counselors had no skills beyond the twelve step model and their experience with it. We have come so much further today.
    We also must remember that the CADC/LCADC is by definition a license to practice in a very narrow spectrum. A mental health license is also needed to practice substance abuse in most settings. When a client begins to discuss depression or mood swings the single licensed LCADC is supposed to say, “hold on now, I’m not licensed to help you with that, I need to refer you to someone who is.” Really? Clients in a drug and alcohol treatment setting need to discuss emotions and the symptoms they are experiencing. Mood disorder, withdrawal, guilt, mental health or substance related? How do you separate these? Hence, it is safest to employ a dually licensed staff.

    In New Jersey , in order to provide direct service to substance abuse clients (especially in a private managed c are setting) one needs to hold or be working toward both licenses and have a Masters Degree. If one does not have a license one is called a Counselor Intern. I myself needed to inform clients that I was a credentialed Counselor Intern before I received my LCADC. “Hi, I’m the Clinical Director here and I’m an intern as well”. That was the law and I needed to accept it. Although I disagreed with the need to acquire an LCADC, ( I had been a CAC and am an LCSW) the state changed the rules and I had to accept it.

    There are many great counselors out there who do not hold Masters Degrees. Unfortunately, they are limited to where they can practice and to a lower pay scale. That’s the other blade of the double edge sword I guess.

  21. Diana | January 7, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Thank you. Oklahoma is doing this, and I have truly shook my head and tried to understand how helping people can allow monster gaps in treatment by only allowing master level treatment. Everything you wrote was awesome! Wish OK would listen!

  22. Mary Ellen, MS almost MLADC | January 7, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    The one problem I have seen in allowing non-credentialed individuals to practise is in the area of boundaries/ethics. Many people came to the profession after recovering themselves – most with the help of the 12-Step programs. I commend this. Yet. there is a assumption in some corners that knowing the tenets of AA and being able to recite them qualifies one to be a professional. Some of the best counselors I have seen had only a bachelor’s – but others were unqualified. I don’t know the answer, but allowing individuals to implement evidenced-based practises must include and standardized form of testing and/or licensing to best protect clients.

  23. Lynne | January 8, 2012 at 10:16 am

    As a 52 year old that will be receiving her masters degree in May I could not agree more. A masters In no way makes up for experience in the field. If any family member were being treated, within “the team” there will be varying levels of education and varying levels of experience…’s okay and makes for a great support system. Thank you for all you do….ALL of you!

  24. Lynne | January 8, 2012 at 10:17 am

    I should have said that I am a teacher…not in your field.

  25. Fern Webb | January 9, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Wow. Great thread for a soon to be graduating student of psychology with a major in substance abuse. Thank you to everyone for sharing.

  26. Nancy Edwards, CSW, LCADC | January 9, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    Whenever this discussion arises, I think it’s best that we put the patient first. Most of us would agree that we want the most educated, most skilled…treating one in our own family. Unfortunately, I have found working at a university setting, that many healthcare professionals with doctorate and master level education are still not as educated in addictions. At many medical universities, addiction’s continues to be “an elective” instead of required coursework. Until we commit to making this a requirement as part of the degree programs, how can we require all addiction specialist to have master’s degrees? Many of those who have chosen the addiction profession have done so because of their personal commitment to being trained in this area. I would like nothing more for ALL healthcare professionals to take required courses in addictions. Until then, we must continue to have certified addiction professionals as part of the treatment team.

    If we truly are putting the patient first, how can healthcare professionals treat addiction client’s with minimal knowledge? This is a tricky disease, with many behavioral and chemical aspects playing a major role.

    On the other hand, why in this day and age is addiction’s still not part of required coursework? I could bet that probably half of the clients entering medical treatment offices are suffering from diseases caused by tobacco or alcohol.

    Maybe we need to step back and investigate how many schools require their healthcare/mental health students to receive addiction’s knowledge, as well as compare the current requirements for achieving a license/certification in addictions. In NJ, on top of the coursework and passing a test, one must have 6,000 hours of supervised time.

    Grandfathering would be a good current option. Don’t lose the wisdom you receive from some of the older professionals (possibly without a degree) in this field, until our medical professionals could supply the same. Just some food for thought.

