Have you ever been to an AA meeting? Do you drink? Are you a recovering addict? These are just some of the questions that I readily recall I am asked by clients I counsel for substance abuse treatment. Oftentimes I’m enlightened. According to some clients, a person can’t really help an addict unless they’ve been one. What?
I thought all the requirements I needed to help was a certificate or degree stating you had the training and education to do counseling. What’s with all the questions?
I have to chuckle at myself when I first contemplated fabricating a story of my past that involved drug or alcohol addiction. Maybe I could be a cocaine addict in recovery. It was big in the 80’s when I was in college. Or I could be your everyday garden variety alcoholic. Yes, that’s a good one. It started after I became a sorority girl and partier on the campus of….
Well, certainly you can guess that I didn’t carry out that plan. For one, I have a hard time remembering false information. Most importantly, the client knows who is being genuine. These individuals are intuitive, skillful in reading people in order to support their habit. How or who did I think I was going to fool? And why did I want to fool anyone. It was my own insecurity that I think every counselor feels because you genuinely want to help others. In the wise words of one of my PhD professors that was lecturing on Constructive Theory of Development had said, “What you know is who you are?” I find security in knowing I want to help.
In the 10-plus years I’ve worked as a counselor, the need in humans to feel a sense of connection is universal. Hidden in the subtext of the questions that I am asked is, “Are you able to understand me?” “Do you get where I’m coming from?” “Are you getting what has happened to me, because if you don’t get it, this is just a huge waste of time.” I think I do an adequate job in reassuring my clients that a practitioner need not have every disease of man to help in treating it. I’ll gently ask, “Does your physician need to have diabetes or high blood pressure to treat the patients that have it?” I will usually get a shrug and a nod in agreement that I’ve given a valid answer and have satisfied their curiosity.
The bottom line is engagement. Hooking and retaining a resistant client is challenging and at times draining and demanding. But who doesn’t like a challenge, right?
Karen Bates is a counselor, addiction specialist, and a doctoral student at Walden University.