Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Victoria A. Foster


In the Commonwealth of Virginia, substance abuse professionals are debating the licensure requirements for substance abuse counselors. The debate concerns the minimum educational and experience requirements for substance abuse counselor licensure (i.e., lowering the educational requirements to include individuals with less than a master's degree). In most counseling related helping professions, the minimum educational requirement for a counselor is a master's degree in a counseling related field. to obtain a state or national license, 4,000 hours of supervised experience and the passing of a licensure examination is required beyond a master's degree. The field of substance abuse counseling is an exception to this educational requirement. Substance abuse counselors' educational levels can vary from a graduate degree in a counseling related field and a state or national license to a high school diploma and a state or national substance abuse certification. These differences in educational backgrounds tend to be based on recovery status. Non-recovering counselors are likely to have a graduate degree and a professional license, and recovering counselors are likely to have a high school diploma and a substance abuse certification. Counselor level of education has been linked to different levels of cognitive development. Counselors at higher levels of cognitive complexity possess many of the attributes needed to be effective counselors, such as, being empathic, being flexible in the use of counseling methods, being more autonomous and interdependent and exhibiting less prejudice towards others. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationships among counselor education, experience, recovery status, conceptual complexity, and moral judgment of substance abuse counselors. The theoretical framework for the study was cognitive developmental theory, specifically conceptual level and moral development. This study surveyed 900 randomly selected substance abuse counselors in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Multiple certification and licensure lists were obtained that were representative of differing levels of education, experience and credentials of substance abuse counselors in Virginia. The accessible population included, Certified Substance Abuse Counselors (CSACs), Certified Addictions Counselors (CACs), Master's Addiction Counselors (MACS) and Licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Providers (LSATPs). The survey instruments included: a General Questionnaire, the Paragraph Completion Method (PCM), and the Defining Issues Test (DIT). One hundred and eighty-eight (188) survey responses were received for a return rate of 21%. Following data collection, multiple regression, t-tests and chi square statistical analyses were preformed to test the research hypotheses. The research findings were: counselor conceptual complexity and education level (i.e., master's degree) were positively correlated, and counselor level of moral judgment and education (i.e., bachelor's degree) were negatively correlated. A negative relationship was found between family member recovery status and moral judgment and counselor level of moral judgment was lower on an authentic (i.e., a substance abuse dilemma) vs. the standard DIT dilemmas. No correlation was found between counselor level of experience and conceptual complexity or moral judgment. Further research is needed to replicate the current findings. Suggestions made for future research include: collecting additional information on the General Questionnaire concerning supervision practices, a larger stratified sample, and the use of the DIT-2 rather than the DIT-Short Version.



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