It is not uncommon for those involved in a recovery programme to decide that upon completion of their addiction treatment they would like to become an addiction counsellor themselves, and many do! In fact, up to 57% of addiction counsellors are in recovery.
Why do Addicts in Recovery Choose to Become Counsellors?
In most cases, the reason for a recovering addict to choose a new career path as an addiction counsellor is quite simple. During treatment, addicts go through a transformational change – from the self-loathing qualities of active addiction to positivity and hope in recovery.
The benefits of this transformation are many, and include a renewed sense of self, high levels of joy and gratitude and a feeling of being released from the shackles of addiction, among many others. This new zest for life, accompanied by the AA’s 12th step “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics (addicts), and to practice these principles in all our affairs,” many addicts feel compelled to pay it forward and help other addicts release themselves from their addictions.
For those who do pursue the education and certification required to become counsellors, they often have a rewarding career ahead of them.
Should Counsellors Disclose their own Recovery?
Some academics believe that recovering counsellors should not disclose to their patients that they too are in addiction recovery, on account of ‘professional boundaries’. However, a study done by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) states the following:
“The substance abuse treatment field provides a unique opportunity for personal and professional identities to align that does not exist in many other fields.”
In many cases, disclosing their personal addiction recovery to addicts seeking treatment can provide many benefits.
Benefits of Disclosing Recovery in Addiction Counselling
When an addiction counsellor is comfortable with disclosing their own recovery to their patients, many of the following benefits can occur:
1. A ‘modelling’ relationship drives the believability of recovery.
The ability for rehab counsellors to identify as addicts helps to create a ‘modelling’ relationship between client and addict which drives the believability of recovery. Because the disease of addiction actually rewires the forebrain of an addict, it is often nearly impossible for an addict to believe that full recovery is achievable at the beginning of their treatment programme. Having someone who is healthy and free of addiction standing in front of them as proof that recovery is possible can provide a greater sense of hope and motivation to succeed.
2. Openness occurs when a counsellor has ‘been there, done that’.
The disease of addiction leads addicts to act out in ways that they normally would not. Stealing from loved ones, performing sexual acts for drugs or even violence against others are not uncommon actions when someone is in the throes of addiction. Admitting these things in recovery can be painful and can create intense feelings of shame. Knowing that their counsellor has also seen the loss of self-control caused by addiction can help them open up faster and more honestly about the things they have done in the past.
3. Lasting bonds can be formed quickly.
When two people meet at a social gathering and find out they attended the same high school or college, an instant bond is formed. “Do you remember Mr. Smith?” “Did you ever have Ms. Wallace for biology?” In in a similar way, addicts can feel a bond form when they meet other addicts or addicts in recovery. They have been through similar suffering, and feel closer to the other person because of it.
4. Counsellors can share stories to aid recovery.
Whether personal stories or stories they have heard in their own support groups, recovering counsellors have a wealth of personal experience they can draw on to aid a person through recovery. Story sharing is an important part of the treatment process, because it shows the addict that they are not alone. Knowing that someone who has gone through this same struggle before is now helping you through can mean a lot.
5. Guidance through experience.
Certain parts of recovery are more difficult than others. For some, going to their first support meeting can cause massive anxiety. Others may have trouble letting go of past friends who used and unsure where they will be able to find new friends to hang out with. There are so many changes that take place over the course of recovery, and it can be scary! But a recovering counsellor is able to provide personalised tips on how to get through it because – of course – they did it too.
Does this mean Recovering Counsellors are Better than Non-Recovering Counsellors?
Put simply, no. As stated in a report on recovering vs non-recovering substance abuse counsellors by the Journal of Counseling & Development,
“There is empirical evidence that recovering counselors are equally as effective as non-recovering counselors. However, these two groups of counselors seem to use different approaches and methods with their clients. Recovering counselors are more likely to be involved in community education programs, socialize with clients away from the work environment, and visit clients in the hospital.”
In other words, counsellors who are in recovery will often add a more personalized touch to their treatment methods, but aside from that, the underlying treatment and outcome will remain quite similar between both types of qualified counsellors. Most effective treatment centres will provide a mixture of both recovering and non-recovering counsellors to establish a well-rounded treatment team.