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Work plays crucial role in trajectory of recovery

March 27, 2017
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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As someone who saw her work as a major part of her identity, “Jill” thought long and hard about how her career path might affect her recovery. A former patient of the Caron Ocean Drive luxury rehab program in South Florida, she decided that a career transition (a “recycling,” she calls it) made the most sense for her.

Having worked in numerous roles in a retail family business for nearly two decades, Jill (who asked that her last name not be used for this article) has received a certification in coaching and now wants to help family members of treated individuals with their self-care. She realizes that this new pursuit comes with its own set of challenges, especially in making sure she does not end up putting her own emotional needs last.

“I will have to rely on other people to help me,” Jill predicts. “I can't do this alone.”

Most of the patients at the self-pay program in Delray Beach have managed successful careers, so discussions of work and one's relationship with it become essential as part of treatment. Bradley F. Sorte, executive director of Caron Treatment Centers' Ocean Drive and Renaissance programs in Palm Beach County, says patients often come to important conclusions when they begin analyzing how their work reflects the narrative of their life. Their reasoning for why they do what they do is often because a parent did it, or because it was expected of them, or that it was mainly about chasing money.

Jill says that from her experience at Caron Ocean Drive, nearly everyone was engaged in vocational soul-searching while there.

“No one who wasn't successful was there,” she says. “Some were saying [about work], 'I want to add value, but I don't want to go back to the old ways.'”

'Recovery-friendly' jobs?

The work-related concerns of Caron Renaissance patients can differ based on work history and family resources, Sorte says. The more financially secure patient will have the luxury of being able to contemplate various options, whereas the blue-collar worker who was recently laid off and has a family to support doesn't have the same opportunity.

Sorte doesn't necessarily believe that certain jobs in and of themselves are recovery-affirming or recovery-compromising. “You could say there are certain types that are higher-risk,” he says.

He does says that staff at Renaissance would strongly dissuade a patient from pursuing a job in commission-based phone sales, as many of the characteristics of that job mirror the features of an active addiction—from instant gratification to the disingenousness exhibited with the people encountered in the work.

One's approach to work

Caron's Ocean Drive programs for men and women in Palm Beach County are small enough that staff can sufficiently monitor the ongoing work activity of patients while they are in treatment. Allowing patients to maintain some contact with their business or workplace while in treatment, including through controlled online access, removes one of the major fears confronting successful individuals as they contemplate entering treatment.

“They can be ambivalent, and highly anxious,” Sorte says. “They can think, 'If I step away from my business, I could lose everything. My employees could lose everything.'”

Seeing how the patient interacts with work while in treatment also can be very informative for the program, Sorte says. “Are they hyper-focused on work?” he says for example.

Sorte adds, “We look at everything through a clinical lens. If something related to the patient's work is becoming a clinical issue, we will put boundaries in place.”

Healthier attitude

Jill believes she has a more reasonable outlook about work than she once had, although she knows it is still hard for her to function at anything less than full speed. She left the family business to be a stay-at-home Mom, but that became problematic in part because she immersed herself in the needs of a stepdaughter who had her own struggles. “I enmeshed myself in her recovery, and lost myself,” she says.

She believes that coaching will be a good fit for her, allowing her to borrow from some of a past background in social work. She credits the counseling she received at Caron for improving her insight. “I was able to recognize my strengths,” she says.