Imagine Who You Could Save: UB streamlines the way graduates become certified addiction counselors

Release Date: August 18, 2009 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A new project developed by the University at Buffalo's School of Social Work will help fill a statewide shortage of certified alcoholism and substance abuse counselors, making it easier for master's graduates to get approval for their training.

The project will begin this fall, and follows UB's acceptance by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services as an approved provider to train what the state calls Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselors (or CASACs). Students can visit the Web site at to find out more information.

The administrative dexterity accomplished by UB and state officials means students, state agencies and, most importantly, those in need of the services will benefit. State officials and social work counselors on the front lines of addressing people with alcohol and substance abuse issues for years have lamented a significant shortage of these CASAC workers. The Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services has been interested in finding qualified counselors who are also studying for their master's degrees since these advanced students tend to have a broader set of skills because of their education and experience.

"Until recently, New York State was losing more CASAC workers than we were bringing in," says Charles Syms, clinical associate professor. "And the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services has indentified a significant need to increase the numbers of CASACs. This program will help address that need and go a long way toward helping them achieve that goal."

The new program and procedure worked out by UB's School of Social Work means students earning their master's degrees can apply some of their course hours they take in the School of Social Work toward their initial 350-hour training requirement that leads to state certification of these much-needed CASAC workers.

Students who graduate from UB's School of Social Work and follow a specific course of study will receive a certificate of completion. This certificate will make the students eligible to apply to become an alcohol and substance abuse trainee, which is the crucial first step in becoming a fully credentialed counselor. By matching the courses they take while completing their master's degree in social work with those required by the state, the often-lengthy procedure toward applying for certification becomes more efficient, manageable and consistent with the students' existing studies, according to Lesa Fichte, director of the school's Continuing Education Office, which is coordinating the project.

As a result, UB and state officials expect more UB graduates to become certified to work with those struggling with substance abuse and alcoholism, giving graduates another skill in their career, and increasing the chances that people will be able to get the help and counsel they need.

"People being served by CASACs can be difficult to work with, and difficult to reach," says Syms. "They are often people with two diagnoses, people with mental health and substance abuse disorders, such as someone with a crack addiction. Even trying to engage with individuals who have chronic chemical dependencies is important. It's often a question of 'How do I connect with you to get you to work with me?' Or these counselors are assigned to help family members who are dealing with the impact of an addiction on their loved ones. Our students -- social workers -- come with a skill set that works well with these populations.

"Social workers have had a long history of working with individuals who are chemically addicted," says Syms. "Training our students as CASAC counselors is drawing on one of the profession's historical strengths." I believe that this project continues and strengthens that tradition."

For more information, visit the Web site at or email

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

Media Contact Information

Charles Anzalone
News Content Manager
Educational Opportunity Center, Law,
Nursing, Honors College, Student Activities

Tel: 716-645-4600