People have told me of their negative experiences when visiting a treatment service for help in overcoming their addiction. These conversations often occurred with people who were happy with the help they were currently receiving from the recovery-oriented treatment service I was visiting when I met them. They talked about their previous bad experiences in other treatment services.
People trying to overcome a heroin problem would tell me they had previously only been offered methadone as a treatment option in the previous service they had visited. Or they would complain that the treatment worker only had text book understanding of the nature of addiction. Or the worker didn’t inspire confidence, didn’t seem interested, or lacked empathy.
In saying this, I should emphasise that there are lots of great treatment workers out there, but many of them are in services that don’t have the right ethos. It must be tough going for those passionate and dedicated practitioners working at the coal face in organisations where the CEO and senior managers are focused more on the business and themselves than on the client and frontline worker.
Here is an interesting piece of consultancy work that Huseyin Djemil conducted for a treatment service.
Huseyin starts by describing a person who came to the Towards Recovery Cafe and was so impressed by those around him he asked ‘How do I get what they’ve got?’ Huseyin replied, ‘I don’t know. What are you prepared to do?’ The person went off to get help, changed the world around him, and is still doing really well. Something rubbed off him when he was in the cafe amongst a group of recovering people. Huseyin believes this story reflects the power of recovery. If a person is in a treatment service surrounded only by people in addiction, behavioural change is far less likely to happen.
Huseyin goes on to describe giving a one-day training course on opiates for practitioners of a well-known treatment provider. He finished his presentation slides by lunchtime and wondered what was he going to do for the rest of the day? He discovered that there were no opiate groups for clients, despite the fact that 51% of them were opiate users.
He went back into the room of practitioners and asked, ‘What specifically do you do for your opiate clients in this service?’ Staff started to look at the floor and at each other. Finally, someone said, ‘It’s really difficult with the opiate clients, it’s all about the medication.’ Clients didn’t want anything other than their medication. Huseyin asked whether that was where the conversation stopped. The group replied that they didn’t know what to do.
Huseyin and the group spent the whole afternoon discussing the matter, with Huseyin inventing a game to explore the practitioner’s feelings in certain situations. He asked them what they did personally when they felt really bad. They replied they got through those feelings with help, talking to friends or a counsellor, or taking walks in nature. Huseyin asked them if they could see their clients in that situation. ‘Couldn’t you do some of those things for them, including groups? Huseyin could see that they were beginning to understand.
Huseyin describes there were ten or so practitioners in the room, probably being paid a total of £250,000, and in effect all they were doing was operating the timetable. There were things they could do that would help not just their clients, but also themselves. Huseyin found though his questionnaire that many of the practitioners were thinking of leaving, despite only being in the job for six months. And they had taken over from someone who had only been there for six months. The charity were having to continually recruit staff because they quickly became demoralised in the job. Huseyin felt sorry for both the clients and the staff.