Kilgore College will introduce a new degree plan in the Fall 2019 semester for students who wish to pursue a career helping others overcome substance addictions.
Dr. Mike Turpin, KC’s vice president of instruction, gave a presentation to the college board of trustees at their Dec. 17 meeting about the new program – a pathway of coursework and real-world experience leading students to an Associate of Applied Science degree in Substance Abuse Counseling.
KC instructor Tina Rushing will be teaching some of the courses in the new degree plan. With over 20 years of experience as a licensed clinical social worker, Rushing was a natural choice for the program when college administrators decided to launch the new courses.
“They approached me in the fall,” Rushing said. “I was thinking about doing something different anyway and then (KC president) Dr. Kays and Dr. Turpin came up with the idea for this program and asked me to do it.”
Rushing described the coursework as a two-year degree plan with a mix of counseling instruction and basic academic courses. Students will begin learning relevant career skills right away.
“They will take eight academic courses. They’ll have to take English, sociology, humanities,” Rushing said. “They’ll begin pretty quickly in the first semester. One of the first classes that they’ll take is assessment of substance-related and addictive disorders.”
As students enter their final semester, they will take on the final portion of the degree-plan: applying the skills they’ve learned in real-world settings.
“At the end of the program they will all do a 270-hour practicum. They will go out into the community towork with another LCDC (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) and learn hands-on, like student teaching almost,” Rushing said.
Rushing said opportunities in the substance abuse counseling field are expected to increase, especially in East Texas.
“It is a growing field, definitely. The regional needs assessment, which ETCADA (East Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse) does shows the statistics for our region. There’s only one mental heath provider for every 1000 people in Region 4,” Rushing said, describing the lack of providers in the area as a “lapse of service.” Region 4 is a 23-county area in East Texas.
“The job outlook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics say it’s going to grow 23 percent,” Rushing said, referring to the field of substance abuse counseling. “It will be a viable way for students to get an associate’s and get right to work.”
Rushing added, in Texas, students who wish to become Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselors must first earn an AAS degree in substance abuse counseling, such as the one offered by KC. This makes them eligible to begin earning credit-hours towards the total amount required for licensing.
“You become an LCDC intern, basically,” Rushing said. “You have to have 3000 hours, maybe up to 4000 hours. It’s about 18 months of work. You have to have the degree to be able to do that.”
In recent years, major news organizations have reported increasing trends of alcohol and drug abuse-related health problems in the U.S., specifically tied to widespread use of prescription opiate painkillers. Rushing agreed this could be one of the reasons job demand for substance abuse counselors is on the rise.
“There is no doubt that influences the need,” she said. “We’re going to partner with MTC in Henderson. They are one of the largest treatment facilities in Texas. They have 2,400 inmates in Henderson right now. The courts have decided it’s much smarter, instead of just housing inmates, to give them treatment while they’re being housed. A lot of our students will likely do their practicum there. They’ll be a great partner.”
She described students who might be interested in the program as those who are passionate about helping others.
“It’s another helping profession,” she said, similar to nursing or social work. A lot of people who get into this profession have “the desire to want to help other individuals.”
Many people who become substance abuse counselors once needed such help themselves and got it, turning their lives around. Others needed the help and didn’t get it and want to help others get the assistance they never received, she said.