  27. Doreen Lockwood | January 10, 2012 at 12:18 am

    Thank for this important article. As a bachelor’s prepared NYS CASAC and treatment professional for 25 years I appreciate the validation regarding the importance of utilizing a multi-disciplinary team approach in the treatment of addictions. The human service field already has a workforce and funding crisis, excluding addiction treatment professionals that do not have a Masters Degree from providing treatment will impact service delivery and the quality of care clients with substance use disoders will receive in the future. I hope insurance companies, educators, and treatment professionals who hold various degrees and credentials can work together to find a resolution to this potential disasterous situation.

  28. Lourdes | January 10, 2012 at 1:19 am

    “… there is a place at our table for all professionally trained, ethically sound practitioners – not just those with master’s degrees.” This global attitude defines an ideal team or individuals who work for treatment of patients whose addiction is both a disease and/or the result of poor choice or decision.
    Thank you, Dr. Gradner, and y’all, (with or without masters degrees),who are competent, dedicated, passionate, & continue to learn & develop in the field to help others. May God bless your sustained desire to serve, heal, learn/develop professionally, and to work as a team.

  29. rita gennusa CADC | January 10, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    WOW It is nicc to know that so many addiction Counselors do not want the requirement of Masters. Our community is becoming smaller as our older proffessionals reitre and the “newies” don’t enter the practice because of low pay. Who wants to start at 30-35K with a Masters. I think it time we step up and let the insurance companies know that we are all educationally qualified to practice addictions counseling with a CADC. All of my classes in college were very specific to alcohol drugs and other adictions. Over the years in the field you learn even more by attending seminars.
    We need someone to come forward and lobby for insurance companies to butt out of the health care field. Leave the decision of treatment up to the addiction practioner, with the creditionals of an addiciton conselor

    • Joshua | January 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm

      so, you want the insurance companies to butt out, and you want better pay. good luck with that. drug users are certain to be the patients with the financial resourses to self-pay for treatment

  30. Lane Simpson | January 12, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Our society is definitely polarized to live in the extremes and to require more degrees would just place us in a higher cost bracket(as others in these comments have) and create one more hurdle to face in treatment and recovery. Most addicts have spent everything they have to stay numb. If we increase the price of the cure, fewer and fewer will be able to receive it.
    We also know that most of us had been addicts/alcoholics before we became counselors. Experience has told us (in this field) that addicts and alcoholics receive more from someone who has been there. On the other side of that, someone who has been there usually has a few years of debt to straighten out and in my opinion would be less able to spend more money to attend school thus dissuading many people from even trying to enter the field.

  31. Barry | January 13, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    I work at a Veterans hospital and I have had many requests from Veterans to “get me someone that knows what I’m talking about not some kid who is wet behind the ears”. To a Viet Nam Vet what happen there is just yesterday- to some MSW who just graduated its’ ancient history. The big buzz word on the medical side of the house is “Patient Centered Care”. To me on either side of the house “the foundation of good treatment is a good relationship”. I don’t pretend to have all the answers or even know all the questions. That’s why I prefer to work as part of a team with each team member having equal input no matter what educational level they have achieved.

  32. Eric | January 13, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more. There is no research to indicate that graduate professionals are more competent than non-graduate professionals. In fact, there is research suggesting that non-graduate professionals are as effective as graduate professionals, SEE PROJECT SPIRIT Requiring counselors to have graduate degrees does not appear to produce better outcomes, it’s more costly, and there is some evidence to suggests that graduate and doctoral level professionals may actually have a higher rate of boundary violations (see research by Dr. Kenneth Pope). All in all, there is very likely a sweet spot for educational requirements, too little isn’t good, and too much isn’t good. We have associate LPN nurses, baccalaureate RN nurses and graduate nurses. Many many professional fields have non-graduate professionals. Sadly, setting the bar too high eliminates many recovering people and minorities. State Licensing of graduate professionals also eliminates many folks with criminal histories. Lastly, minority treatment outcomes are the biggest FAILURE of our Caucasian-centric addiction treatment field, this would only make matters worse.

