Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor Training (CASAC) Program Held in Collaboration with NYS Office of Mental Health
In the Spring 2022 semester, Stony Brook University’s School of Social Welfare (SSW) welcomed its first cohort of 37 social workers into its newly approved, 85-hour Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) training program. On Friday, August 26, the inaugural class graduated with their CASAC credential.
CASAC is New York State’s official designation reserved for substance abuse counselors. The CASAC program leads to a certification by the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) for direct care providers in the field of alcoholism and substance abuse. To ensure that counselors are competent and ethical in their work and skilled in addressing the current epidemic of the opioid crisis and substance dependence, OASAS issues a professional credential, CASAC, to individuals who participate in a certified CASAC training and pass an examination.
The collaboration between the SSW and the NYS Office of Mental Health (OMH) had been in the planning stages for several years and was put on hold due to the pandemic. The aim was to create a partnership focused on professional workforce development of social workers employed at OMH psychiatric centers in New York State to help meet the increased need for addiction services.
OMH’s mission is to protect the mental health of all New Yorkers, with a particular focus on providing recovery resources for adults with serious mental illnesses and children with serious emotional disturbances. Of 20 million people dealing with substance abuse, more than 39 percent simultaneously suffer from mental health diagnoses (SAMHSA, 2021).
OMH operates a network of psychiatric centers throughout New York State. In its efforts to further address substance dependence and increase the skills of its workforce, OMH and its affiliated downstate psychiatric centers entered into an MOU with Stony Brook University as an educational entity. The School of Social Welfare became certified as an OASAS Education and Training Provider, making this joint training initiative a unique collaboration between the university and OMH.
Upon completing the program and passing the OASAS exam, employees of the psychiatric centers will become CASAC certified. Participating psychiatric centers currently include Bronx Psychiatric Center, Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, Kingsboro Psychiatric Center, Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center, Manhattan Psychiatric Center, Pilgrim Psychiatric Center and South Beach Psychiatric Center.
SSW launched this new partnership during the spring semester, in which the first class of OMH
employees enrolled in the program. “We had the pleasure of teaching a cohort of LMSW’s and LCSW’s, who work in OMH psychiatric facilities,” said Melissa Appel, LCSW and SSW CASAC instructor. “Working within a psychiatric hospital means these are among the most experienced providers of crisis, assessment and treatment services in the city. They were very eager to delve deeper into substance use disorders and behaviors; they said it will help them be more precise in diagnosing and treating patients with co-existing disorders. Possessing this knowledge is an essential tool in mental health practice.”
Ashanta Y. Carter, CASAC-G, SAP and an instructor in the program added, “The program also provided the perfect opportunity to teach students about the redemptive process of recovery from a clinical perspective.”
This partnership between OMH and SSW greatly emphasizes the need for a program of this nature in the community today. “With the support of both the OMH and SSW administrations, the CASAC program exemplifies the commitment, interest, and motivation SSW has in further developing the skills of social workers to better serve clients,” said Martha Adams Sullivan, executive director of Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. “This joint program represents the ability for public sector agencies to work together for the benefit of the community. Through the collaboration of the OMH, SSW and OASAS, it demonstrates how these programs can benefit patients at a minimal cost to the providers.”
“A strong workforce is an important pillar of our efforts to support addiction and mental health services across New York State,” said OASAS commissioner Chinazo Cunningham. “It is vital that we continue to offer avenues for people looking to enter this field to receive the education that will allow them to make a difference in the lives of their fellow New Yorkers. OASAS is proud to be a part of this program and to work with SUNY Stony Brook to help educate dedicated professionals who are looking to help others in need.”
In terms of the future of the CASAC program, SSW intends to continue this partnership with OMH next year, while considering expanding this training into the broader community through SSW’s continuing education department. The school would also like to expand the CASAC training to other HSC schools.
“The high prevalence of co-occurring disorders speaks to the need for medical treatment and the opportunities that exist in this domain. Expanding the program to a wider range of schools and professionals encourages improved services within the community,” said Shelley Horwitz, MSW, assistant dean, Manhattan Operations and one of the lead organizers of the CASAC training program in the School of Social Welfare.
Instrumental in launching the program were Melissa J. Earle, Ph.D., LCSW, director of Online Instruction and clinical assistant professor, and Warren K. Graham, LCSW, ACSW, CASAC, assistant dean of Field Education and clinical assistant professor. Their expertise in substance abuse and addictions education was pivotal in drafting the curriculum under an extremely tight timetable. Dr. Earle is currently developing SSW’s CASAC curriculum for the MSW program. Instructors Carter and Appel also contributed to the curriculum development.