This is Addiction Professional’s fifth annual effort to honor clinical professionals who overcome professional (and often personal) challenges to offer exemplary service. Colleagues nominate individuals for the Outstanding Clinicians Awards, and our annual review of the candidates always demonstrates to us the professional dedication that keeps this field vibrant.
We are particularly pleased this year to have added a nursing category to our customary categories of counselor, clinical supervisor/manager, and physician. Margaret Shapiro is our initial nurse recipient; enjoy the profiles of her and counselor Janice Sealey, clinical manager Sher Peck, and physician Kim Dennis, MD. We will formally honor the winners in September at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) in Anaheim, Calif.
Position: Clinical counselor
Organization: Clay Behavioral Health Center, Middleburg, Fla.
Quote: “When I’m sent a client, I like to be blindsided. I want to give them a chance. At some point, the system may have failed them.”
Comment from a colleague: “This nominee has sacrificed self, time and possessions when the individual is giving 100 percent toward recovery,” writes Valynda Rowser, correctional probation officer for the Florida Department of Corrections.
A service system that deals with an offender population will by definition involve a great deal of structure and control. But it is clear that Florida correctional officials place a great deal of trust in the judgment of counselor Janice Sealey, who has been with Clay Behavioral Health Center for nine years and works with felony offenders in the justice system.
“Everyone who I’ve constantly worked with, they respect what I say,” says Sealey, who received much of her mentoring at Talbert House’s residential program in Ohio. “They let me make the final call.”
And as is evidenced from the comments of the Florida Department of Corrections probation officer who nominated Sealey for the counselor award, sometimes she is even consulted about clients who aren’t on her direct caseload.
“She is our diamond in the rough when attempting to develop personal goals for the clients,” writes correctional probation officer Valynda Rowser.
Sealey regularly works up to 14-hour days on a four-day-per-week schedule, and says she hasn’t missed a workday in nine years with the agency. Her clients generally have access to about eight weeks of outpatient treatment from the agency, and she emphasizes maximizing that opportunity but not being overly prescriptive at the same time.
“I tell clients, ‘You are in charge of you,’” she says. “I’ll give you the rope, and you determine how tight you want to pull it.” Of course, this comes with the understanding that a recommendation of “violation of probation” status from Sealey likely will carry much weight with corrections officials.
Rowser remarks, “I have not had one offender complain about Ms. Sealey or make negative accusations in reference to her. Instead the clients have used words to describe her like fascinating, a good listener, approachable, kind, personable and thoughtful.”
Sealey describes her clinical approach as melding the best of the old and the new, as opposed to embracing only one orthodoxy. She knows she has sacrificed some things in her dedication to the work, but takes comfort in her understanding that “God is in control.”
Position: Vice president of satellite operations
Organization: Clarity Recovery & Wellness, Springfield, Mo.
Quote: “I encourage counselors to develop their own style; I allow them to run with it and make mistakes, so they can learn from it and grow. I like the sense of diversity among the members of the team.”
Comment from a colleague: Clarity president Merna Eppick says, “She is an enthusiastic trainer and mentor for interns, practicum students and counselor trainees and truly enjoys seeing the people she supervises and trains make progress in their profession.”
Sher Peck oversees two of the programs in an organization with multiple levels of residential and outpatient care for persons with substance use problems. She emphasizes counselor involvement in weekly brainstorming sessions that guide treatment planning, and she seeks to maximize each clinician’s individual strengths as opposed to taking a one-size-fits-all approach.
“One of the things I try to tap into is their own flair, their language,” says Peck, who turns 58 in August. “They then can see how they can use that to connect with clients. I don’t have a belief that clinicians have to say things this way or that way.”
Clarity president Merna Eppick offered a fascinating example of this approach in relating comments from one of the counselors under Peck’s supervision. The counselor had stated, “When I started I was full of self-doubt. I double questioned my every move and tried to ‘fit in the box’ of what I felt like substance abuse counseling should be. For some reason, that was quite OK to Sher. She was always there for me to listen to my questions, to weigh in on whatever it was that was pressing to me at the moment. Never did she squash the passion in this refining process that she led me through.”