One of the challenges for drug and alcohol treatment clients is establishing a genuine therapeutic relationship with staff, primarily the behavioral health technicians and clinical team.
Clients come to a facility needing help, but in some cases they aren’t in the most receptive or willing states of mind. These individuals may have issues with trust and varying levels of guilt and shame. On the other hand, there are clients who have had multiple experiences with drug and alcohol treatment and have developed preconceived notions of what they will get out of treatment and what they will be expected to do to complete a program.
Bearing all these things in mind, treatment providers must do their best to engage clients and encourage them to see that there are benefits to developing some alternative coping strategies to using drugs or alcohol. When a client perceives or is made aware that a staff member is involved in the addiction recovery process themselves, they may take that staff member’s advice and insights more seriously than they would from someone who is not actively engaged in recovery.
Some individuals may feel that clinical professionals in recovery may display more empathy or compassion toward those in the treatment program. They may also be able to share firsthand experiences with aftercare programs.
However, staff members who aren’t in recovery might offer purely objective views of different recovery programs, which can be beneficial. A program might not have been the best fit for a staff member in recovery, but may work perfectly for the current client. These staff members may also have an easier time observing appropriate clinical boundaries, due to a lack of an extreme emotional connection to the recovery process.
Are people who work in drug and alcohol treatment while in recovery more capable of helping a client? Does being in recovery lead to more useful insights? These are questions that potential clients, especially those who have been through treatment before, may consider when analyzing their treatment options.
However, individuals looking for a treatment program should focus on how that program can meet their needs and not necessarily on the recovery status of its staff members. If too much is made of recovery status, a person’s opportunities to truly find recovery can become limited.
Well-trained staff, regardless of their own experiences with drugs or alcohol, will be able to provide valuable insights and alternative coping strategies for individuals who have become dependent upon substances and need an addiction recovery program.
The client’s path is their own and the key is motivating them to choose a less harmful, more personally satisfying and useful direction. Those who choose to work in treatment generally want to help or they wouldn’t be doing what they do.
The bottom line when it comes to staff in recovery as opposed to those who aren’t is this: If you’re falling down a hole, does it matter who throws you a rope?
Mark Cahoon BA, MHFA
BHT Lead Supervisor, Pyramid Healthcare/Langhorne Inpatient
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