Professionals needing to maintain their credentials, health care careerists looking to add expertise, and workers from any field planning career shifts can find their goals within a comfortable reach when they enter the Alcohol and Substance Use Disorder Certificate program at Cazenovia College.

A professional can become a CASAC, Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor, by first becoming a CASAC T. The Alcohol and Substance Use Disorder certificate can be the first step in New York State to being eligible for the CASAC T. Successful completion of the required courses allows students to meet the education and training requirements for the CASAC-T as administered by the New York State Office of Addiction Supports and Services.

The Center for Adult and Continuing Education program is designed to be completed in approximately a year or less, and it provides 350 hours of educational coursework and internship. Students can begin courses in the fall, winter, or spring semester, and there are two sessions offered in the summer. Program material is delivered fully online, notes Sherri Benedict, assistant director of Adult and Continuing Education.

Three recent graduates illustrate how the program’s diverse range of counseling orientations and its extensive skill offerings provide excellent training for the varied jobs and work environments where CASAC Ts are needed and where employment opportunities are in high demand today.

 

Francine Pastena lives in Orange County, New York, where a typical day at work had been taking her behind prison walls. She most recently managed mental health and substance use counseling programs for state and country prison inmates. COVID-19 required her to pivot from group counseling to individual assessment and counseling work, doing much of it online.

Pastena was taking graduate courses in sociology and criminology when she discovered the CASAC program. With the flexibility it provided plus course credits from her bachelor’s degree, she was able to finish Cazenovia’s certificate program with just five courses, streamlining the process and condensing the timeframe. She worked with program advisors to be sure she had the needed backgrounding, education, and training to prepare her to sit for state credentialing when she finished the program.

“What Caz did well was incorporate the mental health piece, the education piece, the environment piece. There was so much talk about understanding peoples’ cultural backgrounds and why when you are treating someone from an Asian culture, it’s different than treating someone from a Black community. They made it so specific. The education was so much more high quality. It wasn’t watered down. It really touched on what you needed to know to be a better provider,” Pastena recalls.

Speaking from her own experience, Pastena believes, “Often, people in recovery want to get involved in substance abuse counseling, but it’s so much more than just the recovery piece. I think like a sociologist, I like to talk to people about everything. I wanted to bring more nuance to the field, and that’s why I love it. Substance abuse treatment work is not a quick fix. I think that seeing when somebody kind of acknowledges or understands some of the process, I get really excited about that.”

 

Jamie Bradt, of Broadalbin, New York, was already working as an outpatient counselor with Saratoga County Health and Addiction Services but needed to obtain QHP credentialing within three years of his start date to maintain his role. That meant taking one of two routes: pursuing certification through the CASAC T program or earning a master’s degree in counseling. As a 45-year-old worker “with a full-time job and a full-time family,” Bradt notes, the master’s path wasn’t feasible. Caz’s one-year certification was a one-year solution and “the more economical and time friendly option,” Brandt says. Importantly, he was able to use his existing workplace to fulfill field practicum training hours.

“That was a huge bonus for me, not having to go out and find another position to put 40 hours a week into. It’s really an example of how I was able to fit the program into my life rather than completely change my life around to fit into the program,” he adds.

Though he had worked in the field for six years in a different state, Brandt was able to pull new, valuable information and worthy insights from his professors. “If that is the case for me, it should be the case for anybody, no matter what experience level they have or what amount of knowledge they think they have,” he notes.

 

Melissa Kirby worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant helping brain injury, psychiatric, and geriatric dementia patients for 23 years before changing to a job in retail management. Before long though, a diagnosis of lower-back osteoarthritis required her to rethink her work plans. She discovered the Cazenovia program through her state-sponsored vocational rehabilitation training. The Stockport, New York resident says the application process was quick and easy. So, at age 52, she enthusiastically enrolled with a goal to become an addiction and substance use counselor.

“I liked everything about the course,” Kirby says. “The professors are all absolutely great and extremely knowledgeable. I already knew a lot as a C.N.A. but school just brought it all out. I think they really did a good job getting us ready to sit for the [certification] tests.”

Kirby received her certificate in December and began searching for a job working with elderly patients.

“At this point I really have a soft spot for elderly people, who may not realize that they are messing up their meds. For many years, I worked with dementia patients and saw what goes on, especially when you don’t understand that you’re abusing. You may be forgetful, and the next thing you know, you’re taking too much of this, and not understanding why you don’t feel well.”

Kirby’s advice for those seeking a similar path is to be sure to select a program that is certified by the New York State Office of Addiction Supports and Services.

“Caz has the best one in my eyes,” she says. “I’d tell anybody that if they want to help people, especially right now, that this is something that anybody can go into if you’re a helper. If you like to help people and you care about people, it’s a very, very good position to go into. It’s strenuous emotionally, but physically you’re not going to be hurting yourself anymore, and you can help people of all ages.”

 

More information about the Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counseling program is here and interested students can contact the Center for Adult & Continuing Education to speak to Sherri Benedict, assistant director, or CASAC program coordinators at ContinuingEducation@cazenovia.edu or (315) 655-7288.