  33. Gail Karlitz | January 21, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Great input from everyone. Now… where do we go from here?
    Yes, we want to have high standards for our profession. Yes, we want “…professionally trained, ethically sound practitioners – not just those with master’s degrees.”
    My state requires classroom hours in specified classes, supervised internships, passing a test, submitting an acceptable case study, and many supervised hours. I’m fine with all of those. Personal experience in recovery is fine, too. As long as it is neither a barrier to employment nor sole qualification for employment.
    For me, the issue is insurance reimbursement. The agency where I completed my internship would love to hire me, but says that the lack of an MSW and the reimbursement problems that will result preclude that.
    Interestingly, there are facilities in this area that will only hire MSWs, not masters degrees in counseling, mental health, clinical psychology, or anything else.
    I’m told that social workers have a strong lobbying presence in the insurance industry, which has led to the present situation. How can we organize trained addiction specialists who are not also social workers?
    (Also interesting: some agencies at the other end of my state do hire people without MSWs, and just have someone with the correct degree sign off on their work. Hmmmm…)

  34. Gunnar Ebbesson LPC MAC CDCS | January 23, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    I am the clinical director at a combined mh/sud clinic. I train practicum students from different university programs including Associate degree in CD. I tell those students that the training they are getting is great and they need to get more. I say this for several reasons:
    1) until you have a masters you cannot treat whatever comes in the door which is very limiting for your clients.
    2) most AA/BA level jobs barely bring you over the poverty line, while with a masters your income potential increases by multiples of 2 or 3 or more. I currently earn 4 x what I did as a CDC 1 in a residential unit.
    3) if you can attain an associates degree or bachelors, you are likely capable of getting a masters, why limit yourself.
    4) for many people in early stages of recovery, one or two years clean is not enough distance from the disease to be truly effective in the incredibly stressful job of being a counselor. I know I wasn’t ready with 2 years clean.
    That all said, I do believe there is a place for counselors without masters or Phd. A CDCII with a bachelors helped me get clean and their service is immeasurable. However, I want more for my profession and I would like to see the expectation change. I see the requirement of a masters or higher as a way of destigmatizing our profession and bringing it the parity it deserves and into the storefront of medicine, not the back alley where much of the treatment I see is.

  35. Fr. Jack Kearney | February 22, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    As someone who trains addiction counselors I also agree that a Master’s degree is not necessary…but we certainly need more than the 270 hours of classroom education. My barber had three times that amount in the classroom before he ever touched a razor. IC&RC standards came out before HIV, co-occuring disorders emphasis, intense involvement with the criminal justice system, team-working with mental health professionals, etc. How about at least the equivalent of an AA degree?
    In California the minimum is 155 hours, all of which you can do in a correspondence course. Such low standards cannot be tolerated if we want to be considered a real profession.

  36. Dr. Phyllis Abel Gardner | February 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    I am excited to see such dialogue and debate on this issue. I agree with a lot of what I have just read in your comments. Still, I see evidence of the same polarization taking place even here on this thread. When I wrote this piece, it was with the idea that a broad scope of practitioners still have a place in this profession. I believe in credentialing; and since I have a PhD it would be silly of me to devalue education. Ethical, credentialed counselors at every level have contributed to sound practice. It is my hope that this continues. And while I agree that more educated professionals are generally paid at a higher rate, I fear that requiring a Master’s Degree would decimate the workforce, leading to dramatically fewer competent professionals, longer waiting lists and higher costs for services. I always encourage counselors to continue their formal education, but we must be wary of “absolutes.” Thank you all so very much for this feedback. I look forward to continuing the conversation! Dr. G

    • Dr JoeyMDPhD | October 5, 2012 at 10:28 am


  37. Susan | March 8, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    I think we should use caution here. I have been in the addiction field for 22 years (almost 17 with the same agency). Ive been a Clinical Director for the past 11 years and manage all areas. Our field is so specialized and the demand for treatment and information is high. For example, Judges with Drug Courts are now treatment savy and they want good clinical judgement ans services (these are highly education lawyers). In my area, Drug Court judge knows immediately when clinical judgement is not sound. I find that Clinicians with a Masters are better performers in Clinical Judgement (especially involving mental health issues). I have a Masters and earned it while I worked here. I see more benefit with higher education with more accurate Clinical Judgement, especially with with intake assessments. Bachelors or less (no matter experience)need more training and supervision on a regular basis on the job than a masters. Im working with a staff member now that is An associates degree and we have the same number of years in this agency (nearly 17). She requires alot of supervision on a regular basis with Clinical Judgement than a masters person with less experience. Im more involved on a regular basis staffing and directing treatment services and recommendations relating to Clinical Judgement for the Bachelors counselors far more than the Masters level clinicians. Masters are preferred but we have difficulty recruiting because of pay. However, Bachelors are value added and can perform very well in the treatment environment doing case management and other duties that are less specialized that clinical services.

