By DAVID MAY
Substance abuse counselors like to say addiction does not have to be a life sentence. But sometimes it is, even if the counselor is also a recovering addict.
Last week, second-year students in Weatherford College’s Social Work/Substance Abuse Counseling program gave presentations about those substance abuse counselors who need help and support and to recognize early on the signs they are on the verge of relapse, and what to do when they do slip and fall on their sometimes long road to recovery.
The group presentations – given before other students and guests panels that critiqued the presentations – were part of the students’ final steps toward receiving a two-year counselor’s degree. For most after graduation, they will continue to work or begin working as substance abuse counselors, with several saying they plan to continue their education to obtain a bachelor’s degree and perhaps pursue a doctorate.
Clinical coordinator, licensed counselor and social worker Michael Webb said about 60 percent of the students are recovering substance abuse addicts – whether alcohol, drugs or both – who are serious about not only their recovery but helping break others free of their cycle of addiction. He said there is not enough support in place to help substance abuse counselors when they backslide.
Webb said the two-year degree these students will earn will help carry them toward the 4,000 hours they must log before they can obtain their Licensed Chemical Dependency Certificate.
Peer assistance is an important part of substance abuse counseling, to not only help the person who is addicted and help keep them from relapse, but also to help see it in their colleagues and support them and help them through their own rehabilitation and path back to sobriety when they relapse.
Evident in the group presentations was the individual admissions of their own past addictions, something that can be important in building relationships and helping those they are counseling.
One of the student presenters, Crystal Foster, noted that relapse can occur in counselors throughout burnout – which is common in the field – which can lead to “empathy for the disease.” She noted that relapse happens before a person picks up a drug, usually involving a process of personal decline such as changes in behavior and attitudes, added stress and social breakdown or isolation, among other symptoms.