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Recovery is a journey. “It takes courage and resolve to face the challenge of re-focusing your life,” says Diane McMillan, LMSW, Associate Professor of Social Work at Marygrove College. “People in recovery are often compelled to help others who struggle, which makes them excellent candidates for the Certified Addictions Counselor (CAC) program here at Marygrove.” McMillan has helped lead a successful collaboration between Marygrove’s Division of Continuing Education and Career Enhancement, Department of Social Work and Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries (DRMM) since September, 2009.

CACs are the unsung heroes behind the demon of addiction—the kind of disease that can bring people down and often keep them from living functional lives. It is important work in these recessionary times, as many turn to drugs and alcohol to numb their pain. Currently, sixteen DRMM clients have completed coursework and are in internships at six substance abuse community agencies-- that’s one out of four of the program’s student groups.

“This is an exciting partnership,” says Sherry Lefton, M.Ed., Assistant Dean of Continuing Education. “It is an intense, six-month process, and the coursework is tough.” What makes this certification different from others is the fact that the students are all in recovery themselves. The field of substance abuse is often an area of interest that many of these students would like to pursue. “Walking the walk” is a real advantage in this line of work.

The CAC program requires the completion of 270 instructional hours and 300 hours of supervised field service in the community, allowing students to integrate theory and practice. Students dive deep into the areas of cultural awareness, pharmacology, co-occurring disorders, assessment and treatment planning and professional, legal and ethical responsibility. Candidates must be clean for six months, and have at least graduated high school. It is a diverse group of students: men and women of all ages and backgrounds, with varying levels of education, including associate and bachelor’s degrees. “Addiction knows no color, creed, race or boundary,” McMillan says. “For many, the program is an open door to higher education.” They’ve come to the right place.

“Our team of social worker, psychologist, and pharmacist instructors is experienced at managing all of the many issues surrounding addiction and recovery,” McMillan says. “They have the appropriate skill set to handle this program.” The Marygrove Department of Social Work has a reputation for compassion and competence, which translates into jobs for their graduates. It’s no accident that demand for this program is high…and growing. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment of substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors is expected to grow by 21 percent, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. As society becomes more knowledgeable about addiction, more people will seek treatment.

“It would probably be easier to go and get a certificate in just about anything else,” says McMillan. “A recovering addict has to face him or herself to work through the pain, which is so personal, and unique to each individual.” There’s an old adage in social work: lean into the discomfort—but these students are jumping in head-first. That’s inspiring.

However, setbacks are common. “We have had incidences of students leaving the program, due to various life challenges, but many have come back,” says McMillan, “This really speaks to the drive and determination of our cohorts.”

Gone are the days when anyone could hang a shingle and call himself an “Addiction Counselor.” In the State of Michigan, stiff credentialing is required for certification, and coursework is clearly defined. In fact, McMillan herself was one of the first members of the Michigan Certification Board for Addiction Professionals (MCBAP) in the 1990s.

MCBAP administers the exams that are, again, anything but easy. “There are 150 questions on a wide range of areas of study,” Lefton adds. “We support our students by offering tutorials every Friday, to help them prepare.” She says approximately 20 students are expected to sit for exams in June, and Marygrove will cover the fees. “We can’t wait to see them achieve what they’ve worked so hard for—they are special to us.”

Going forward, the Division of Continuing Education and Career Enhancement is in the planning stages of an Addiction Studies Certificate for behavioral health care professionals.“This program also represents the perfect blend of Marygrove’s expertise and a growing need in our community,” says Lefton.

McMillan agrees. “We are reaching beyond the gates of our beautiful college to do what our mission has been since its founding, and that’s very rewarding.”

For more information about the program, contact: Diane McMillan at (313) 927-1486.