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Recovery Czars,
Part I

Part II
Part III

Natalia J. Garland

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Professionals and para-professionals differ in educational background, although they are often expected to do nearly the same level of work. In the field of alcohol and drug abuse counselling, there is sometimes a difference in personal background as well. Master's level professionals usually are not recovering alcoholics or addicts, whereas para-professionals often are. Professionals working in the field of substance abuse seem more likely to be co-dependents or to have other kinds of personal psychological tendencies.

These differences can be complimentary and create a balanced workplace in terms of abilities and deficits, or it can cause incompatibility in casework philosophy. For example, there seem to be some recovering para-professionals who believe that only an alcoholic can understand another alcoholic. In their view, the Twelve Steps of A.A. are spiritually esoteric and can only be understood by someone else in recovery.

What is really going on here? What are these recovery czars really saying about the field of counselling, about recovery, about themselves, and about their Master's level co-workers? Let's take a look.

Counselling is a profession. It can be taught. Empathy can be learned. Yes, it helps if you have a natural disposition for caring. You probably would not consider a career in social work if you did not already have an inclination for caring, and strong political or spiritual beliefs regarding how others are to be treated. But counselling itself is a learned skill. It takes formal education, practice, and supervision to become a good counsellor or therapist.

Recovery from alcohol or drug addiction can occur without counselling. There are probably thousands of alcoholics and addicts who have lived sober lives just through the A.A./N.A. fellowships. However, there are also many who need the expertise of professional care. The concept of recovery has become a sub-field or specialization within the greater scope of the counselling professions. Again, the concept of recovery can be learned. It does not have to be directly experienced in order to be passed on to others.

The counsellor or therapist does not have to be exactly like the patient in order to understand the patient. No one is exactly like anyone else, anyway. We are all unique, although we have commonalities due to our human condition. If a counsellor has to be in recovery to understand a patient in recovery, then there is some unlikely logic that follows that false thinking. That would mean that a male counsellor cannot understand a female patient, that a black counsellor cannot understand a white patient, that a young counsellor cannot understand a geriatric patient, and so on and so on. In other words, nobody can understand anybody!

We are all human. Given the right stressors, we are probably all capable of similar emotions and reactions. The non-recovering professional may not have experienced devastation exactly the way the addict has, but he has experienced feelings of shame and guilt to some extent. Inasmuch as the counsellor has experienced shame and guilt, he can identify with and respond to the expression of these feelings from the addict. The same reasoning holds true for experiences of fear, hatred, and aches and pains.

If you were having brain surgery, whom would you want to perform the surgery: a trained doctor or someone else who also had brain surgery? Just because someone has been through brain surgery, that does not mean they are now qualified to perform brain surgery on others.

Perhaps the real issue is access to graduate education. Most recovering counsellors will probably never get a Master's degree in social work, for various reasons. Perhaps there are feelings of inferiority as they work alongside professionals who have a greater command of counselling skills. Addiction takes its toll on self-esteem. Some recovering counsellors possibly underestimate the true potential of para-professionalism.

Recovering para-professionals and non-recovering professionals both have valuable contributions to make to their patients and to one another. Recovering counsellors are quick to catch on to the manipulations of addicts, and they have a thorough knowledge of A.A./N.A. because it is a part of their daily lifestyle. However, they seem sometimes to over-identify with their patients and to use the professional relationship for their own recovery needs. Non-recovering counsellors seem to be more objective and are capable of applying therapeutic approaches outside the A.A./N.A. realm. However, they can be naive and must learn how to confront manipulation.

This essay has been based on personal observation and is not intended to be an absolute statement. Counsellors come in all shapes and sizes. Some para-professionals are very talented and worth more than they get paid. Some are willing to share knowledge in mutual exchange with other professionals because they are dedicated to helping the still sick and suffering addicts. They know that by working in cooperation with other professionals, the message of recovery will reach those who need to hear it. (Written 05/12/03 - Revised 12/01/03)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2003 Natalia J. Garland