Online learning: New certification program accommodates working students

Trisha Howell is seen in a portrait inside a Jefferson Community College classroom on Thursday, Aug. 24 2017 in Watertown, New York.

By: Norah Machia

Jefferson Community College launched a new chemical dependency certification program this fall, offering all the required classes online to accommodate those already working in the human services field.

       “This program fits the needs of many people who have been requesting it,” said Trisha Howell, JCC instructor of human services and chemical dependency.  “Offering the certification program online makes it convenient for people who are already employed.”

       Between 20 and 25 students were expected to finalize enrollment into the program, which started in late August and will continue for a year (classes will be offered in condensed eight-week sessions during the fall and spring semesters, along with one summer semester).

     JCC is one of just a handful of community colleges across New York state offering the chemical dependency certification program completely online, said Mrs. Howell.

     “Our program has been drawing interest from other parts of the state” as well as throughout Northern New York, she said.

     The chemical dependency certificate program at JCC does requires pre-requisites, according to the college.

    Those interested in applying must have a minimum of one year experience working in a human services related field, and/or a minimum of an associate’s degree in those same fields.

    Students who enter the chemical dependency field are typically “very passionate” about helping those with addictions, she said. Some may have struggled with addiction themselves, or have had family members or friends who have dealt with it.

     “People don’t set out to be addicts,” Mrs. Howell said. “It’s something that develops within people over time, and before they realize it, they’re trying to get their life back.”

     The college’s new chemical dependency certificate program was approved by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, which requires people working in the field of addiction counseling to obtain a Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor certification.

      This certification requires 350 educational hours, along with an additional 6,000 hours of employment in the substance abuse field, and a written state examination.  

     Those who complete the JCC certification program will be considered CASAC trainees (or a CASAC-T). They will be qualified to work under the direct supervision of a CASAC while obtaining the required working hours to sit for the state examination.

     Some of those who applied to the program even had bachelor’s or master’s degrees, but were interested in obtaining the CASAC certification because it’s required for counseling people in addiction recovery, Mrs. Howell said.

     Part of the educational training in chemical dependency stresses the need to be non-judgmental when working with a person dealing with an addiction, said Mrs. Howell.

     Students are taught how to help “guide” people to recovery by teaching them skills to face everyday challenges and make positive decisions, Mrs. Howell said.

    “We tell students you need to see a person with an addiction as a human being who should have the right to be happy and free,” she said. “But when people are struggling with addiction, they are not happy, and they are not free.”

    Those with the trainee designation (CASAC-T) will also be considered Qualified Health Professionals for the purpose of meeting staffing requirements at agencies treating people with chemical dependencies, Mrs. Howell said.

   Several representatives working locally in the addiction recovery field had requested this type of online program be offered at the college to meet the needs of some current staff, and to increase their potential to hire additional people, she added. 

     Since 2013, JCC has offered an associate of applied science degree in chemical dependency. This is a full-time two-year degree program, which gives graduates not only the required 350 educational hours, but also 1,000 work-related hours toward their CASAC certification.

     This degree program is offered to students who are planning to attend college full-time to earn the associate’s degree, and includes classroom and online coursework, as well as internships. It also prepares students for the written CASAC state examination.

     For more information about the chemical dependency certificate program, contact Mrs. Howell at, or call JCC Enrollment Services at (315) 786-2437.