Glynis Matthews traces his success with clients to his own difficult upbringing in an alcoholic home in Mississippi's housing projects. He says there is an almost unspoken understanding between himself and many of his clients—an appreciation of shared circumstances.
After serving in the Marines and then graduating from college in South Carolina, Matthews started working in a group home for youths, where feedback from staff began to tell him that he might have found a career path. “My client talks about you a lot,” he recalls clinicians telling him. “His parents are saying they're glad you're involved.”
Matthews later would introduce the Matrix Model of treatment to the Ernest Kennedy Center, which serves a largely rural population in South Carolina. The treatment model emphasizes the therapist serving as a teacher/coach and building a positive, encouraging relationship with the client in order to facilitate behavior change. The approach was designed for use with individuals dependent on stimulants.
Matthews believes he represents a new wave of counselor who works to meet clients where they are situated. He tells them that the only behaviors he won't tolerate are absenteeism and disrespect, but he can handle just about anything else.
“A lot of the ‘old schoolers’ want to control the client,” he says. “But we're not in control of our clientele and we need to understand that.”
Matthews also does not hesitate to acknowledge his limitations, saying his empathy for people who have faced difficult circumstances is critical to his work and means that he probably would not be effective treating celebrities or other people of privilege. He is excited about the opportunity to reach out to returning veterans and their families through his new role with the Defense Department.
Matthews says he tends to ask simple questions of his clients: What do you want? What are you doing to get it? Is it working? The rest is about building an empathic relationship and doing what it takes to get the job done. Colleagues at the Ernest Kennedy Center remarked on how willing he was to take personal time to make sure every detail was addressed.
“You're dealing with people; what if that person was your child?” Matthews says. “Would you want someone to give your child something that is lukewarm? Nothing about me is lukewarm.”
Organization: Consulting with military families for U.S. Department of Defense (served as adolescent counselor at Ernest Kennedy Center in Goose Creek, South Carolina at time of nomination)
Quote: “We underestimate our clientele's intelligence. They can see through us; they know whether someone is being genuine. If they have a certain level of respect for you, they will do what it takes to get your approval.”
Comment from nominator: “He is a powerhouse of energy and strives to reach every client ‘where they are,’” writes Barbara Melton, Matthews' clinical supervisor. “He connects with these troubled adolescents (and their families) and has the highest retention rate for groupwork that I have ever seen in 15 years as a supervisor.”
Photographer: Keith Dennis
Addiction Professional 2009 January-February;7(1):9