Course Guide

Alignment With Competency Profiles for Canada’s Substance Abuse Workforce

This course supports the development of the following Behavioural and Technical Competencies (v.1) for Canada’s Substance Abuse Workforce. These competencies were developed by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) under the guidance of the National Advisory Group on Workforce Development. Each course lesson identifies examples of key competencies, and the level of attainment, that could be acquired through the content of the lesson. The following competencies will be addressed in this course:

Technical Competencies:

Case Management:

The knowledge and skill required to match clients with the most appropriate available services as determined through the screening, assessment, and treatment planning process, and to effectively manage client movement within and between service(s) through accurate documentation, the appropriate sharing of client information, and collaboration with partner services as required.


The knowledge and skill required to adopt and apply a comprehensive range of evidence-informed counselling styles and techniques aimed at improving the clients overall bio/psychosocial spiritual health.

Crisis Intervention:

The knowledge and skill required to recognize and respond effectively to an individual/group/community in crisis.

Diversity and Cultural Responsiveness:

The knowledge and skill required to interact effectively in the provision of respectful, equitable and effective services to diverse populations, as defined by culture, age, gender language, ethnicity, socio-economic status, legal status, health, ability, sexual orientation, type and mode of substance use, and so forth, affirming and valuing the worth of individuals, families and communities, and protecting the dignity of all.

Ethics and Professionalism:

The knowledge and skill required to be held accountable to appropriate standards of ethical behaviour and professionalism in one’s interactions with clients, colleagues, and external partners, with particular emphasis on the counsellor-client relationship, and to effectively monitor and manage one’s own attitudes, behaviour, well-being, and professional development as required of effective and ethical practice.

Family and Social Support:

The knowledge and skill required to work effectively with those individuals or groups that have been most affected by the client’s substance use problems and/or have a significant ability to support the client’s treatment goals. These individuals or groups may constitute “family” in the traditional sense or in a broad sense, including social networks and community systems, depending on the client’s preference and circumstance.

Mental Health:

The knowledge and skill specific to mental health that are required to work effectively with clients experiencing co-occurring substance abuse and mental health problems.


The knowledge and skill required to understand various types of pharmacological substances and to apply interventions that are relevant to the field, including: the range and types of psychoactive substances that are used and abused, alone and in combination (poly drug use), pharmacological interventions that are applied as harm reduction measures or in the treatment of substance use disorders, and/or pharmacological interventions that are used in the treatment or management of co-occurring mental health disorders.

Screening and Assessment:

The knowledge and skill required to select, administer, and interpret evidence-informed screening and assessment tools that are used to measure substance use, abuse, and dependency. Information is gathered through the use of skillful interviewing techniques and the result are interpreted for the purpose of informing the development of a client-centered treatment plan, and motivating and referring the client to an appropriate intervention service (e.g., withdrawal management, outpatient treatment, residential treatment, treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders, etc.).

Treatment Planning:

The knowledge and skill required to participate effectively in a collaborative process that seeks to identify the client’s goals, as derived from the assessment findings, match the client to the treatment activities that will assist in achieving these goals, and monitor the plan to ensure that changes in the client’s circumstances, wants, and needs are addressed.

Understanding Substance Use, Abuse, and Dependency:

The knowledge and skill required to understand the continuum of substance use, abuse, and dependency, and the diverse social, political, economic, and cultural context within which this continuum exists, including risk and resiliency factors that aggravate or mitigate risk for problematic substance use, and apply this understanding to the development of effective, appropriate, and respectful strategies and subsequent actions.

Behavioural Competencies:

Adaptability and Flexibility:

Willingly adjusts one’s approach to meet the demands and needs of constantly changing conditions, situations, and people and to work effectively in difficult or ambiguous situations.

Analytical Thinking and Decision Making:

Gathers, synthesizes, and evaluates information to determine possible alternatives and outcomes and make well-informed, timely decisions. Includes critical thinking and reasoning skills.

Client-Centered Change:

Enhances, facilitates, supports, empowers, and otherwise increases client motivation for positive change. Positive change is achieved by involving the client actively in the change process and encourages the client to take responsibility for the outcomes he or she achieves. Clients may be individuals, groups, communities, and organizations.

Client-Centered Orientation:

Provides service excellence to clients (which can include individuals, groups, communities, and organizations). Includes making a commitment to serve clients and focusing one’s efforts on discovering and meeting client’s needs within personal, professional, and organizational capacities and boundaries. Continuous Learning: Identifies and pursues opportunities to enhance one’s professional performance and development and the effective delivery of high-quality programs and services.

Creativity and Innovation:

Uses evidence-based practices in innovative and creative ways to initiate both effective new ways of working and advances understanding of the field of practice. Innovation and creativity are achieved in translating research into practice to optimize improvements in service delivery and professional practice. Developing Others: Facilitates and motivates sustained learning and creates learning opportunities and resources, as well as promotes and respects others’ needs for ownership of learning outcomes. Includes creation of a continuous learning environment that fosters positive growth in both work and public contexts among peers, clients, client’s families, communities, and other groups (recipients).

Diversity and Cultural Responsiveness:

Provide respectful, equitable and effective services to diverse populations, as defined by culture, age, gender, language, ethnicity, socio-economic status, legal status, health, ability, sexual orientation, type and mode of substance use, etc. Affirm and value the worth of all individuals, families, groups and communities; and protect the dignity of all.

Effective Communication:

Articulate both verbally and in writing across a range of technologies in a manner that builds trust, respect and credibility and that ensures the message is received and understood by the audience. Includes active listening skills (attending, being silent, summarizing, paraphrasing, questioning, and empathizing) and congruent non-verbal communication.

Ethical Conduct and Professionalism:

Provides professional services according to the principles and values of integrity, competence, responsibility, respect, and trust to safeguard both self and others. Includes the development of professionalism and ethical behaviour in self and others (individuals, groups, organizations, communities). Interpersonal Rapport/Savvy: Establish and maintain relationships based on mutual respect and trust, appropriate sensitivity and transparency, empathy, and compassion with clients, colleagues, professional associates, and the greater community. Encompasses skills of tact, diplomacy, and sensitivity in all encounters with others.


Help others achieve excellent results and create enthusiasm for a shared vision and mission, even in the face of critical debate and adversity.

From: Competencies for Canada’s Substance Abuse Workforce. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.