I had been teaching at an in-patient treatment facility for over ten (10) months when one day, out of the clear blue sky, I was unceremoniously relieved of my duties. Without warning, the Director called me and said that, from what “staff” has shared with her, my classes are not a good fit for the clients. She claimed that my class content confused clients and that the other counselors spent too much time trying to help them work through their confusion. At the heart of her concern was the idea that I am somehow against 12-step programs and that, since the facility is a 12-step program, I simply couldn’t teach content that was contrary to the 12-step mission.
The class that preceded my termination was about labels and how they can be harmful. I admit that I often teach that the labels “addict” and/or “alcoholic” can be self-defeating labels that actually create self-fulfilling prophesies. However, I have also stated that I believe 12-step programs can be useful from both a support and self-reflection perspectives. The content that supposedly created confusion was that I taught the client community that regardless of how “addiction” is classified, the only things that matter are spiritual, physical, and mental health.
I briefly explained my position to the Director, but she really wasn’t interested in discussing anything. She was resolute in her position that my content was too confusing and that I had to go. Here’s the thing though: in the weeks that have followed, several of the counselors have approached me and told me that they supported what I was teaching and that the clients really appreciated my classes. One counselor even told me that his core clients actually started keeping “recovery journals” because of my class. Hearing this, I was both emboldened and saddened. Emboldened because of the support, yet saddened that those clients who benefitted from what I teach are no longer going to hear about empowerment psychology and how it can be built through reflective journaling. At least not as I teach it.
The problem I have with my dismissal is that the addiction treatment community should be doing all it can to support each other. There are very few resources available to fight Addiction, yet rather than embrace a “by any means necessary” mentality, I have run into a “my way or the highway” approach to treatment. This is a very sad and limiting mentality that will do far more harm than good. All too often, psychologists, therapists, and counselors became quite in love with their approaches and forget that our job isn’t to turn ourselves into gods, it’s to teach clients tools such that they can find solutions to the problems they face from their own contexts and language.
I suspect that those counselors who were approached by clients curious about the labels they use probably couldn’t answer their clients’ questions and somehow felt inadequate. Since I was a part time teacher, it was easier for the Director to fire me than it was to incorporate my content into their program.
Really, I don’t have any real solutions for anyone. However, I strongly believe and suspect that ALL people have at least some solutions within themselves. They just need to mine their psyches and their souls in such a way as to allow those solutions to emerge. We all have the power to transform our lives, but there are several paths up to the mountain and I don’t think that any organization can claim to have the singular “right” way. As treatment providers, we should find ways to support one another and not try to be “right” all the time.