MHC Program Receives Award from NCACES

December 15, 2020
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IUPUC’s Master’s Degree program in Mental Health Counseling has received the Innovative Counselor Education Program Award from the North Central Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (NCACES). The award is given in recognition of an outstanding, innovative, and/or unique masters counseling program at an institution in the 13-state North Central Region. IUPUC received the award for changes to the curriculum implemented in 2018 in response to the rise in cases of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) in the service region beginning in 2016.

South Central Indiana has been especially impacted by the opioid crisis. For example, the city of Columbus saw a 150% increase in opioid related overdose deaths between 2016 and 2017. Additionally, according to a 2019 Indiana Department of Health report, nearly all of the counties in the region experienced drug-poisoning death rates above 30 per 100,000 in 2017, markedly higher than the national average of 21.7 per 100,000.

IUPUC Mental Health Counseling program faculty member Dr. Stephanie Scifres and Program Director Dr. Darrin Carr modified the Master’s Degree curriculum to contain three new addictions-focused courses that better prepare graduates to counsel clients with SUD, and also enable them to apply for an additional license as a Licensed Clinical Addictions Counselor Associate (LCACA). These changes took effect with the fall 2018 semester.

“Traditionally ‘mental health counseling’ and ‘addiction counseling’ have been separate services. Many individuals with mental illness will cope by using alcohol and other drugs. Similarly, many individuals who abuse substances are coping with other mental health concerns,” said Carr. “IUPUC is now creating graduates who are prepared to face the realities of providing mental health and addiction services to South Central Indiana.”

In addition to the changes in curriculum, IUPUC’s Mental Health Counseling Program made strategic decisions to combat the opioid epidemic through the hiring process and grant writing and scholarship. IUPUC also serves in the community, with faculty members participating in organizations such as Bartholomew County Substance Abuse Council, and the ASAP Opioid Prevention Action Team. The program also opened the Tom and Barbara Schoellkopf Community Counseling Center on campus, which serves not only students but the broader community as well.

“I feel that IUPUC’s Mental Health Counseling Program has been innovative in its adaptation to meet the needs of its community during the tragic opioid epidemic,” said Dr. Brian Russ, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Mental Health Counseling, who nominated IUPUC for the award. “By changing curriculum and engaging with the community, the program was able to develop a system that will produce counselors with strong SUD training for years to come.”