Counselors, therapists, recovery coaches, case managers, and anyone who works in the addiction treatment industry must be prepared when they get the news that their client has overdosed or taken their own life. This is one of the most stressful situations that an addiction treatment professional can face during a career in the industry. It’s probably every addiction recovery professional’s greatest fear; when it happens, it can destroy a career very rapidly, and at times another life. The hardest reality to face is a young person who hasn’t really even lived yet, overdosing or taking their own life. At present, teen depression and thoughts of suicide are on the rise according to a federal survey conducted between September of 2016 and December of 2017.
It’s imperative that the professional did everything that they could do to help the client, that the professional is realistic about their role with clients, and that the professional has realistic expectations of themselves. It is also crucial that all professional ethics are in place one-hundred percent of the time. Can the professional look in the mirror and say to themselves that they did their job to the best of their ability, and move on without regrets?
“Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.” – Stephen R. Covey
The problem is that we all suffer from the human condition. We all tend to have self-doubt at times, especially during a crisis situation. It’s very difficult when someone you know and have been helping dies; without question, this is not an easy situation for anyone. We have to realize that we are not superheroes; we cannot save everyone. We especially cannot save someone who does not want to be saved. The truth is that we have no control over what other human beings do. We can give them information, help them to understand the situation that they are currently in, provide information on solutions and support, and give them guidance and direction. We can help with treatment plans and action plans, activities, modalities, programs, and facilities; however, it’s up to the individual to make the decision and take the action to get well.
We cannot ever get emotionally involved with clients; that’s where ethics come in. We must keep healthy boundaries at all times. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have empathy and compassion, of course we do. We just cannot get caught up in the lives of our clients; it’s not fair to them or to us. We must be able to keep a clear and objective perspective of any professional situation. Yes, that can be a difficult thing to do in our industry because there is a great deal of human pain and suffering in our industry and world today.
When a fifteen-year-old comes to you for help who was homeless, sexually assaulted, and shot up by a pimp and beaten daily, you are going to be outraged! The way that we make a difference is by keeping our cool, being professional, and doing our jobs to the best of our ability. Because if we get emotionally involved, we cannot do our very best. The next client to come through the door is just as important, and they will be cheated out of our very best if we are caught up in something or someone else.
We as professionals in this industry must take care of ourselves, find a balance of body, mind, and spirit. We tend to see the bad side of life a great deal and because of confidentiality we can’t talk about it with others in many cases. If we don’t find balance, we burn out quickly. It’s a good idea to have a professional to talk to, coach, therapist, counselor, whoever you’re comfortable with. Should a client’s life end, the best thing that you can do is talk to a professional. That’s the advice you would give to someone else, isn’t it? Whatever you do, don’t stuff the pain! Don’t let ego stand in the way, if you need to talk to someone, do it!
A normal emotion that professionals will also experience in or after a crisis is fear. You will ask yourself if you did anything wrong if you did all that you could do. You may experience self-doubt, most people do. You may have a fear of what other peers will think, what the family of the client will think, and fear of legal repercussions. If you did everything you could in an ethical manner these are unrealistic; however, normal fears. Certainly, you can consult professionals in this area if you feel the need.
The point is that we all have freedom of choice. Those who decide to work in the addiction recovery field, get into the field because they want to help save lives. They want to help make a difference. It’s not realistic to think that your words as a professional are going to get through to every client, they’re not. Some individuals just aren’t ready to hear your words, or don’t want to be helped, or aren’t ready to be helped. These are facts that we as professionals have to understand.
We are good at giving advice when someone else is in crisis; however, we’re not so good at listening to it. We all need a little help sometimes; we’re human beings. The most important thing is not to let ego and pride block you from getting help or sharing pain or concerns. You are not alone either!
I train professional interventionists and coaches. During training, I always tell my students about the day that I received a free coaching session from a young man who totally changed my perspective and perception. Today, I believe that everyone should have sounding boards or mentors, especially those in high-stress positions.
It’s a terrible thing when a human being is lost to suicide or addiction. Thank God we have wonderful human beings in the coaching and addiction recovery industry helping to change and save lives on a daily basis. I felt led to write this article because so many colleagues have lost clients to addiction and suicide and I know how hard these situations can be from my own experiences.
When I was a younger man just out of police academy, I had two people die in a fire that I had responded to one evening. The sounds, smell, and sights of that evening haunted me for years. I didn’t have the tools back then to handle such a crisis, so I stuffed the pain. It was many years later that I was set free from that pain!
This extends way beyond the treatment industry, to any profession that deals with high stress, serious injuries, and death. I would like to take a moment to personally thank each and every one of you that has chosen the road less traveled, who works in a service, or helps industry saving lives every day. You endure tremendous stress, while demonstrating incredible compassion, and strength. Thank you for all that you do! Please remember that if you are going through a personal crisis or trauma, you are not alone, share your pain and it will become lighter.