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Recovery Czars,
Part III

Part I
Part II

Natalia J. Garland

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How should professionals and para-professionals address the issues of the recovery czars* in their workplace? For clarity, let's look at the characteristics of this category of para-professional as encountered in alcohol and drug counselling. From my view, these individuals usually seem demanding and controlling, they are always bragging about self-perceived superior qualities and abilities, they treat Master's level professionals with condescension, they have a first-hand knowledge of A.A./N.A. which they value more than real counseling skills, and they get defensive when expected to account for their work.

Since there are agencies that employ a number of para-professionals, what can be done once a recovery czar slips through the hiring process and actually lands a job at your workplace? If you have a responsible supervisor, much of the solution rests in the skill and style of your supervisor. If the supervisor is over-burdened or lacking awareness, then the staff is left to cope in ways which are inevitable. Staff might resort to forming alliances with their like-minded peers for support, while also causing class-like divisions within the team.

In terms of structure and hierarchy, it is the supervisor who has the challenge and the authority to implement a solution. Perhaps only two solutions are possible. First, in extreme cases there may be no other choice but to terminate the employment of an unskilled or uncooperative employee. It is an unpleasant reality, but supervisors need to have the internal fortitude to rid the workplace of anyone who cannot provide services. Those of us in the helping professions have to learn common business sense. It is ultimately our patients who will suffer if we do not learn how to hire and fire counsellors.

Second, in cases in which the recovery czar has potential, the supervisor should endeavor to provide training and to nurture the growth of such an individual. If successful, this will be a win-win situation for everyone. The supervisor, the team, the patient: everybody wins.

What is really going on behind the recovery czar's mask of self-inflation? Essentially, this is probably an issue of confused personal and professional identity. This type of employee lacks the confidence and stature of Master's level employees. If recovery czars feel uncomfortable among their Master's level co-workers, but feel at home in the rooms of A.A./N.A., then it follows that they will emphasize Twelve Step work and extend their personal identity into the workplace.

Acquisition of a sense of professionalism may be the prerequisite to gaining knowledge about human behavior and developing counselling skills. These para-professionals need guidance in the areas of confidentiality, interpersonal boundaries, the use of the professional self in creating a therapeutic relationship, and the use of time in the counselling session. These concepts--trust, boundaries, relationship, self, time--were probably damaged during their years of active alcoholism or addiction. Having a healthy possession of these concepts could facilitate their work, and could expand and strengthen their identity.

It is almost as though continued rehabilitation must be incorporated into their professional training. Some people in recovery will always be attracted to careers in counselling. Many are naturally talented and academically viable. Others are unpolished gems that would sparkle if given the right care. Still others are probably unsuited. It takes an objective and caring supervisor to discern where potential lies and to give it shape and form.

We all have our shortcomings. We are lucky if we have an understanding supervisor. Sometimes we just need someone to give us a chance. Some recovery czars can transform into recovery experts. If you can help this transformation take place, you will also bring your own career to greater maturity.

[*NOTE: This three-part essay is a rough idea in progress, not a finished product, and is based on personal observation which is entirely subject to error. The term czar is used in its informal sense to mean one in authority, as per The American Heritage Dictionary, 1981 edition. This term is used to distinguish esoteric para-professionals from the general para-professional workforce. I have great respect for para-professionals. Part of my training as a social work student was received from recovering para-professionals who generously shared their knowledge and experience with me. I have also had the pleasure of working alongside recovering colleagues whose dedication and knowledge was invaluable.] (Written 06/02/03 - Revised 12/01/03)

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

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Copyright 2003 Natalia J. Garland