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.
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.
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.
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.
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