It’s a very important question ……
When I started as an Educational Consultant nearly 20 years ago, most people working in direct care programs were also in recovery themselves. In fact, it was not uncommon to find that their own long-term recovery constituted the primary quantifiable qualification they brought to the table. They brought charisma, and counseling skills, and they could satisfy the rudimentary paperwork requirements of the times. But the main thing they brought to the job was their passion.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was barely 35 years old, President Nixon had just “declared war” on drugs, therapeutic communities were starting to gain traction, and methadone programs had been around for just under a decade.
Most programs (except methadone) were residential. Many had administrators who weren’t in recovery. But members of the front-line staff believed in their work, mostly because they lived it. Today it much more difficult for people in recovery to enter the recovery field. First off, there are now regulations that demand a certain level of qualification—either a higher education degree or licensure that has a significant education component.
People entering recovery often do so in middle age, and with responsibilities they had avoided in their period of insanity, such as families and jobs. Going back to school, particularly full-time, proves difficult. In addition, we’ve excluded many people from eligibility as a result of past behavior. Many of the pioneers in our field would be barred from working in it under today’s rules. Expectations and qualifications for this field changed. Why? Well, mistakes certainly have been made.
Some people went right from treatment to working in treatment, and there were instances of insufficient supervision, client abuse, questionable tactics and counselor instability. Like we do in response to so many problems, we addressed those issues with more regulations, supposedly to prevent them from recurring. Your credentials don’t legitimize you—your clients do. It’s not about how many books you write or how much you earn in speaking fees.
It’s about how many people credit you for positively influencing their recovery.
I’m not one to believe that you need to be in recovery to provide high-quality recovery services. But it does strike me that those who are in recovery believe much more in the efficacy of what they are doing. For them it’s not abstract.
I haven’t done the research, but I’m guessing that the degree to which we are adapting to the ideas and whims of those outside our field directly correlates to the reduction of recovering people in it. It is much easier to buy into the concept of “harm reduction” if you’ve never experienced the varying levels of harm and come out the other side.
It is much easier to buy into the efficacy of medication-assisted recovery if you’ve never experienced it and later achieved abstinence. It is much easier to see dual diagnosis less as an anomaly and more of the norm if you’ve never seen addiction and/or mental illness, either individually or together from the inside. And it is much easier to rely on the quantitative aspects of the research, if you’ve never experienced the qualitative. When we professionalize the field to the point where the passion is gone, we’re in trouble. I don’t support a return to days gone by, but I do think we are dangerously close to moving too far in the other direction.
Do you know why you are doing everything that you are doing in your professional life?
Why you are living where you are living, why you are doing the work that you are doing, why you are the person that you are and the reason that you want the things that you want out of life?
Do your clients know how passionate you are?
Dan Cain is President of RS Eden, a Minneapolis-based agency that operates chemical dependency treatment programs, correctional halfway houses and a drug testing lab among its services.