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Addiction specialization program equips students to make a difference in their communities

Lipscomb University’s Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling addiction specialization program is making a difference on the front-lines of treating those with a substance use disorder.

Kim Chaudoin  | 

Graduate students sitting around Bison on campus

Students in the Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling addiction specialization program painted the bison statue on campus this week in commemoration of National Recovery Month.

As opioid abuse continues to make headlines, communities across the country are working to develop programs and strategies to combat the crisis. Substance use disorders impact nearly 20 million Americans age 12 and older each year. Nearly half of those suffer from both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder, or co-occurring disorders.  

In July, the Metro Public Health Department released data that indicated the opioid epidemic is on track in 2020 to kill more people than ever before with a 47% increase in opioid overdoses from the first six months of 2019.

Learning about treating substance use disorder through an addiction lens and a mental health lens creates a unique perspective for counseling professionals — and one that is increasingly needed in communities across the nation. Lipscomb University’s Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling addiction specialization program is the only faith-based, CACREP-accredited university in the south that offers this unique program and equips students with the knowledge and expertise that make a difference on the front-lines of treating those with a substance use disorder.

“The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) is an excellent resource to access illicit drugs and alcohol use trends, which reflects the severity of the problem nationwide. This pandemic has created distinct challenges for individuals with active substance use disorders and those in recovery,” said Dr. DeAndrea Witherspoon Nash, assistant professor of psychology and counseling. “We are also hearing about increased use of alcohol and other drugs by those who are not even diagnosed with an SUD. Many are struggling to cope with life stressors and as a result are self-medicating. Now more than ever society needs highly trained mental health professionals who can provide treatment services.” 

DeAndrea Witherspoon Nash

Dr. DeAndrea Witherspoon Nash

Lipscomb’s addiction specialization program is offered in partnership with Cumberland Heights, a nationally recognized alcohol and drug treatment center located in Nashville, Tennessee. At Cumberland Heights, students have the opportunity to choose from practicum and internship experiences in the residential men's, women's, young men's, adolescent males' and family programs - as well as adult or adolescent intensive outpatient experiences. 

“This site is unique because it offers a vast range of choices,” said Witherspoon Nash. “It provides our students — the next generation of licensed counselors — with valuable learning opportunities at one of the nation’s top drug and alcohol addiction treatment centers. These opportunities expose them to real-world experiences as we expand the borders of our classroom beyond the campus as they pursue this important profession.”

Students in Lipscomb’s addiction specialization program complete the academic requirements which allows them to pursue two licenses in Tennessee: Licensed Professional Counselor with Mental Health Service Provider designation (LPC-MHSP) and Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor (LADAC). This unique perspective allows counselors to simultaneously treat an addiction while also treating the underlying cause of the addiction. Coursework includes theory, practice and treatment of addictions in addition to general counseling knowledge and skills, which positions graduates to be highly sought after in future employment endeavors. 

“The addictions specialization includes a three-course series that is completed over the span of one year. During this time, there are numerous opportunities to foster a deeper connection with students by processing personal and professional motivators for selecting this specialty as they are developing into competent clinicians,” said Witherspoon Nash. “Students then feel empowered to take the skills and knowledge they have gained and spread awareness in the community through education, instilling hope, and connecting those in need to resources. People need to know that they are not alone in their pain and that help is available.”

Student Jaime Harper, faith-based community coordinator for Middle Tennessee for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse, said Lipscomb’s program is equipping him to serve his clients at a deeper level than he knew was possible. 

“Lipscomb’s program has really allowed me the opportunity to provide a level of service that I never understood before,” said Harper, who has been in recovery himself for 17 years. “It’s allowed me to not only make that therapeutic alliance with the client but with individuals in general for them to know that I am a safe place where they can reach out for help.”

In addition to the partnership with Cumberland Heights, students have also had the opportunity to gain experience through Metro Nashville Public Schools’ 1st Time Drug Offender program. The experience allowed the addictions specialization students to implement what they learned in the classroom and clinical sites in a community-based setting. In November 2018 and 2019, Lipscomb students worked alongside Witherspoon Nash and Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) to inform student participants and parents of the danger and prevalence of drug use. Students facilitated the adolescent restorative circle and the parent education course.

Witherspoon Nash has been a program facilitator of the 1st Time Drug Offender program for the past nine years, and has been facilitating parent education for the last several years. The 1st Time Drug Offender program gives the MNPS students a much-needed education on the drugs and substances they use, as well as resources on healthy skills to cope with life stressors and how to ask for help. It also provides a space for parents to learn and feel supported. 

For more information about Lipscomb’s Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling addiction specialization program, visit www.lipscomb.edu/counseling