Counselors who treat people with substance use disorders do life-changing work on a daily basis, amid difficult circumstances that include staff shortages, high turnover, low salaries, and scant program funding. Counselors come to this important work by various paths and with vastly different skills and experience. The diversity of backgrounds and types of preparation can be a strength, provided there is a common foundation from which counselors work. This publication addresses the following questions: What professional standards should guide substance abuse treatment counselors? What is an appropriate scope of practice for the field? Which competencies are associated with positive outcomes? What knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSAs) should all substance abuse treatment professionals have in common?

Workforce development is essential to the field of substance use disorder treatment. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has included workforce development in its Matrix of Priority Programs. A major focus of this workforce development strategy is improving the competencies of professionals in the field. This updated edition of Technical Assistance Publication (TAP) 21: Addiction Counseling Competencies: The Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes of Professional Practice (The Competencies) is a key component of that strategy.

In 1998, in cooperation with its Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) Network, SAMHSA published TAP 21, a comprehensive list of 123 competencies that substance abuse treatment counselors should master to do their work effectively. TAP 21 has been used to develop and evaluate addiction counseling curricula, advise students, and assess counseling proficiencies.

The overarching competencies in this updated version of TAP 21 remain largely unchanged from the original TAP 21. The KSAs have been changed from those in the 1998 edition when necessary, in light of new thinking in the field. The competencies and the KSAs in practice di-mensions that address clinical evaluation and treatment planning have been revised to reflect changes in the field. The competencies are defined by sublists of the KSAs needed to master each competency. Bibliographies have been supplemented with new publications through 2005. The format has been improved to make the information more accessible and useful.

SAMHSA’s TAP series provides a flexible format for the timely transfer of important technical information to the substance abuse treatment field. This updated version of TAP 21 exemplifies the flexibility of the TAP format. We are grateful to the members of the ATTC Network and staff and to all those who participated in the validation and updating of these competency lists.

Kana Enomoto, M.A.
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Kimberly A . Johnson, Ph.D.
Director Center for Substance Abuse Treatment
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration


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