‘That’s pretty inspiring’: People recovering from drug use become addiction counselors at UC Berkeley Extension program

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Still recovering from his own substance addiction, William Gramlich decided to follow a career path that would help others in the rehabilitation process.

In 2012, Gramlich enrolled in the UC Berkeley Extension’s Certificate Program in Alcohol and Drug Abuse Studies, which has turned students with both excessive substance use and academic backgrounds into certified addiction counselors for decades. He now oversees three UCSF rehabilitation programs alongside one of his former certificate program professors Valerie Gruber, joining many of his fellow graduates in the substance use rehabilitation field.

Program director Stan Weisner said he inherited the alcohol and drug abuse studies certificate program early after UC Berkeley School of Public Health launched it nearly 30 years ago and has since grown it to serve a diverse student body. Weisner said the program graduates roughly 20 students each year. Some came to UC Extension after completing graduate school; some came to the program after completing their own addiction recovery programs.

“Many of them are in recovery themselves and want to give back to the field that maybe helped them recover,” Weisner said.

Weisner said up to 20 percent of students in the program receive scholarship money from the California Department of Rehabilitation after going through the addiction recovery process themselves. He said the program now has a woman serving on its advisory committee who went through the addiction recovery process, completed the certificate program and is now employed by Kaiser Permanente.

“She’s very happy with the program and how she turned her life around, and there’s many people like her,” Weisner said. “To see people who are willing to come back from recovering — that’s pretty inspiring. This is not easy work.”

Mental health clinical specialist Therese Becker graduated from the program in 2017. She already had multiple master’s degrees when she entered the program but felt that her schooling had not properly prepared her for a career in addiction rehabilitation. Becker said her experience was fairly uncommon and that most people in the program, like Gramlich, were in recent recovery from their own addictions.

Becker said a lot of those people came from all over the state for the “excellent” program. She said she remembers her first class in the program taught by Steve Allen, who had spent upward of 20 years in the field.

“He was just so incredibly knowledgeable,” Becker said. “People who are coming from that much experience in the field are just amazing.”

Weisner added that this program is “one of the best in the country” largely because of the industry professionals who teach its courses. He recruited a family therapist to teach the family recovery class, and a psychologist teaches the psychology class, according to Weisner.

Most of the program’s graduates go on to work in the field in outpatient or residential units, private practices, hospitals or will do volunteer work, according to Weisner. He added that a popular place people will work upon certification is the local organization Options Recovery Services, or Options, which aims to help Berkeley’s homeless community. Options provides its clients with sober living housing, groups focused on self-improvement and counseling, among other services.

Becker, who herself worked for Options after completing the certificate program, said Options treats people with addictions in rehabilitation with “dignity” rather than “judgmental attitudes.” She added that a lot of the people she took classes with went to work for Options after graduating from the certificate program as well.

Both Becker and Gramlich said the certificate program is singular in its resources and connections.

“My experience at the (extension program) at the time, the quality of the education I got, was just superior to the other options that were available,” Gramlich said. “There was a lot of shared vulnerability. Some had lost loved ones or family; some people come from alcoholic homes. … So, everybody put a lot of heart in it by sharing their lived experiences.”

Rachel Barber is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.