Addictions Treatment--A Wow Experience:
How I spend my Summer and Who I am Today
by Carol Porto
When I finished college in 1984, I could not find a job all summer. I had completed a masters degree in psychology. I interviewed for over ten mental health therapists positions to no avail. When, at last, I was hired, it was in the field of addictions and part time, facilitating closed DWI education groups. The clients taught me a lot about addictions and I learned a lot about the state substance abuse system. At that time, alcohol treatment was separate from other drug treatment and I was not permitted to document in the client’s file his or her use of drugs other than alcohol.
One year into part-time job, I saw a newspaper ad for a new model residential facility opening in another county. I was inspired by the new approach to treating DWI offenders. So were six of my peers. Together, we left the programs in which we had been employed and, as a team, designed the treatment component of the new program. We then implemented the treatment. In 1987, after one year of working in that position, I was hired as the program’s director, and have been a program director ever since.
Just as it is today, in 1984, there was a shortage of “qualified” people to work in addictions treatment. Over the years I marvel why the field does not attract clinicians. For anyone interested in behavior change, mental illness, individual, group and family therapy, addictions is where it is at! You get to do it all! Compare the sole practice of doing individual sessions to treating in highly dynamic groups, or couples or family groups, or doing interventions, all of which we do in addictions treatment. We addictions professionals also collaborate with clients’ psychiatrist, psychologist, general medical doc, other treatment providers, social services, rehabilitation services, clergy, employers, the recovering community and, best of all, the client’s spouse, partner and family. We now treat those addicted to all substances, including those needing methadone, buprenorphine and other medications. Additionally, one can work at numerous different levels of care: prevention, intervention, outpatient, intensive outpatient, and at least five levels of residential or inpatient care.
Another very interesting facet in the field of addictions, is the great need for more addictions professionals to become involved in legislation advocating for our clients in the national, state and local arenas. This keeps me on my toes, up to date and standing tall, feeling I am contributing to helping those with addiction have easier and faster access to treatment, and chipping away at the stigma of addictions.
Lastly, I love the ease of being able to access all the latest research from SAMHSA and other agencies and all the free and helpful manuals on crucial, as well as basic, topics. For those interested in research, there is a wealth of data with which to measure outcomes.
What keeps me coming to work every day is that I feel my work is somehow ordained. I truly believe this is what I am supposed to be doing. I do not like getting thanked, it’s just what I do. When a client says something like “you saved my life” I comfortably and honestly say, “no, you saved your life”.
How has this work affected me? I have been changed. In the early years, the teaching of life skills so necessary in addictions treatment (i.e.: assertiveness, stress and anger management) reinforced those very skills in me. I have moved from working in isolation from others in my field to working as a team member and as a team leader. Addictions treatment should not be done in isolation. Our clients, their families, group dynamics, medications and politics are simple, yet complicated. Peer support or peer supervision is imperative to the work and the comradery adds to the pleasure of the work. The addictions professional has a support group in their peers.
I could never have imagined, in 1984, that I would become a political advocate, own my own treatment program, then, at age 65, sign a ten year lease for a new building for my residential program, be a leader of an addictions treatment team, a highly experienced clinician in mental health and addictions, an expert in pharmacology, in individual, couples, family and group counseling, have my articles published, be on national television, conduct research, serve on various committees, teach new trial judges about addictions and that I would still, after 23 years in the field, be learning from our clients.
And I thought I just wanted to be a mental health therapist.