  38. Charles L Dick Jr | March 8, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    I reside in Oklahoma. I am almost 58 years old and also recovering. I am now in my 2nd semester of graduate school for a MS in Substance Abuse Counseling. I have already received an Associate Degree and a Bachelor’s Degree in Alcohol & Substance Abuse Counseling and Substance Abuse Studies. I have completed over 170 College Credit Hours with almost 2/3 directly in the Addictions Counseling Specialty.
    When I started this process almost 6 years ago, I had just gotten my life back and felt blessed and highly favored by my Creator for saving me to be of service and had a singleness of purpose to merge my previous 25 years business experience with the degrees to counsel and develop transitional housing for veterans, homeless, and returning prisoners from corrections. These choices were made based upon the reconciliation and deliverance from these same consequences of addiction.
    When I started to OSU for the AS degree I had received Voc-Rehab from the state to get the degree to become employable; after starting I had to go back and request funding for the additional college hours to complete a BS degree also. During the last semester of the AS program I was informed that in my state a MS or MA specifically specialized to the Addictions Counseling profession would be necessary for me to become fully licensed in this state. Without that I would not be able to pursue the mission placed upon me because I would not be qualified to supervise or to establish an independent or private NPO to complete the state requirements.
    I do not regret the challenge that was placed before me, and I can already attest to the fact that the first one and a half semesters of this graduate studies have already crystalized much of my previous learning and allowed me to benefit from all the additional practicum and intern hours completed so far. However, it is certainly good that I am not entering this profession for the entry level income or even the financial perks that many graduate programs can tout. However, with IC&RC, CACREP, individual states, and NAADAC guidelines and requirements for academic qualifications to counsel addicts, there is no clear uniform licensing tract for anyone who commits to this profession.
    I was around during the 1980s when all that was required to become addictions counselor was a burning desire, and a willingness to keep showing up to do the “quasi-apprenticeship” that led most of the counselors that I came in contact with, and there was only one paradigm: 12 Steps and lots of meetings. I did not have the burden, or mission, at that time, to become a counselor, but after experiencing recovery for several years and then letting a physical problem steal away the false pride and abstinence with opiates and I was taken places and introduced to activities totally foreign to most, even within the active addictive progression.
    For me, my age and my life experiences, and my growing humility allow me to find the peace in all of this and the hope that continues as I get closer to functioning actively in the mission that I was spared for, and the faith in the fact that not one day has been wasted as of this date. That is the message that counselors are taxed with the responsibility to facilitate others to find out for themselves as they are reconciled back into their local community and gain that indescribable energy that comes from being a part of their world a day at a time through the therapeutic efforts guided by their counselor, group, and their recovery peer groups.

    Charles L Dick Jr
    Tahlequah, OKlahoma

  39. Ray Davis,Portsmouth, Rhode Island | March 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    The same holds true for Prevention Specialists as well. I have a CPS, ACPS, and CPSS all in prevention and earned one at a time with over 10 years experience plus prior years as a social worker in the child welfare system, supervisory experience,major grant management experience, life experiences of 25 years of sobriety and no Masters nor the time to pursue one. I’ve been working in community colloboration doing enviornmental strategies at the municipal and state level.

  40. Larry Clubine, CSAC, Fayetteville, NC | March 26, 2012 at 11:31 am

    I am a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC) with a Bachelor’s degree. I work in an agency with 10 SA counselors-exactly 1/2 of us are certified while the other 5 therapists are licensed (Master’s Level) or near licensure. It is my observation that while those of us without a Masters are very effective therapists, the innovative ideas, the leadership, superior knowledge and “top notch” professionalism come from those Master’s Level clinicans. If I were a program director, I would not employee anyone who did not commit to obtaining a Master’s and I would do my best to support those efforts.

