(EDITOR'S NOTE: Addiction Professional's 2015 Outstanding Clinicians Awards honor three clinical professionals who demonstrate patient-centered care and serve as leaders in their organizations and communities. We will formally honor this year's winners on Aug. 1 at our National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) in St. Louis. Below is a profile of our honoree in the counseling category, Jené Gardner. Profiles of our nurse and physician winners will be posted later this week.)
Position: Dual diagnosis counselor
Organization: Council on Addiction Recovery Services, Olean, N.Y.
Quote: “From my first session, my first group, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that this is where I wanted to be.”
Comment from a colleague: “Jené offers empathy that is unmatched by others in the industry. She is often requested as a counselor, and previous clients seek her out after choosing to return to treatment.”
Jené Gardner hesitated initially to pursue work in addiction treatment, acknowledging, “I have family members who have struggled with addiction, and I didn't know if it would hit too close to home for me.”
Concerns about whether the profession would be a good fit dissipated quickly, however, as the traumatic life events she heard described in her first group session propelled her interest in being of service. “There is such a great need,” she recalls thinking.
Since arriving at the Cattaraugus County, N.Y., prevention and treatment organization CAReS (Council on Addiction Recovery Services) as an intern in 2012, Gardner has experienced a career trajectory that has been nothing short of meteoric. Moving quickly into treatment of individuals with co-occurring disorders and then receiving her master's degree in mid-2013, she found herself transitioning to a supervisory role last year when her own supervisor had to take an extended leave because of medical illness.
Now working more directly with fellow staff members, the 33-year-old Gardner says the new role “fulfilled a new purpose.” But as her responsibilities have increased, she has requested that she continue with her dual-diagnosis group, given that she played an integral role in forming that component of the organization's clinical services.
Gardner describes her clinical approach as mainly cognitive-behavioral in theory, but also solution-focused and steeped in an effort to gain patients' trust. She says her connection with her Higher Power assists in offering the empathy that the former colleague who nominated her for the award highlighted.
“Where I am spiritually helps me,” she says. “I can be present and mindful, and I feel like the patients sense that.”
In fact, Gardner believes clinician burnout often results from not having a spiritual connection in one's life. “Spirituality has allowed me to stay focused, rejuvenated,” she says.
Her spirituality also allows her to step away and take care of herself when necessary, even if only to spend some quiet time outdoors with family or to read some books that have nothing to do with counseling.
She makes sure to leave time for discussion and sharing in her groups, and even injects humor when she can. “I've been told that when clients come in after a relapse or for a 'tune-up,' they will often request me. They will tell me, 'You get me.'”
Gardner describes 2014 as having been a challenging year, as she balanced responsibilities of supervising five colleagues with maintaining a caseload of 40 and running three 90-minute groups per week (she also sits on the treatment team for the local drug court). But she has found that the mix of responsibilities suits her well. “As much as I like working with clients, I also like working with staff,” she says.
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