April 27, 2004

Counselor training program earns honor

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale's nationally recognized Rehabilitation Counselor Training Program now is receiving international accolades for its graduate education program.

The training program is part of SIUC's Rehabilitation Institute in the College of Education and Human Services, and celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2005. In 1955, it was among the nation's first master's-level rehabilitation counselor training programs and was the Rehabilitation Institute's founding program.The program earned the 2003-2004 Outstanding Program in graduate education designation from the International Association of Addictions and Offender Counselors. The award acknowledges a program with a commitment to addictions and offender counseling education that exemplifies "cutting edge training." The IAAOC, a division of the American Counseling Association, represents counselors employed in drug and alcohol treatment settings and correctional settings throughout the world.

Professor and training program coordinator John J. Benshoff noted that the program reaches out to multiple disciplines across campus, including social work, education, psychology and therapeutic recreation.

"We are, perhaps, the nation's leading program in addressing issues of substance abuse as a co-occurring disability," he said.

Benshoff credits a "very strong faculty," and a "very strong commitment to training minority students." About 25 percent of the approximately 80 students in the graduate program are minorities.

The program is highly regarded on a national scale. In 2003, U.S. News & World Report ranked SIUC's program third out of 85 nationally accredited programs. SIUC is tied with the University of Iowa, and just behind Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The award "is further evidence of our good work, and further makes people aware of what we are doing," said Benshoff, who accepted the award April 2 in Kansas City

The 48-hour program combines academics, research and clinical work. The primary component in all of the coursework, however, is taking a "holistic approach to the treatment of substance abuse problems," said Benshoff.

"We don't simply look at substance abuse problems as an isolated event in a person's life. We see substance abuse as a very complex set of circumstances in people's lives, and we stress developing treatment plans that are comprehensive and multi-faceted," he said.

Being a leader in research and offering progressive graduate education are among the goals of Southern@150, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

Many treatment programs address abstinence from alcohol and drugs, and repairing family relationships. While important, Benshoff believes that other factors, including employment and self-esteem issues, are "incredibly important to recovery."

There also often is a failure to recognize that people with substance abuse problems may have mental and physical disabilities that can interfere with successful treatment, said Benshoff.

Through research, SIUC's program was one of the first to identify that people with learning disabilities are at a higher risk for having drug- and alcohol-related problems. That suggests the importance of developing better treatment programs that take into account the impact of the learning disability on a client's ability to understand and participate in treatment, he said.

"We are saying to students 'you need to take this holistic view. You really need to understand the impact of substance abuse on the traditional disability, and the impact of the traditional disability on the substance abuse,'" he said.

Because of its prominence, prospective students from across the nation apply for the program. The latest award will assist in attracting better graduate students from Southern Illinois and beyond, and raises the department's stature even more, Benshoff predicted.

Other Rehabilitation Institute faculty members involved with the program in the past year include Stacie L. Robertson, Thomas D. Upton, Carl R. Flowers and Susan P. Burke.

For more information about the program, contact Benshoff at 618/453-5270.