What’s a Contact
Hour vs. a CEU?

What’s a Contact Hour vs. a CEU?

Fri, May 22, 2020 | HLCTN Editorial Team

What’s a Contact Hour vs. a CEU?

The overlapping terms in continuing education
for therapists can be confusing. Here’s a
rundown on what you need to know..

The overlapping terms in continuing education for therapists can be confusing. Here’s a rundown on what you need to know..

Some new (or seasoned) therapists get understandably confused about continuing education requirements.

They can vary by state, profession (clinical social work vs. psychology, for example), and can change a bit year to year.

Here’s a review of some of the information therapists may need to know about these ongoing training requirements.

First, it’s helpful to understand what continuing education requirements are in general. Most licensed fields, including all therapy fields, require counselors to continue to keep updated on training.

Generally, there are a few basic requirements by professions.

For example, social work licensure in many states requires a yearly suicide risk training as well as ethics training. Beyond these specific requirements for your field, there can be much flexibility in the area you choose to get further training in.

These trainings can vary from a short class you take online for an hour, all the way to a year-long (or longer) certification program in a specialty area.

To get credit for your completed hours, you will either keep proof of your training on file in case you’re audited later (which commonly happens), or you’ll submit proof of your credits at the time of re-licensing.

Most classes will provide a printed or electronic proof of attendance certificate.

Sometimes, the training program itself may also have to report trainings to your state board.

To ensure you are meeting the continuing education required of you, always check with your professional state licensing board.

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What’s a CEU vs. a Credit Hour?

The term “CEU” originates from the International Association for Continuing Education & Training.

It generally stands for 10 hours of credits, or training time.

For example, a one-day, 10 hour training may equal 1 CEU.

Certain professional fields and state boards specifically use this term most often, and require CEUs certificates as continuing education.

In other cases, CEUs are not required, but rather contact hours are expected.

This specifically refers to the amount of time spent in the training. For example, a three-hour ethics training would count as three contact hours.

These are most often used in fields such as social work, but again may vary by state licensing boards.

Because licensing boards know these terms are used interchangeably, many boards accept either “CEU” or “Contact Hour” certificates, and understand the exchange rate.

However, as always, check with your specific state board. All requirements do vary slightly across states, and can also be updated year to year.

Why are Continuing Education Hours Expected?

Just as in any field, there are ongoing changes in the therapy field.

State licensing boards may wish to ensure that their professionals are providing a good quality of care and services.

Therefore, the learning process never ends. Professionals are expected to continue to learn, adapt, and apply new science and research to their fields.

This is particularly helpful for therapists, as they can also learn new skills and interventions that are helpful and marketable to clients.

In addition, risk can be lowered with training.

If counselors have the most updated information on suicide risk, for example, they can better serve and protect clients.

How Do I Keep with Continuing Education Requirements?

Many therapists attend a mix of in-person and online training.

For many professionals, a certain number of hours are expected to be in-person, while some can be obtained through online classes.

(However, note some of these rules have changed during the coronavirus pandemic, so definitely check with your state licensing board.)

Therapists may attend one or two conferences each year that offer multiple shorter workshops.

These are sometimes provided through state mental health departments. Other times they might be offered through a particular specialty area, such as a weekend trauma organization conference.

Colleges sometimes offer training conferences for graduates and others, and professional organizations may provide training.

For examples, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) offers state and national-level training for LCSWs.

Local organizations, such as rape and abuse crisis centers, may also offer approved licensing credits. If you’re not sure if a training counts towards licensure, check with the trainer and your licensing board.

Additionally, there are numerous online trainings, either for a fee or free, that count as contact hours.

These might involve watching a video and taking a comprehension quiz, or reading an article and responding to questions. In other cases, live courses are offered online via formats like Zoom.

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How Do I Choose Trainings?

Many therapists obtain training in a mix of areas.

If they focus on a specialty area, such as addiction treatment, clinicians may obtain most of their contact hours in that field. In other cases, it can be helpful to attend other workshops to find a new perspective or learn concepts that can be crossed over into your specific field.

Sometimes therapists find the requirement for continuing education to be cumbersome, and distracting from everyday services.

Indeed, it can be a time commitment to complete contact hours or CEUs.

However, it can help therapists learn new interventions, bring new ideas home to clients, or even spawn interest in a whole new focus area of treatment.

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