In 2021, 46.3 million Americans fit the criteria for a substance use disorder, and the demand for licensed alcohol and drug counselors keeps rising. Union’s psychology program has responded to this need by creating a new emphasis; students who take this path will graduate ready to enter the workforce two to three years earlier as a provisional licensed alcohol and drug counselor (PLADC).

Unlike most other psychology-related careers, a master’s degree is not required to become a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. As a PLADC, graduates can begin work right away in any inpatient or outpatient facility that provides services related to substance abuse. Under supervision, they then complete the on-the-job hours required to become a fully licensed counselor.

“We’re focused on providing practical pathways for psychology majors,” said Trudy Holmes-Caines, director of Union’s psychology program. “Becoming a PLADC is a way to help students get their foot in the door and potentially get jobs that can support them as they pursue further education. There’s a lot of demand for people who have the skills to work with those who have substance abuse issues.”

In fact, the employment rate for licensed alcohol and drug counselors is projected to grow by 22 percent over the next decade. Holmes-Caines said, “Alumni of our program started encouraging us to add this emphasis because they saw a need for people with these qualifications. We jumped on board because of what it could do for our students.”

According to Vinita Sauder, Union’s president, the new emphasis is part of a long tradition. “As a Seventh-day Adventist university, an emphasis on healthy living has always been woven into the fabric of who we are,” Sauder said. “With these additional classes, we are now preparing the front-line professionals who can make a real difference in the lives of those who have developed harmful dependencies.”

Junior psychology major Camryn Byers plans to become a marriage or domestic abuse counselor someday, but when she heard about the new emphasis, she quickly signed up. “Even though addiction counseling is not necessarily the specialty I want to end up in, drug and alcohol abuse is everywhere.” she said. “No matter what field I’m in, I’ll run into it, and I’ll already have so much knowledge about it. Plus, I’ll have a full-time job. When I go to graduate school, I won’t just be working some part-time gig somewhere, I’ll be actually moving forward in the field I want.”

Becoming a licensed alcohol and drug counselor is not only beneficial for those pursuing a career in mental health care, but also for those preparing to provide spiritual or physical support. Brad Shay, adjunct professor of psychology and owner of Harmony Health Centers, said, “For students on track to become a pastor, it’s good to know about substance use disorders because they’ll see a lot of that in their parishioners. If you’re going into international rescue and relief, it’s good to see how substance use disorders are associated with traumatic and extreme situations, because that way you’re more prepared when you’re dealing with the percentage of the population that has substance use disorders.”

Union’s psychology program already taught nine of the 12 required classes for PLADC certification. With the addition of three new classes to the program, students pursuing their PLADC will be ready to take the licensing exam as soon as they graduate. One of these new classes, Medical and Psychosocial Aspects of Addiction, is Byers’ favorite.

“We learn about different harmful drugs, the effects they have on the body and why they become addictive,” she said. “Professor Shay always ties what we’re learning in class to articles we see in the news. I’ve learned so much about the role that drugs play in our world.”

When it comes to pursuing a degree in psychology at Union College, Byers believes she’s made the right choice. “I’m a third generation Union student, so choosing Union is a family tradition,” she said. “But now that I’m here, I don’t want to leave. It’s such a warm campus, and I love the atmosphere and friendships I’ve made in the psychology program. I’ve learned so much from my professors and I’m excited to apply that knowledge in my upcoming practicum and at my future jobs.”

Annika Cambigue is a senior communication and English major at Union College.