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What happens when counselors relapse?

September 20, 2011
by Nick Zubko, Associate Editor
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Those in recovery often assume the role of counselor, but what happens if they find themselves struggling with relapse? According to Dottie Saxon Greene, MSW, LCSW, LCAS, CCS, assistant professor at Western Carolina University, it’s a serious problem that continues to be “conspicuously” ignored.

“Our field has been silent about this issue, but we need to be proactive and start talking about it," explained Greene, who gave a presentation at the 2011 National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD), titled "Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Relapse and Impairment Among Addiction Professionals."

Despite the near 40 percent relapse rate among addiction professionals over the course of their careers, there have been just two studies published specific to relapse among recovering substance abuse counselors—one in 1983 and another in 2009.

“We’re really behind in the development of these types of programs,” she said. “We’re substance abuse professionals, but we aren’t looking at that issue among our own discipline. We should be leading the pack.”

There are a number of barriers involved, according to Greene. First, there’s the fear of losing one’s job. Second, it’s the reluctance to contribute to any public belief that “substance abuse treatment doesn’t work.” If the problem is exposed, she explained, they see it as putting a “red mark” on the profession.

In response, Greene advocated the need to actively develop peer assistance programs in the addiction profession, saying it is the field’s responsibility to be forthright with the issue and create programs to support counselors struggling with relapse.

“If we don’t address the issue, if we don’t have those supports and recovery networks in place, it’s going to tarnish our reputation as a profession,” she said. “Making use of recovering counselors is a rich and meaningful tradition. But we need to be able to keep that tradition going.”


Nick Zubko

Associate Editor

Nick Zubko


Nick Zubko is associate editor of Addiction Professional.

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