If you’ve ever considered helping those struggling with substance use, now is a great time. As of November 1, new course material including practical applications, discussions, case studies, and more has been added to the online University of Wisconsin-Madison Substance Use Disorders Counselor Certificate program offered through the UW Flexible Option.
If you want to be a substance use disorders (SUDs) counselor, this is a pre-approved educational program that will prepare you to take the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors exam. It fulfills the 360 specialized educational hours required for becoming a Substance Abuse Counselor (SAC) or Clinical Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC) in Wisconsin and the 100 hours for the Substance Abuse Counselor-In Training certification.
Pat Gutierrez, who is the new instructor for the certificate program, was instrumental in updating the program content to make it more realistic and engaging. Pat is a licensed SUDs counselor who has 25 years of experience, 18 of them as a clinical supervisor.
“I’m excited to see my dreams come to fruition,” she says.
Pat has a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Mount Mary University and is a licensed professional counselor, clinical substance abuse counselor, and independent clinical supervisor with the state of Wisconsin, and a substance abuse professional with the federal Department of Transportation. Pat has worked with a variety of clients ranging in age from 12 to 71 years. She has worked in many different treatment modalities throughout the years, building and developing programs. Pat has worked at IMPACT since 2007 and is Director of IMPACT’s Substance Use Disorder Services, providing oversight, supervision, and leadership to Milwaukee County’s Access Point and County Intoxicated Driver Program.
“She brings a combination of real-life knowledge and experience to her instructor role. Given that she’s supervised newcomers to the field, she’s a real asset to students just starting out”, according to Kristi Obmascher, Director, Behavioral Health Team Non-Credit Programming at the Division of Continuing Studies at UW-Madison.
Recovery isn’t always abstinence; sometimes, it’s harm reduction. “It’s different for every client,” Kristi says. With a client-focused approach, as opposed to a punitive approach that punishes clients for making a mistake or removing privileges for regressing (which have been proven not to work), the tone is more client-centered.
Another advantage of the updated program is office hours with Pat, where students can bring their questions and concerns for one-on-one time.
Pat brings best practices in the field, information about trauma-informed care, cultural competency and how to implement SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) goals. With trauma-informed care, a counselor considers events in the client’s life that may have led them to substance abuse but without re-traumatizing them, such as a house fire or domestic violence. As opposed to telling people what to do to recover, this approach is more about meeting people where they are.
Students in the program will complete practical assignments similar to work they’ll do on the job, such as writing a treatment plan. There will also be opportunities to engage with other students through reflection papers, where students can comment on each other’s work and discuss topics.
The program also opens the door for non-social workers and people working with others without a license—such as those who volunteer—to help. While the goal is to get the credential, it can also prepare those not seeking a license to better help others. You’ll better understand the issues, know the depth and breadth of substance use disorders, and understand that there’s not just one solution to help others.
The need for substance use disorders counselors in Wisconsin is growing, underlining the need for training like the SUDs certificate.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) 2021 Annual Report to the Governor, in 2019, about 7.6% of people in Wisconsin had a substance use disorder. This is higher than the national average of 7.32%.
Coupled with the opioid epidemic and effects of mental health issues from the COVID-19 pandemic, people are in need of SUDs counselors more than ever.
“If you’re in a helping field and want to help others, this is a great program. You will learn best practices, skills, and strategies to better serve individuals,” Kristi says.