Psychologists on the front lines are being educated

R. Kathryn McHugh, PhD, an associate psychologist in McLean Hospital's substance use disorders division, is frequently startled by how little training psychology interns and postdoctoral fellows have gotten for working with the patients they'll be seeing.

12/21/20221 min read

"It's not uncommon to find folks who have completed most of their training but haven't seen a single client with substance use problem," says McHugh, a Harvard Medical School assistant professor of psychology. "That's not acceptable."

According to McHugh, most psychologists' substance use disorder training consists of a single lecture in an abnormal psychology class.

Students often obtain a thorough background in the problem as a standard component of their training in programs where numerous faculty members focus on addiction. The University of New Mexico, the University of Missouri, Syracuse University, the University of California, San Diego; San Diego State University; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Washington; Arizona State University; the University of California, Los Angeles; and the University of Florida, according to Katie Witkiewitz, PhD, a past president of APA's Div. 50 (Society of Addiction Psychology). Other notable training programs, according to Nancy A. Piotrowski, PhD, Div. 50's federal advocacy coordinator, include those at the University of California, San Francisco, and Johns Hopkins University.

While training for the next generation of psychologists is slowly coming up to the realities of the opioid epidemic, continuing education (CE) is an important way to keep the current workforce current. According to Jessica L. Martin, PhD, chair of the division's Education & Training/CE committee, "Div. 50 offers various CE opportunities for psychologists who wish to know the newest evidence-based techniques as well as how to screen for problems."

NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, offers a master addiction counselor certification program for psychologists who want to demonstrate that they are already proficient in treating substance use problems. The certificate validates expertise achieved via graduate-level training and supervised work experience and is designed to assist psychologists and other practitioners establish themselves as specialists, thereby increasing their wages and possible career development. The credential requires, among other things, a minimum of 6,000 hours of supervised experience in substance use counseling, 500 hours of substance use disorder education and training, and a passing score on the National Certification Commission for Addiction Professionals exam or an equivalent.