Very “SAD” Facts about the Addictions Field
A recent issue of the Addictions Professional presented very disturbing news about how clinicians in the field are doing. NOT WELL! Addictions clinicians treat people with addictions but mainly people with co-occurring disorders – addictions with trauma, depression, anxiety and/or eating disorders. Often there is also a co-occurring medical condition. This is very difficult work. People suffering from these conditions often relapse into one condition when they improve in another. Trying to attain a healthier client life in this work is no easy matter, and places huge emotional strains on families and clinicians. It is a profession of the heart.
To begin with it is so sad how poorly the American public understand addictions. I think much of this wrong opinion is based on stigma, shame, and very poor public education about addictions. A recent Harris Poll of 2,184 adults, of which 692 were parents of children between the ages of 6 and 25, noted that 66% of the people polled thought addictions could be cured; nearly all professional groups believe it is a chronic, progressive disease/syndrome that can be managed. Recovery, of course, is quite possible; recovery, however, does not meet clinical criteria of a “cure.” 18% believed that recovery was hopeless once a person relapses after intervention. In reality, relapse is simply part of the recovery process and may indicate by its repetition how severe the addiction is (a brain-based, mind-body-spirit disorder). 55% had an opinion that a person with an addiction could not perform well at work. In reality this situation if quite variable. 42% to 47% of respondents would feel uncomfortable if a significant person (potential in-law, teacher, medical doctors) had an addiction. Well we all know how poorly informed the American public has been and still is about the realities of addictions. What is the problem here?
A recent Quality of Life survey of 650 addictions clinicians found that in 2015 71% intended to work in the field until retirement. That number was reduced in 2016, with only 68% planning to retire from their current work. In 2017 the number went down again with only 59% of current addictions professionals intending to remain in the field until they retired. That is a 12% drop in just three years. Almost 10% noted that they would most likely seek another career. Workloads have increased and salaries have not move very much. 52% of a sample of workers noted that their caseload has increased over the past two years. What about compensation? Not so good! In 2017 71% noted that their current salary DID NOT reflect their training, experience, and job requirements. 35% have quit a job in addictions work. 13%noted that their clinical supervision needed improvement or was not good at all. These numbers are dismal.
At the same time documentation requirements of state and federal government funding, as well as health insurance company funding, have increased dramatically. In my own experience I supervised clinicians working with very difficult addiction clients. Most of them had to spend about 51% of their time documenting the work they did, while only 49% of their time or less was actually working with clients. It was common for people to go back to work on weekends to complete overdue paper/computer documentation. I often joke that to be an addictions counselor you need to fill out more paper and/or computer screens than to transport nuclear waste across state line or to buy a house. I think this may be true! I call this “Organic Bureaucracy,” where record keeping and management functions increase to the detriment of time with clients. Is it not the goal to help client learn skills and stabilize emotions so that they may enter recovery process? This requires TIME!
How about self-care. Surely in such a “strained” field – often called the poor sister or poor brother of health care – where demand for services outpaces staff and funding availability – self-care must be seen as important. Perhaps not! Survey data suggests that only about 1/3 of addictions counselors perceive self-care as a high priority at their place of employment. 25% note that self-care receives little or no attention. 41% note that self-care is an occasional topic in the workplace. I fear that marginal supervisors may be fearful of emphasis on self-care, perhaps suggesting that the job really cannot be done in a healthy way. Lots and lots of “burn-out.”
Let’s HOPE that somewhere up the federal bean stock somebody wakes up. In not, we may see huge shortages of qualified addictions professional. Yes there are other resources, but often far less trained and experienced in helping people work their way out of their addictions and other clinical conditions. Then what?
For more information refer to Addiction Professional (Fall, 2016), pp. 16-18, 20, 40.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont and the Home of The Monkton Sangha
Author of Mindful Happiness