—by Matthew K. Weiland & Paul M. Kubek
Getting your graduate degree may seem like a great idea until the "how" and the "when" and the "why bother" intrudes upon your plans. When are you going to find the time to take graduate courses between work and family responsibilities? How are you going to pay for it? And toward what end?
Furthermore, the misconception that you have to quit your current job to return to school is often a deal breaker in itself. After all, it has taken a long time to get to your current position with your current employer. Why would you take a step back in order to move forward?
If you are an employed mental health or substance abuse professional who wants an advanced degree, set those worries aside. The Dual Disorders Fellowship Program (DDFP) at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences -- the graduate school of social work at Case Western Reserve University -- is designed to give you the chance to enhance your education, credentials, and experience while staying in your current job.
The DDFP is also structured to provide you financial support by forging a partnership among you, your employer, your local community mental health and/or substance abuse services board, and the Mandel School. Each partner pays a portion of the tuition to defray the cost of the master's degree. Think of this as a collaborative investment that will prepare you to be a leader in service innovation and social change.
Benefit For Working Professionals
The DDFP offers a course of study toward a Master of Social Science Administration (MSSA) degree through an intensive weekend study option at the Mandel School, which is consistently ranked among the top professional graduate schools of social work in the United States. The coursework prepares students to utilize evidence-based practices to serve people who have co-occurring severe mental illness and substance use disorders (dual disorders) and/or to help organizations transform traditionally separated mental health and substance abuse services into an integrated approach that improves outcomes. Research shows that people with co-occurring disorders are among the most vulnerable nationally and internationally. They are more likely to experience negative life outcomes, among them psychiatric episodes, hospitalization, arrest, incarceration, homelessness and poverty, and chronic illnesses such as HIV, diabetes, and cancer.
Candidates for the DDFP typically express an interest in advancing as a clinician, a supervisor, a program manager, or administrator.
Benefit For Organizations & Communities
For current team leaders, managers, and executives of social service agencies, the DDFP provides a means of keeping service team members challenged, professionally motivated, and, thus, committed to long-term employment at the organization -- an important incentive in professions plagued by staff burn-out and attrition. At the same time, the DDFP enhances not only the credentials of the organization but also the quality of support and service that it extends to individuals and families in the local community.
Study On Weekends, Apply New Skills Daily
Employed professionals in the DDFP attend classes on the Case campus in Cleveland one weekend per month with minimal disruption to their daily schedules, allowing ample time for full personal lives -- for themselves and their families. The program also allows for continuity and ingenuity in the workplace. Students complete their field education requirements in their current place of employment, building upon the foundation of professional work they've already established. Students also bring knew knowledge and skills from their studies in the master's degree program during the weekend back to their communities immediately upon their return to work on Monday morning. Most students complete their course work and earn their degrees in three years.
"The weekend program enabled me to get my master's degree," says Patrick E. Boyle, MSSA ('89), LISW, LICDC, director of implementation services at the Mandel School's Ohio Substance Abuse and Mental Illness Coordinating Center of Excellence (Ohio SAMI CCOE). Boyle began his career as an addictions counselor and earned his master's degree in 1989, the first year for the intensive weekend study option. He was among the first graduates to formally combine experience in addictions counseling with mental health counseling -- a forerunner to the integrated-treatment movement. "I was at a point in my career where I needed a change," he adds. "I was thinking about leaving the profession and trying something totally different, but the faculty at the School helped me reenergize my career while building upon the knowledge, skills, and experience I already had."
According to Boyle, the weekend study option also provides a unique opportunity to network with other professionals throughout Ohio and learn through the personal attention of nationally recognized faculty members who are experienced researchers and practitioners. He is an adjunct instructor in the master's program and explains that classes with students who are working professionals create some of the most thoughtful discussions and, thus, rich learning experiences. In addition, the relationships forged in class often provide opportunities for future collaborations, career moves, and professional advancement.
Boyle is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at the Mandel School. As director of implementation services at the Ohio SAMI CCOE, he is providing technical assistance to community-based and inpatient hospitals to help them successfully implement the Integrated Dual Disorder Treatment (IDDT) model, the evidence-based practice that improves outcomes for consumers, service organizations, and service systems.
An Affordable Investment In The Best Education Available
With financial contributions from the student's employer, the local mental health and/or addictions board, and the Mandel School, the out-of-pocket investment in tuition for each student in the DDFP adds up to approximately $10,000 per year.
According to Lenore Kola, Ph.D., project director of the DDFP, the funding structure makes the master's degree from Case, a private research University, competitive with social work programs at publicly subsidized universities.
"The Mandel School has always been at the cutting edge of curriculum development, research dissemination, and practice innovations," says Dr. Kola, an associate professor at the Mandel School who teaches in the master's program and is also co-director of the Ohio SAMI CCOE. Dr. Kola has over 30 years of experience in curriculum development, training, program consultation, and service systems consultation. She has provided leadership for a number of initiatives in Ohio and nationally to develop and disseminate innovative integrated treatment approaches, such as IDDT, which was developed at the New Hampshire-Dartmouth Psychiatric Research Center. She notes that the Mandel School is among the first schools of social work to teach IDDT principles and practices formally as part of its curriculum. "If you look at our history, you will see how the Mandel School has changed its curriculum to respond to the practice needs in local communities far ahead of other schools of social work. In fact, everyone else tends to look at what we're doing then make the change."
Become An Advocate For Change
Mental health and substance abuse service organizations and boards as well as direct-service providers who are interested in becoming a partner in and applying to the Mandel School's Dual Disorders Fellows Program should contact Dr. Kola at 216.368.2326 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Gerald Strom, MSW, LISW, senior instructor and director of the Intensive Weekend program at 216.368.5880, email@example.com.
Please review our page for more information about the evidence-based Integrated Dual Disorder Treatment (IDDT) model.
Matthew K. Weiland is senior writer and new-media specialist and Paul M. Kubek is director of communications at the Ohio SAMI CCOE.