Monday, March 31, 2014
Monday, March 17, 2014
I often hear people in the recovery process talk to me about having issues with their counselor because they have not had an addiction issue. It brings back memories of my first residential rehabilitation experience. I knew that if my counselor had never been an addict, I would never succeed. As it played out my counselor was in long term personal recovery, and I relapsed anyway. Would it have been different if my counselor had not been in recovery? I will never know.
What I do know is there are two different schools of thought on this issue. One says that you need to have had an addiction in your past, and the other says that it does not matter. Today we will look at the recovery specialists who have never had personal substance abuse issues themselves. The questions sound something like this, “How can they possibly understand what I am going through if they have never had problems with drugs before? How can they relate to me?”
The most frequent reply I have heard is, “You don’t have to have cancer to cure cancer.” This is very true. Most doctors who work in oncology departments have never themselves had cancer yet they have the ability to give great services and to use the best modalities available for treatment. I personally never liked this response. This was the response I was given when I voiced concern of my counselor not being in recovery themselves, and it did not assuage my fears. So I came up with different ways to address the issue.
I ask people this question, “So does your psychiatrist/psychologist struggle with (Fill in mental health disorder they have here such as Bipolar/Depression/Anxiety)?” When they tell me no, then I ask them, “Well then how could they ever relate to you and help you with yours?” This often gets a laugh which reduces their anxiety and softens the walls they have up. Then I will remind them that everyone has been impacted by addiction, maybe not personally but by growing up with parents, siblings, significant others or close friends who struggled with substance abuse. After all, addiction impacts everyone.
So, do I think that you have to have an addiction to treat an addiction? No, I don’t feel that you have to have a substance use issue in order to give good services to people. I know some amazing counselors who work in the recovery field who are not in recovery themselves. Instead, they have some very important characteristics that all counselors whether in recovery or not need in order to be successful.
1. Empathy – The ability to understand another person’s experiences and emotions from their perspective. This requires caring enough about someone to see their issues from their point of view. Many times no one has ever tried to see what they are going through from their perspective. Hurting people are used to being treated with pity and sympathy when what they really need is empathy.
2. Genuineness – Truly caring about the person/people you are working with and enjoying what you do. The population you work with be they children or adults know when you don’t care. If you don’t care, neither will they! Also, be true to who you are. Don’t try to use vernacular that is foreign to you just to fit in. People know a fake when they see one. Be authentic at all times.
3. Unconditional Positive Regard – Accepting and supporting people where they are at not where you want them to be. This also allows them to see they possess the ability to accomplish anything they want. They are used to pity and sympathy not compassion. Be the first person to acknowledge someone can be successful and the sky is their limit.
4. Hope – In order to instill hope in others I must have hope myself. Hope that life gets better, hope that everyone has the ability to heal from past hurts, habits and hang-ups and hope that no matter how bad today is tomorrow is a brand new day. I can then pass that hope on to my clients. Without hope recovery is impossible. You can get sober, you can be abstinent but recovery will elude you. Hope breeds optimism and optimism is vital to recovery.
5. Therapeutic Alliance – According to research developing a good rapport with a client is the single most important ingredient for success. Rapport builds trust and respect. If they do not trust or respect you nothing you do will be effective. In order to build a positive alliance you need to display empathy, genuineness and unconditional positive regard while dealing hope to the person you are with.
In closing, I truly believe that by utilizing the above skills, you can be a good counselor. I have gotten a lot of positive help from good counselors. There is how ever another school of thought, and we will get to that in a future blog. Thanks for reading, I’ll talk to you next time!