36 Steps in in 12 Hours: Meeting Our Clients Where They Are

36 Steps in in 12 Hours: Meeting Our Clients Where They Are

While I am working to complete my Master’s of Social Work (MSW) I am also completing my CASAC (Credentialed Alcohol & Substance Abuse Counselor) credential alongside it as well.

For one of my classes, The Nature and Treatment of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems, we are required to go to three 12-step meetings. This is not the first time I’ve been required to go to 12-step meetings, and I always find them empowering, and interesting, and insightful (for a lot of reasons).

A few Thursdays ago I went to 3 twelve-step meetings in 12 hours…so I had 36 steps under my belt by the days end: I went to a morning AA meeting, an afternoon AA meeting, and an evening NA meeting (and truth be told, I always prefer the NA meetings to the AA meetings…I’m not sure why yet, something for me to meditate on and explore within myself).

We often say (or are often taught) that we have to “meet our clients where they are, not where we want them to be.” But how many of us actually follow that advice?

What I found so interesting is that at almost every 12-step meeting I’ve gone to there has been a similar theme, and one that I think is telling (or should be) to my fellow counselors:

“My counselor doesn’t get it,” “my counselor doesn’t listen to me,” “my counselor wants to talk about past issues…and all I want to do is move forward.”

This – to me – is a failure of meeting our clients where they are. When I have a session with a client, the questions I ask have to be carefully constructed…and I can’t ask them because they interest me…I have to ask questions because they’re beneficial to or are of interest to my client.

This justified negativity toward counselors doesn’t spring from the Big Book or Basic Text, it’s not endemic to AA or NA, or to 12-step programs or literature…so if you’re an addictions counselor and you’re looking for someone to blame, you’ll have to do some inner reflection.

While we (as counselors) can look at a client’s past and find useful threads, and meaningful connections to trauma, if our clients are looking forward to their bright future, we can’t allow ourselves to be anchors holding them back – or worse, dragging them back – to their past…instead, we have to be Solutions-Focused, allowing them to pragmatically reach the goals that they set for themselves, so we can remain helpful, and relevant to them…otherwise we just become a stumbling block on their path to recovery.

Always remember: Just for today!

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