The treatment systems they work in don’t seem ideally structured to long-term recovery, and their organizations aren’t always attuned to the self-care needs of their own employees, but the respondents to Addiction Professional’s Quality of Life Survey still convey a sense of believing they’re in the right profession. And it’s one that most want to remain in for the long haul.
“There’s nothing I’d rather be doing,” says Rosemary Callahan, a certified alcohol and drug counselor who works at a psychiatric nursing facility in Illinois. “Everything else seems to be boring.”
Addiction Professional conducted its inaugural Quality of Life Survey to gain a better understanding of clinicians’ everyday work and experiences as well as their attitudes toward the profession. The online survey, conducted in October, generated 550 responses, with just over half from individuals identifying as counselors.
Some of the survey’s composite responses contradict the often-held notion that many clinicians in the field are largely dissatisfied with their work environment and don’t see a viable career path in the field. Asked how long they envision remaining in the addiction treatment field, around 7 in 10 respondents replied, “Until I retire.” Just under 10% said they intended to find a new career sometime, and only 2.4% said they were currently looking to get out of the profession.
Having previously worked in settings ranging from Wall Street to a massage therapy practice, Callahan says that now, “It feels like I’m making a difference.” Callahan, who is in recovery and has worked in the behavioral health field for three years, was among the respondents.
More than half of the survey participants characterized their present patient caseload as “about right,” with only 20.4% saying they were seeing too many patients. However, nearly half said their caseload has increased in the past two years, with 16.7% saying it has decreased during that period and 36.3% saying it has stayed the same.
The survey responses do convey a somewhat significant need for clinicians to work extra hours to get the job done, although 17.1% of respondents said they work seven or more unscheduled hours during a typical workweek. The most commonly cited range of extra hours per workweek in the survey responses was one to three hours. Still, respondents interviewed by Addiction Professional often see a problem with clinicians’ ability to disengage from the pressures of their job.
“I always see self-care as a weakness,” says Billie Gilliam, who works in an intensive outpatient program setting in Ohio. “People become overly enmeshed in their role, and they don’t cut it off when they go home.”
Callahan, who currently works in a for-profit organization, says she needs to remain constantly vigilant about taking needed breaks and seeing her own therapist on a regular basis. “There are not a lot of ‘mental health days’ available to us,” she says. Then, to correct herself slightly, she adds, “There aren’t any.”
Callahan says she’s seen employees quit abruptly.
“They get so stressed by the corporate structure that they move into private practice,” she says.
Outlook on administration
A significant majority of respondents reported general satisfaction with the organizations for which they work. Seven out of 10 rated their facility’s treatment philosophy and overall quality as very good or good. A total of 38.2% said they had left a job in the addiction field at some point during their career because they disagreed with the approach of the facility where they had worked.
“The day-to-day work is not as challenging for me, but there are greater challenges around changing the system,” says Callahan. “The system is very resistant to change.” Moreover, in Illinois, most treatment centers are operating in a resource-poor funding environment, she says.
Other systemic barriers exist as well. Regarding the illness they are treating, “This is not something that you can take care of in 30 days; it’s not possible,” says Gilliam.
Just under half of survey respondents rated the quality of the clinical supervision they are presently experiencing as very good or good. The quality of clinical supervision is often seen as a key indicator of addiction professionals’ work satisfaction and productivity. Only 9.2% of respondents characterized the quality of their supervision as “not good at all.”
A wide variety of clinical addiction professionals were eligible to complete the online survey. Overall, reported annual salaries ran the gamut, with more than half ranging somewhere between $31,000 and $60,000. Ranges were similar when isolating the responses of counselor, social worker and psychologist titles only, as presented in the data chart.