  41. GennaX | March 29, 2012 at 2:57 am

    Writing from the other side of the pond and the other side of the desk as it were, I found the article and comments extremely interesting – and not just because where America goes the UK often follows. I can’t comment on the benefits of a Masters over ‘lesser’ qualifications as I don’t know enough about the different forms of accreditation in the U.S. However, it seems this requirement has little to do with patients’ best interests; it’s about capitalism. Specialization of the labour market is a hallmark of the capitalist system – the assumption that with specialists/experts come efficiencies, hence profit. i.e. the move is driven by financial motives. It’s about insurance companies protecting against claims and professionals creating new and improved earning opportunities.
    This is not to say such a move is necessarily negative. It’s only that I know from personal experience of private and national health service (NHS) treatment that the success of treatment depends on the relationship between the treatment provider and client/patient as much as the former’s level of knowledge. Ensuring best practice doesn’t depend on Masters qualifications. Some of the most useful help I’ve had involved myself and other clients collaborating with a councellor organising events to raise funds for animal charities. How would a Masters help here?

  42. Karen Bozman | March 30, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    As a recovering alcoholic and diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder, I find it amusing that we who have been through it and have come out on the other side are deemed unworthy. There is no one on this planet that understands the minds of a practicing addict than one who has been through it. We should be teaching doctors, nurses, and all you credentialed people who have no idea what it is to be an addict, what it takes to get on the other side, and most importantly the joy of watching someone you have helped because of your knowledge of this illness pass through into the state of recovery. We spend hours helping each other with no pay and most of us are uneducated under your definition, but have more knowledge and experience with helping these people than anyone with a some letters behind there name.

    Sober and Educated

  43. Abu Muusaa Abd AlKhabir | March 31, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    This is an excellent article, I am a CAC II in the state of Colorado, I am a shift supervisor for detox, Ive worked since 2006 in this field alhamdulilah, I understand the need for educations in light if implementing treatment therapy models, but I also feel that it all depends on what sphere withing the substance treatment spectrum your involved in, I have not seen a difference between those whom you stated are educated versus those whom are so called grandfather in, because experience is the best teacher for a clinician, I am just speaking in the substance sphere I agree that obtaining an education when dealing in mental health is of course essential.Ive seen Master /Bachelors decreed counselors that could nit even deal with the population, I think that as long as there are so masters level Personal assessing and creating treatment plans then there is a value for all levels of clinicians within an agency,

  44. Lou | April 4, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    The best addictions and co-occurring, and “co-dep”/family of origin issues therapist I know has a GED and an addictions licensure, non-BA or Masters.

    It takes all kinds and we have a lot to learn from each other, even those heavily degreed.

  45. Larry | April 18, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    In the years I have been in the field I have worked with those with Masters, Bachelors, Associates and high school degrees. I have worked with those in recovery and those not. I have seen clinicians with a Masters degrees who are not in recovery who were amazing and others who should try a new field. I have worked with recovering clinincans with no formal education who were amazing and those who need to try a new field. When I hire new clinicians I try to find those with the desire and the passion to do the work we do every day. Competencies can be taught many ways, either through education, experience or a combination. Our certification process will tell us who meets those minimum levels of compentecy we require for a clinical level. The passion and desire need to be there within that individual.

  46. Bill Crane | April 20, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    We all need to remind ourselves that competence is not based who has the most information, licenses, certifications, etc. Helping others is more of an art form than a scientific discipline.

    • Joshua | June 15, 2012 at 4:04 pm

      no, helping others is science – not art. and the person “who has the most information, licenses, certifications, etc.” is generally better at it.

  47. Gary Goodwin | April 26, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    WOW!!! I have to say that I have been enlightened that someone finally speaks out to what is most human matters more that a piece of paper! In fact, it’s what’s in you that matters more that what exiats outside of you in helping to asist others. There ought never be an outside authority where real change need to take place otherwise it will not last.

