IU's addictions track prepares mental health counseling students to work with people with substance use disorder
Carrollynn Sharp was just a teenager when she developed a substance use disorder, which eventually caused her to become caught up in the criminal justice system.
Through her journey, she saw firsthand the lack of support for people with substance use issues and the stigma attached to that use, leading her to pursue a degree in psychology at Indiana University Northwest. After graduating, Sharp learned of a master's program at IU Bloomington that not only fit her mental health counseling needs but also included an addictions track. It was a perfect fit.
"When I was going through my experiences, I encountered so many roadblocks," Sharp said. "The educational courses were not geared toward my experiences, insurance didn't want to cover treatment, people saw it as something I did to myself. It felt like everyone wanted to profit off my troubles, not actually help me."
Ellen Vaughan, associate professor at the IU School of Education in Bloomington, created the master’s track through the school's Mental Health Counseling and Counselor Education program. Part of IU's Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge, the track offers an evidence-based curriculum on substance use disorder spanning prevalence, prevention, assessment and treatment.
The need, Vaughan said, is dire. In fact, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration workforce projections, demand for addiction counselors is expected to increase by 21 percent through 2030, while the supply of these practitioners is expected to rise just six percent. Indiana has fewer than 20 addictions counselors per 1,000 adults with a substance use disorder, leaving the state well below the national average of 32.
"We know Indiana is near the bottom with respect to the ratio of mental health/addictions-focused providers compared to people with substance use disorder," Vaughan said. "And from a broader perspective, substance use disorder is one of the most prevalent mental health disorders, so nearly all students entering the mental health field will work with people who have substance use disorder, no matter what their specialty is."
The master's program addictions track started in the fall of 2020. Four students have enrolled so far, and Vaughan said it has encouraged many students who are not on the track to take courses related to substance use disorder.
Melanie Adams was one of the initial students to jump on board. With an undergraduate degree in psychology and criminal justice, Adams first became interested in helping people with substance use issues after spending a year working in a mental health hospital that housed a rehabilitation program.
Seeing people from all walks of life opened Adams’ eyes to the false narrative people, including herself, have when thinking of individuals with substance use issues.
"It was so surprising to me how much stigma there was, even among educated doctors, health care workers and the community, against people with substance use disorder," Adams said. "I also saw how many people with mental health issues have substance use issues as well."
In addition to taking extra addictions-focused courses, Adams interns at the Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center at IU Health. She is also involved with one of Vaughan's research projects that provides counseling for young people with substance use issues.
Vaughan's research team will track results from the 8-week program to establish ongoing services for students with substance use disorders in the School of Education's Center for Human Growth, therefore increasing access to counseling in the Bloomington community. Adams will graduate in December, and she hopes to pursue a career working as a counselor in a prison.
"Being able to study substance use disorder from different angles and actually working with people with substance use disorder has been so helpful," Adams said. "Substance use is such a huge problem among people of all walks of life, so making it a part of our studies helps students regardless of the type of practice we go into."