Sunday, September 24, 2006

Should Counselors Disclose Their Recovery Status?

Should addiction counselors disclose their own recovery status to their clients? Historian William White says that this issue has been debated for more than a hundred years already (Slaying the Dragon). The issue flared when I was a client at the Kaiser Permanente Chemical Dependency Recovery Program in Oakland in the early 90s -- some clients, probably egged on by an ambitious counselor, tried to split the staff over their personal recovery status.

The freshest thing I've read on the issue recently is by Jennifer Berton (right), ethics consultant for the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (CAADAC), writing in the otherwise somniferous September issue of the organization's newsletter. Among her points, in brief:

(1) There are great counselors not in recovery and lousy ones in recovery, and vice versa. What makes a great counselor is the level of professional training and a personal inner quality of empathy. (This point is supported by research cited in the Hester/Miller Handbook of Alcoholism Treatment Approaches.)

(2) If counselors insist that their personal recovery is a professional qualification or advantage, they divide the field of addiction recovery from all other areas of psychology and medicine, and lower the esteem in which it's held. A pulmonary surgeon doesn't have to be a lung cancer survivor; a psychiatrist doesn't have to have a history of hospitalizations for schizophrenia, etc. Colleagues in other fields tend to look down on addiction counselors as really just lay people reselling their own experience, not as trained professionals.

(3) If counselors practice disclosure at their workplace, they model workplace disclosure to clients. But workplace disclosure may not be at all wise for clients, depending on the circumstances. Workplace confidentiality may be a much more prudent policy.

Berton's much longer discussion is worth reading if you're interested in this issue either as a client or a counselor.

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