    In the book: Becoming Naturally Therapuetic by Jacquelyn Small “education” can impede and/or interfere with that which comes naturally. I’ve been recovering from alcoholism for going on 24 years and kinda walked the walk. What exists inside of you naturally can never ever come from a book. The art of listening and complete “attention” is probably the most valuable gift you can have in helping to assist others. Freedom from your own clutter is essential in being able to be present without ideaologies, methods, stats, or even “best practices”. Evidence based ideaologies, in my opinion, are based upon that which is static. Be still and know the simplicity of complexity which neither exists in you nor the client but somewhere “between you” in the relationship and rapport built out of the silence and non-verbal.

    I do not have a degree but have worked as an Addiction Counselor for more than ten years. More importantly than education one ought to be aware of one’s own bias, clutter, judgements, in order to have a “clean slate” in which clients can describe thier experiences and narratives completely as they see it.

    Thank you for this opportunity to comment.

  48. Teriann Gibson | May 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    I am a student at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno NV I will be graduating in Fall 2013 with my Associates in Substance Abuse as my major and Mental Health as my minor. What is bothering me is the fact that most states require either a Bachelor degree and/or a Masters, this is appalling because I know that I have a lot to offer and have been told by my professors that I would be an effective asset to the profession, with that said I’m not in this for the money, because we all know the pay scale is really low and for all the cost of my education to receive my Associates, and the time spent I am now told I must have a BA to treat and will only receive what a person that works at Jack in the Box does, and that is a estimation on the high side. So my question is, Why would I go into debt for the cost of my education, which will exceed my wage, and will take a very long time to repay? I remember when a Substance Abuse Counselor was not even considered to be a profession, so now that it is having an Associates is not enough. This to me, and I’m sure others as well are dismayed and feel like we with only having a Associates Degree will not be as affective as well as a person with a Bachelors or Masters. I think that those who made this law for a lack of better words, should rethink and consider what we that only have an Associates can bring to the profession

  49. Patti Herndon | May 25, 2012 at 1:08 am

    Just another perspective to add: I’m close to 50 years old, and a student pursuing my credentials in addictions counseling.

    I appreciate the opportunity (at any age) to learn in this field. And, no doubt, it’s taking me some time…and classes are not inexpensive or easy on my finances. I have a family and work to manage -in addition to my educational goals.

    I am choosing to pursue a Masters Degree because it’s the right level of learning appropriate for my goals, both personally and professionally. LOL…I might earn my AARP card before I manage to get my Masters…But that’s ok with me ;0)

  50. Carolyn Moore | June 5, 2012 at 4:05 am

    I aa a very grateful recovering alcoholic/addict and have been in recovery since March 1987. I went through a thirty day treatment program that had both counselors with degrees and counselors that were in recovery and were working there. All of the counselors were in recovery in one program or the other and were able to not only share the textbook stuff but more importantly the real life experience. That helped me more than anything because I felt that I could trust them to be honest with me whereas a regular person had no idea what they were talking about and I didn’t believe what they were saying. I too have gone through courses at college so that I could become a counselor in Chemical Dependency but I fail to understand why experience does not count towards any educational credits. I have sponsored so many young women and been to so many meeting, talking with men and women young and old, in alanon, AA, NA ACA and many other twelve step programs and I feel I have a lot of experience that they do not teach in any of the books I have seen so far. Another thing that I feel should be reviewed is the pay scale that is offered for counselors. Even after a person earns their Masters degree they still do not necessarily earn a lot but it is not until then that they really make anything at all that is substantial. It is as if people do not feel it is an important position or something. It requires a person to go to school and get a degree yet the job is treated as if it is one that requires someone that doesn’t need any special training. Oh well… just my thoughts.

    • Joshua | June 15, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      I agree. we should replace most of the courses in the first year of a masters program with a solid 9 months of drug use.

      • Patti Herndon | June 19, 2012 at 8:20 pm

        Joshua. I’m a counseling student, also trained in Motivational Interviewing. I’m a volunteer parent advocate, and the the mom of a wonderful son in long term recovery. While I appreciate your input regarding development of a drug addiction as a means to become an effective addictions clinician… I’m seeing it as counter-intuitive. But, hey, that’s just me ;0)

  51. Doug | June 20, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    I have an MS and all the CAC classes you can imagine. I have hired, trained and supervised dozens of clinicians. I have never had to fire anyone who has the drive and commitment to earn a master’s dergree. Everyone I have had to fire has been at the BA level or lower. I would never trust my family to a counselor who claimed to be an LMFT because they got divorced but just didn’t have the time, commitment or money to go to gradschool. Not everyone who wants MD after their name gets to be a doctor. They have to earn it.

