I was recently on a well-deserved, and well-needed, vacation. During my trip, I found that I could not stop thinking about my clients. I kept wondering if they were still staying sober or even getting sober. I remembered a couple of funny quirks some of my clients have and how different ones act in group. I wondered if the substitute counselor was taking care of them and looking after their needs. I also thought of the stressful group night prior to my departure in which a supervisor had chosen that time to sit in on a group. Needless to say, there was some drama within the group that resulted in a tense feeling session that lasted the evening. Because it was a short group, there wasn’t time to fully process the events that occurred.
When I returned from vacation, I discovered much to my dismay, that I was being held responsible for the drama even though it had happened when I was not in the group. I felt blindsided by this accusation and it got me to thinking about being held accountable.
One of the biggest hurdles to cover in substance abuse is becoming accountable and responsible for one’s own actions. How can we model these two valuable assets to our clients if we cannot take responsibility ourselves? If a counselor is going to be gone for an extended period of time, and a substitute counselor will be taking their place, it is of utmost importance for the sub to visit the group, sit in on a session, and allow the clients to see who will be taking over. If that same counselor then says something that causes a disturbance in the group, who is responsible? We all have very stressful occupations, and burnout is common in the behavioral health field. “Blaming” one counselor for what another does in a group is not productive, nor does it serve the clients well. First harm no one. Isn’t that the promise we made when we became counselors? I have no problem being held accountable for my own actions. Likely I will tell you what I did wrong before you can get to it. My life is based on honesty, integrity, open-mindedness and the willingness to continue to learn. Each and every one of us needs to do the same. I expect my clients to begin practicing accountability and responsibility. I have found that I cannot, in all good consciousness, ask my clients to do what I cannot do myself.
Linda Magnelli is a counselor who works in Phoenix as a substance abuse and mental health counselor specializing in difficult cases.