Throughout our lives, we often find that it’s those who have shared the same life experiences as us who best understand our purpose. Whether it’s a life-changing experience such as divorce, the death of a loved one or a serious medical condition, the ones who truly recognize our pain are the people who have endured the same struggles. In the case of addiction, one would have to assume that the same would hold true here as well. The best person to reach an addict is one who was an addict themselves.
River Source Counselors with Personal Experience
Having staff with personal experience has been welcomed by The River Source. We know that many of our patients come to us feeling angry, alone and misunderstood. They are often unhappy to be in treatment, and they don’t want to trust anyone. Having someone who can take their hand and offer them an unsurpassed level of personal support is what makes treatment most effective for these individuals.
That’s not to say that having staff with personal experience is necessary for reaching out to a struggling addict and making the difference. There are plenty of counselors and life coaches who have led clean, sober lives and have the same life-altering effects on our patients. What it really takes to reach an addict is a deep route of understanding, and some people are just naturally good at putting their hearts and minds in the shoes of another. Yet in many cases, this true understanding does come from those who have lived it.
How Counselors with Personal Experience Can Better Identify with Patients
For instance, being a drug or alcohol addict comes with behaviors that most of us cannot imagine. Addicts resort to stealing, lying and living on the streets. Some abuse their bodies or hurt loved ones just to get the money they need to continue their addiction. Sometimes, the acts are so hurtful, it can be difficult for just anyone to understand. Even though mental health professionals know that it’s the addiction causing these behaviors, addicts who are nearly unreachable can get lost in the shuffle because no one really knows how to help them.
These behaviors may speak to a counselor who has gone through the same struggles. In fact, at The River Source, we have had a handful of counselors who have closely identified with certain patients because they saw themselves in the person. When no one else could help, they were able to connect with the patient and work toward a more positive attitude in recovery, as well as the willingness to attend group, individual and family counseling.
Additionally, because addiction never really goes away, those who have the disease feel a need to stick together and offer unconditional support. Our patients turn to these counselors to have a better understanding of how to cope with their addiction, how to manage cravings and how to assimilate back into society. Furthermore, much like the sponsor given to an addict in AA, a counselor with personal experience serves as a role model. When the bond is created between these individuals, the recovering addict is more likely to succeed at sobriety when they see that others who were at rock bottom have overcome these struggles and found happiness.
Empathy, Compassion, and Understanding Still Matter Most
Of course, we must be careful not to create hurdles for mental health professionals who want to work with addicts but have led clean, sober lives. At the end of the day, the most effective counselors are those who listen, identify and empathize with their patients. Personal experience is not a prerequisite to be a good drug addiction counselor.
Yet there is something so powerful about having some staff members at a treatment center who have struggled with and won the battle over addiction. It is what can set one treatment facility apart from the next. It is what has led The River Source to be the outstanding example of naturopathic detoxification and addiction treatment that it is.