Graduate Counseling Programs: Substance Use Disorder Certificate Prepares Students for a High-Demand Career

by Tobin Perry

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, a substance use disorder “occurs when a person’s use of alcohol or another substance (drug) leads to health issues or problems at work, school, or home.” This condition is also referred to as substance abuse.

If you’re looking for a graduate counseling program that prepares you for dealing with a far-reaching societal problem, then take a look at the Substance Use Disorder (SUD) certificate offered at Azusa Pacific University.

At APU, students enrolled in the MA in Clinical Psychology: Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) program can add the certificate to bolster their degree. Additionally, alumni from the MFT or Master of Social Work programs can complete the certificate as non-degree students and equip themselves with the tools they need to make a difference in others’ lives.

The High Demand for Students with a SUD Certificate

Earning a Substance Use Disorder certificate will help graduate counseling students meet a staggering need in today’s society. According to SAMHSA’s most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 19.7 million Americans aged 12 or older (or 7.2 percent of the country’s total population) had a substance use disorder in 2017. And unfortunately, that number has continued to grow.

It’s very likely that future marriage and family therapists will encounter clients who are dealing with substance abuse issues. “The majority of clinicians in the field will have clients who either have substance use issues or a family member where substance abuse is present,” said Vicki Ewing, the chair of the Department of Marriage and Family Therapy at APU. “Everyone is somehow impacted by these issues, either personally or as part of the family system. [Whether it’s] a significant other, father-in-law, cousin, etc., peoples’ lives are impacted every day by substance use disorders.”

How APU Prepares Students to Treat SUDs

The Substance Use Disorder certificate program at Azusa Pacific University prepares individuals for this high-demand field by providing an opportunity to study alongside instructors with expertise in the field. Real-world training fosters the students’ understanding of the problems associated with substance abuse and provides them with the skills needed to treat their clients.

While enrolled in the program, students learn to apply assessment and treatment strategies while drawing on the role of faith used in the 12-step recovery process. The certificate program requires an additional 11-14 units as part of the Marriage and Family Therapy degree, ensuring students receive a well-rounded education.

The Unique SUD Needs in California

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for graduate counseling students who are trained to treat people with substance use disorders is expected to grow by 23 percent through 2026. Ewing said California in particular needs more people with the ability to work with substance abuse clients.

“A majority of states have master’s-level licensed addiction professionals,” Ewing said. “California is one of the few states that does not have a licensed addiction specialist. That said, California has opted to rely on marriage and family therapists, social workers, and professional clinical counselors to perform this role. Most will have minimal exposure to substance use disorders from their graduate education, and they are the ones coming in at mid-management to have these opportunities to assess and treat substance use.”

Ewing added that recent changes to California law mean therapists—with a certificate like the one offered by APU—will be performing duties that only substance abuse specialists performed in the past. Accordingly, California needs clinicians who can establish medical necessity for admission into treatment settings, so that clients receive the appropriate level and duration of care for a substance use disorder.

“Clinics with a multitude of clients are in high need of competent, license-eligible therapists who can perform not only therapy but determine medical necessity in order to be approved for treatment,” Ewing noted. Clinicians who can do this will be in very high demand.

Interested in working toward your Substance Use Disorder certificate while studying in Southern California? Learn more about the certificate and the required coursework.