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The State of Minnesota legally labels my professional role as an "alcohol and drug counselor." IC & RC and NAADAC use the same key concepts in certifying my professional identity. My academic certificate says I was trained in addiction counseling, and one instructor still labele the work we do as "chemical dependency." I don't counsel alcohol and drugs. I counsel some people who self-identify as alcoholics or addictions. Clinically, I provide counseling to individuals with substance use disorders. Language and labels matter. I call myself a recovery counselor. I counsel people working toward recovery. I want the label to focus on the positive future not the negative past.
Many clients walk into my office or group room conditioned by the courts or previous treatments to connect all recovery to the 12 Step Facilitation Model. My credentials line the wall over my head: diplomas from colleges and graduate programs and my state issued license. Cleints often look at that display of hard work with a dismissive, "You must be really smart" or "You're probably smarter than me."
"So are you sober?"
This question almost begins every first interaction between myself and new clients.
"Yes, I am in recovery, " I reply.
"How long? Drug of choice? Been to jail or prison?"
"13 years and some change. Alcohol. Not relevant."
Some clients ask because they are so desparate for connection to another human being. Others ask because they believe only another alcoholic/addict can help them. Others appear to pray for a negative response so they can dismiss everything I say as book learning.
I counsel for recovery. I practice and preach CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and Focused Listening (a listening model akin to Motivational Interviewing). I listen, I paraphrase, I perception check, I draw clients out of their self-imposed silence. I laugh with them and support them when they cry. Occaisionally, I use my angry teacher voice or stare. Sometimes I poke and prod long enough to expose the puss. The client decides how to respond. And, I respect it.
From my own perspective, I struggle to reconcile trauma informed care or person centered recovery with 12 Step Facilitation. Accountability has limits as a recovery tool. An individual who has been sexually assaulted owns no accountability for the situation or the outcome. Any adults whose childhood was peppered with every adverse childhood expereince holds no accountability for their unhealthy responses. I cannot envision a compassionate form of accountability for a third generation family member with methamphetamine use disorder.
The work of recovery counseling can be exhausting. I react with frustration at client behaviors. Sometimes I need to have my peers listen to my vent or bitch. Some clients resist, disagree, and intellectualize to maintain the security of the known rather than the uncertainty of the unknown. Recovery counseling comes with tragedies: children lost to the system, overdose deaths, mental health crisis, prison sentences, seropositivity for HIV, or suicide to name a few common tragedies.
Every morning I reaffirm my desire to treat clients as Leo Buscaglia would with love. As he famously said, "Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of kindness, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."
I want my profession rebranded from alcohol and drug counselor to recovery counselor. The positive future described the goal of my work; not the negative past.