  52. George Odom | July 5, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Thank you for your Commentary. I am currently CSAC and not finished with my education. I have found my 22+ years recovery of the upmost value that no school could teach me having or helping others with every concievable problem as a means of negotiating my own recovery in twelvel step. That is the front line of every therapy of value that has or will be used. Just like you would not take a soldier out of the trenches ,just so you could tell him how to fight. The Haughty, arrogant airs that are carried by “professionals” are a huge hendrance to sincerity that is called for when working for ,or / collaborating ,impeding the veracity and beneficent to be provided for the people we serve. Clients sense this and ask them selves can this person help me? We all hope we dont get to smart to learn !

    • Patti Herndon | July 13, 2012 at 6:16 pm

      Bottom line is…A good clinician is a good clinician.

      While it might be considered an advantage by some entering recovery/treatment that their counselor/therapist has experienced a substance use disorder themselves; that, like the level of education a person has, will not stand alone in determining how effective a clinician is with his/her patients/clients.

      All these elements/facets -such as a counselor/therapist with a Masters, and/or having a personal experience with substance use disorder as a clinician- will mean very little, in terms of a clinician’s skill set/ability to facilitate/inspire momentum toward sustainable change and foster self efficacy in an individual thinking about/and working toward recovery, if the clinician does not passionately espouse/hold the belief that EVERY person challenged by substance use disorder is absolutely and innately capable of positive life change, increasing well being/health and better and better choices in coping.

      It is ‘this spirit’, consistently and steadfastly demonstrated, paired with their education/experience/training that will determine the effectiveness of the clinician’s work with those challenged by substance use disorder.

  53. Patti Herndon | July 13, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    With all due respect to Mr. Odem…(by the way… continued health to you sir regarding your 22 plus years without use of substances for coping -that’s an example of the kind of inspiring ability we all possess toward the change process) personal experience in recovery as being the “front line of every therapy of value that has or will be used” is simply not the case -if I’m understanding the meaning of the comment.
    And adding that, I wouldn’t pretend to assume what ‘all’ others hope…but I think more relevant to the goal of quality care of others, (than the frame of all of us hoping we are not “too smart to learn”) is that we all strive to have an encouraging and open-minded attitude and spirit of approach in our learning/training/advocating on behalf of those with substance use disorder…As well that we, as students/experienced clinicians (credentials aside), demonstrate a supportive, non-critical, respectful spirit about/toward others in the community of addictions recovery who are doing so much investing of their heart/resources as therapists/counselors/clinicians with the goal of providing the highest level of care they are capable of.

  54. Patti Herndon | July 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Some have been open to share their opinion that a ‘recovered person’/their personal experience of addiction as being the cornerstone that makes for an effective clinician.
    I have had the blessing of giving birth to two incredible children-both pregnancies having challenges. My clinician, being male, never had the personal experience of a complicated pregnancy/giving birth…Yet that ‘lack of training’ didn’t, in any way, prevent him from being an extremely effective/skilled and, more importantly, inspiring healthcare provider.

  55. Martha | July 23, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Yes, I can understand your point. The field has not always encouraged or required master’s degrees. Anyone who had recovered from substance use could “qualify” as an Addiction “Specialist.” My question is, since recovery is a lifetime process, what happens when/if they relapse? The archaic days of hitting someone over the head with a club for medical treatment is far gone. Could you say that a person who has a “skill” as a doctor or surgeon should be qualified as a professional? The broader point of education and licensure is developing that knowledge and skills for treatment. One of the problems I see as I navigate this field is that anyone can counsel or berate or chastise someone, but to really provide therapy and recovery takes commitment, knowledge, and compassion. I have yet to see that in an SA counselor who does not have appropriate education. Also, for this field to be truly respected and recognized, those pieces of paper are a must. Anyone can put a sign out to do “counseling” but without education there is a whole world of knowledge missing. As an aside and with all due respect to YOUR education, do you really need your PhD to do what you do? If this field were more respected and recognized, the field would pay better. Is that not what attracts educated individuals?

