Bringing Hope to a Disease of Despair
More than 300,000 Hoosiers find themselves in situations that seem hopeless.* While these individuals are impacted by the growing opioid crisis, so is the need to prepare healthcare professionals to treat them. In keeping with a history of addressing the most pressing issues of the day, the University recently launched two graduate programs (master’s and certificate programs) in addictions counseling. This joint effort between the School of Nursing and the College of Applied Behavioral Sciences creates an interprofessional specialty that features a unique blend of medical care, counseling, psychology and social work. The programs address the critical shortage of skilled addiction treatment professionals, according to Rachel Halleck ’10 (M.S., clinical psychology), senior director of behavioral health services at Volunteers of America (VoA).
Halleck leads the Fresh Start Recovery Center in Indianapolis, an innovative treatment program for women, and sees firsthand the growing epidemic. The Center allows women to bring their children with them to involve the whole family in treatment rather than placing these children in foster care. Within weeks of opening the Center in 2015, the waitlist for patients skyrocketed to over 100 women. It became apparent that their need to expand was urgent; however, a shortage of trained mental health professionals hindered that ability and the Center had multiple women on their waitlist pass away before they could get help.
“The Master’s in Addictions Counseling program at the University of Indianapolis is so critical in this battle against hopelessness and despair. It will be instrumental in boosting the numbers of mental health specialists who are specially trained to make a difference in the lives of those in jeopardy, and everyone around them.”
-Rachel Halleck ’10, Senior Director of Behavioral Health Services at Volunteers of America
In the past few months VoA tripled its capacity to treat women, but key positions routinely remain unfilled for several months while they wait for an applicant with the requisite skills and passion to address this issue.
But opioids are not the only issue. Addictions manifest themselves in myriad ways for which society pays a heavy price that can be measured in real economic terms. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs contribute to more than $740 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity and healthcare.
The University aligning curriculum with pressing issues of the day is not unique. The creation of the University’s clinical psychology program, the development of the doctoral program in psychology and the formation of the College of Applied Behavioral Sciences all serve an important community need. The University’s undergraduate and graduate programs in public health, as well as the TEACH (STEM)³ program, which aims to fill the talent gap for math and science teachers in middle and secondary schools, all address the diverse demands for solutions to contemporary social challenges.
In addition, the master’s degree in social work, one of only a few in the state, prepares graduates for a broad range of high-demand careers as master’s-level preparation becomes the standard for social workers in settings that include healthcare, education, the legal system, child welfare services, and mental health and addictions.
Meeting the Need
By Dr. Anita Thomas
Dean, College of Applied Behavioral Sciences
To say that there is a great need for providing evidence-based, holistic treatment to help end the opioid epidemic is an understatement. I am pleased that the faculty and staff of the College of Applied Behavioral Sciences have stepped up to address this issue. Three experiences led to the development of addictions training. Shortly after my arrival at UIndy, there was a petition to start up a suboxone clinic near the University. While this treatment is helpful,
a medication-only approach is not the most effective method for providing long-term recovery.
With the crisis affecting so many lives, we decided to base our program on best practices for the field to both understand and prevent addiction, while also providing training for recovery. The National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends merging methadone treatment with behavioral approaches such as individual and group counseling, as well as access to other medical, psychological and social services. For opioid treatment specifically, research suggests that the greatest improvement occurs with wrap-around or comprehensive treatment services; the addition of onsite medical/psychiatric, employment and family services further improves outcomes.
Our degree program is interdisciplinary in behavioral health, with coursework in social work, psychology, and mental health counseling. Students will learn individual and group counseling skills, and have exposure to career and family counseling, case management and competencies for working on integrated healthcare teams. The scope of the program also embraces the new World Health Organization classifications for addictive behaviors, including substances, gaming and gambling.