Development of Competencies and Capacities to Address Behavioral Health

SAMHSA funds and supports efforts that promote the recruitment, training, and retention of a diverse qualified workforce to meet the nation’s behavioral health needs.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Workforce

SAMHSA will work to ensure that the behavioral health workforce has access to the information needed to provide successful prevention, treatment, and recovery services. SAMHSA also will support the workforce to engage people with mental and/or substance use disorders and empower them on the path to recovery. SAMHSA is committed to:

  • The development and dissemination of training and competencies
  • Supporting the deployment of peer providers in all public health and health care delivery settings
  • Increasing the capacity to address behavioral health in all prevention, treatment, and recovery settings
  • Supporting adequate funding and payment structures

As these activities develop, this topic will develop and change to reflect the work and accomplishments undertaken.

In the SAMHSA Budget Fiscal Year 2015, SAMHSA seeks funds to support the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) grant program. This collaborative grant program with the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) aims to increase the number of practitioners who work with children, adolescents, and transition-age youth diagnosed with, or at risk of developing, a behavioral health condition. It places special emphasis on training staff to meet the needs of youth ages 16 to 25 who are at risk of developing a mental illness, engaging in substance abuse or having thoughts of suicide, and who are least likely to seek help. This program supplements HRSA’s programs to grow the behavioral health workforce through the National Health Service Corps and the Mental and Behavioral Health Education and Training grants.

To increase the knowledge and skills of emerging leaders who serve in communities in greatest need of behavioral health services, SAMHSA introduced Project Leadership Initiatives for Tomorrow (LIFT), a training and technical assistance initiative.

Learn about Recovery to Practice (RTP), a five-year program funded by the SAMHSA Center for Mental Health Services. RTP provides grants to psychiatrists, psychologists, peer providers, psychiatric rehabilitation professionals, nurses, and social workers. RTP’s mission is designed to incorporate the vision of recovery into mental health professionals’ everyday practices.

Developing the sector of the workforce trained to prevent and treat substance use disorders is one of SAMHSA’s highest priorities. The SAMHSA Center for Substance Abuse Prevention’s (CSAP) Prevention Fellowship Program seeks to advance the field of prevention nationally.

CSAP recognizes the need to strengthen the prevention field by increasing the number of qualified prevention professionals. With this in mind, CSAP has undertaken a project to identify the core competencies and cross-cutting principles for professionals working in the prevention field. Currently in development, the Prevention Core Competencies (PDF | 365 KB) report will inform the development of career ladders, provide guidance for staff development and education programs, and play a role in writing job descriptions, including identifying key qualifications and desired skills. Additionally, the information will assist to:

  • Create competency-based position descriptions to facilitate recruitment, job matching, and performance appraisals
  • Establish talent development programs, such as apprenticeships or employee enrichment programs

To assess succession plans in preparation for reorganizations or pending retirements, the SAMHSA-funded Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) Network is also working to develop the substance use disorders treatment workforce. The ATTC report, Vital Signs: Taking the Pulse of the Addiction Treatment Profession – 2012 (PDF | 2.9 MB), highlights the many challenges the workforce faces.

Substance misuse among behavioral health professionals raises workforce retention challenges, as shown by Supporting Our Greatest Resource: Addressing Substance Use, Misuse and Relapse in the Addiction Treatment Workforce (PDF | 1.5 MB). The report offers practical guidance on how to address the issue. Refer to Partners for Recovery for additional resources and tools to support and sustain the addiction workforce’s critical endeavors.

Peers in the Behavioral Health Workforce

People in recovery from behavioral health disorders and their family members are being trained as specialists and are contributing to the field in a variety of roles: as health educators, patient navigators, outreach and engagement workers, and crisis support among others. These evidence-based recovery supports have expanded the workforce and access to effective services. The real-world experiences of peer professionals bolster workforce expertise and guarantee inclusion at all levels of the delivery system.

As reported in the SAMHSA Budget Fiscal Year 2015, SAMHSA proposes to focus on the Peer/Para-Professional Workforce Development Program. It is designed to augment SAMHSA’s and HRSA’s professional development programs and to strengthen the behavioral health workforce by increasing the number of trained peers, especially those working with youth ages 16-25.

SAMHSA’s Bringing Recovery Supports to Scale Technical Assistance Center Strategy is developing and vetting a set of core competencies for peer specialists and recovery coaches. The core competencies will help to ensure the quality and consistency of services provided by peers across the nation. They will help states and other employers provide clear guidelines about the roles of peer workers and the competencies that these roles require, as well as develop position descriptions, performance evaluation tools, guidelines for supervisors, and career ladders for peers.

Continuing Education and Credentialing for Addictions Workforce

Credentialing and education requirements to work in the substance use disorders field, as in the mental health field, differ from state to state. Individuals seeking a career in this field need to check with the appropriate agency in the state in which they plan to practice. Therefore, SAMHSA supports the Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) Network which provides a comprehensive list of institutions offering a certificate, associate, bachelor, masters and/or doctoral program in treatment of substance use disorders. The directory also includes institutions offering a concentration, specialty, or minor in the addiction field. Consult the Directory of Addiction Study Programs for further information.

Because practitioners from different systems of care train in different fields and use different terminology, approaches, and interventions, credentialing may take different forms—either as an independent certification or as an add-on to a licensed professional’s existing credential. Find information on credentialing organizations and certifying the workforce on the Practitioner Competencies for Treating Co-occurring Disorders page.

Furthermore, certified recovery coaches are an emerging addition to the peer workforce in the addiction treatment field. Recovery centers offer a host of supportive services and wellness activities, and serve as resources in their communities fostering recovery and sobriety.

Last Updated: 10/12/2018