  56. Phyllis Abel Gardner | August 3, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    I am floored that this thread has continued for so many months! Please keep this conversation going and continue to share this article. Our voices must be heard on this. Many Blessings. – Dr. G

  57. Bill Crane | August 13, 2012 at 2:51 am

    I also find that this thread is unusually long-lived. Perhaps into senescence. Let me cap this off with a final observation of mine. Most “authorities” in the addiction field are now calling addiction a “brain disease.” OK. So perhaps the only appropriate professionals to treat addiction are neurosurgeons.

  58. Amanda | August 14, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    What great insights for both sides of the argument. I find that making the addiction field “happy” will never work. Personally, I do have a Master’s degree and believe that an individual needs to go through the training to be a counselor/therapist. Upon completing my Bachelor’s degree I knew the theories but I didn’t have the skills. Sure, over time I could have gleaned the skills from other professionals in the field, but if you have one person teaching another that were not educated in “why” to use the skills versus “I think this is best;” then we are not practicing evidence based approaches which is needed for the best treatment. Do I think that peer mentoring and support is needed, absolutely! But when a person needs to address mental health and substance abuse personal needs they need to have a skilled and ethical clinician. With that argument said, I have come across individuals with their Master’s degree that do not know what they are doing and causing more harm then good; whereas an individual with a Bachelors is extraordinary. Also, different college Master’s programs do not provide the education needed for a skilled clinician versus others. I spoke with one master of social work clinician that stated her therapeutic skills were learned on the job due to her school not addressing this education area but others (I am sure this is not all programs, but this one in particular), so how is that different then a bachelors degreed individual learning on the job when it comes to therapeutic work? This being said, I still believe that every clinician should have the education needed and support of an educated supervisor to ensure best practices.

  59. Martha | August 16, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    This subject has become a real debate. As I have said before, in order for the profession to be respected and recognized, there must be an educational requirement. It sounds to me there are many people on this forum that are spending their time in nursing their anger and irritation that would be better served to spend their time getting that education that is required for the positions they aspire to. Is a person really committed to a profession if they refuse to educate themselves? Also I think it needs to be remembered that we are dealing with the lives of human beings. Just because someone has a ‘skill’ does not make them a professional. Lives are at stake. Do you really want to take on that responsibility without proper licensure? I would not go to just anyone. I would only go to a professional.

  60. Phyllis Abel Gardner | January 8, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Martha, I cannot disagree with most of your sentiment. The qualifier I would add is that a Master’s degree alone is not a good substitute for understanding of addition. In all things….balance. And again – I believe there is a place in this profession for all levels of education and experience.

  61. Suzanne | January 18, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    As someone who paid for and worked very hard to obtain my Masters, I have to say that I cannot agree with many of the comments here. I have put forth incredible effort to maintain my knowledge of research and advances in the field of Addiction. It is frustrating to be see jobs that do not require a Masters level. achievement for a job. I recognize that much can be learned with clinical and personal experience, but from my perspective the field continues to advance scientifically. My Masters degree prepared me to continue learning at an advanced level. We are going to see the addictions treatment field require a greater depth of knowledge of the brain and the pharmaceutical treatments as they become available.

  62. Jenna | June 4, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    The issue is not so much about employers per se as about insurance companies will not reimburse non-licensed masters level clinicians that much so how do these places (which barely make it into the black if that) make money? It is fraud to bill under someone else’s credentials
    The other issue is that about 50% (give or take) and this might be a conservative estimate of addiction people have a mental health problem and only masters level people can deal with this and give diagnoses and treatment plans and this is the most efficient way to deal with the dually diagnosed, rather than splitting and billing with two counselors. It is not about addiction training.
    Where I live, the AAs and bachelors can get jobs with some of the completely indigent, in detox, etc. My idea was a Master’s person would to the intakes and send people to the appropriate clinician, who could take the insurance and weren’t complicated with mental health so this would make room for others, but my place won’t do it.

  63. Marcus Piper | October 20, 2013 at 8:01 am

    I can’t agree with you more…..

    said every paid staff person without a Master’s Degree.

    Those of us with a degree beg to differ.

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