Thursday, October 8, 2009

Choice of Support Groups: It's the Law

My article, "Choice of Support Groups: It's the Law" is in the current issue of Counselor magazine, which is not only the best publication of its type but also, now, the official journal of the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (CAADAC).

The article discusses the recent federal court decision holding that the 12-step program is religious in nature, when viewed in light of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

If you don't happen to receive this publication in the mail, I've scanned this article and made a PDF file for downloading.  It's at  -- be patient, it's a 16 mb file and takes a bit of time to download.

This article is an expansion and update of the LifeRing brochure of the same title, available for download here.

You can also view a slideshow and an informal video of a talk I gave on this topic, here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

My Seventeenth

Today is my seventeenth anniversary clean and sober.  I woke up at 5 am and by a quarter to six was on the road from my home in Berkeley to Sacramento to staff the LifeRing table at the annual conference of CAADAC, the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors. Here's a snapshot of the Sacramento skyline from my car window at dawn.

Shortly after 7 am I landed in the LifeRing meeting in the Rose Room of the Marriott. This was the first LifeRing meeting ever at the annual CAADAC event.  When I arrived, the CAADAC organizers were still setting up and there was no lobby sign directing people to the meeting, but the nice person unpacking at the registration desk immediately answered my request for directions to the LifeRing meeting.  And lo!  There were familiar LifeRing signs in the hallway and outside the door, and inside, Sacramento convenor Bob O. had assembled a pioneer bunch of LifeRing participants to make the meeting real.  We didn't have all that many CAADAC people in the room at that hour, but the fact that the meeting was on the schedule helped a great deal with name recognition as I sat at the LifeRing exhibit table this morning.

We had a good table just inside the entry door of the exhibit room -- a considerable improvement over last year when we were packed like sardines -- and CAADAC CEO Rhonda Messamore came over and delivered a friendly welcome early in the morning.  Later in the day I had a few minutes of chat with CAADAC President Joe Aragon, and gave him the sixty-second version of how LifeRing works.  I also had a chance to pick up copies of the new October issue of Counselor, the magazine for addiction professionals, containing on p. 40 my article, "Choice of Support Groups-- It's the Law!"  This mag goes to all CAADAC members as part of their membership, and a stack of copies was on the next table over.

Of the dozens who stopped at the table to look and chat, just one person walked away in a pout when told this was a way to get clean and sober other than via the 12 steps.  Everyone else perked up in interest.  Every counselor I talked to knew that client resistance to 12-step is a reality, and most understood that professionalism means offering the client options. It was particularly rewarding to talk with the many chemical dependency students who were attending the conference.  Almost without exception, they were being taught that there are multiple roads to recovery and that they need to understand and provide options to their clients.
The future is bright.

But there's a way to go.  The theme of this year's CAADAC event was "Moving Beyond Tolerance:  Creating a Multiculturally competent workforce."  You would think then that the keynote plenary address would take off on this theme and feature -- dare we hope -- a speaker from some culture other than Wonder Bread?  Wrong.  There was no greater cultural diversity among the plenary speakers this year than in past years.  One of the few speakers on the program who has genuine credentials of birth, scientific competence and clinical experience in this subject -- Dr. B.J. Davis of Strategies for Change -- was marginalized to an afternoon breakout in competition with four other speakers.  Davis would have been the logical plenary keynoter for a conference with this theme, if the Association meant "development of a multiculturally competent workforce" as more than window dressing.

Things were slower in the exhibit hall on the second day and I had a chance to chat at some length with Bob O., the LifeRing convenor in Sacramento whose quiet energy has a lot to do with the fact that we now have seven -- count them -- seven LifeRing meetings in the Sacramento area. The work that Bob has been doing exemplifies in my mind the role of area convenor (or "regional coordinator") that we are developing as part of the LifeRing expansion project. Sitting with me at the table all day Saturday, Bob had a chance to meet some of the CAADAC bigwigs and, perhaps more importantly, local area treatment providers and students.

It was also a pleasure to get a message from Jo Marie G., the pioneer convenor who started the first LifeRing meeting in Sacramento not so very long ago. Her job kept her away but she is doing fine and keeps in touch.

I also had the chance to meet the newest LifeRing convenor in Sacramento, Dan F. Dan is a counseling student and started the new Friday afternoon meeting in south City.

During dull moments in the exhibit hall Bob and I chatted with several people who took turns staffing the NA table. One of them told us that some judges in Marin County discriminated against NA and would only refer people to AA. That surprised me, but then it's not news that some judges need educating.

Speaking of educating, one of the people who stopped by the LifeRing table was a Washington lobbyist who represents counseling professionals. He said that his biggest headache is persuading legislators that addiction is a disease on a par with other mental health illnesses. They think it's a spiritual maladjustment or a character defect. But once he has them convinced it's a disease, he has to do a 180 degree turn and convince them that you don't need medical qualifications to treat it.

Just a few days before the conference, CAADAC sent out an emergency appeal to call the governor and tell him to veto a bill on his desk that would require addiction professionals to have the same educational background as other mental health treatment providers, namely a Master's degree at a minimum. This would throw the huge majority of California treatment professionals out of work. In this state you can provide front line treatment for the disease of addiction without having a high school diploma. Disaster was averted by amendment at the last minute.

My lobbyist friend was fully aware of the irony. Addiction professionals demand parity in funding but reject parity in qualifications. It's an Alice-in-Wonderland world.

In this regard, Bob O. asked why LifeRing spends the money (around $700) to put an exhibit table in this conference. Shouldn't the conference be paying us to be here? Certainly we don't make the money back in book sales. This is not, on the whole, a book buying crowd; counselors are notoriously underpaid. The answer, if there is a good one, is name recognition. We are still widely unknown in the profession, and it costs money to fix that. We're buying space in the "aha" region of the addiction professional's brain. If our name comes up, it sounds familiar to them, instead of strange. And that translates, over time, into referrals to LifeRing meetings. That's what we're paying for. It is, in my opinion, money well spent. Although really, for the price, the conference should throw in lunch.