We all know how rampant addiction has become – we see it all around us and hear about it in our news nearly every day. Mostly, our society focuses on mind-altering addiction, consisting of drugs and alcohol. There are also many other kinds of mood-altering or process addictions, which are more behavioural in nature such as gambling, smoking, overspending, eating disorders, and sex addiction of various types.
Millions of families all over the world are grappling with some sort of addiction these days – and most of them have no idea how to find or access any help.
And even though there is plenty of help available to people who are addicted, there is still very little assistance or counselling for their loved ones. When there is addiction in a family, everyone is affected and everyone needs to heal – otherwise, the addiction just continues to hold everybody emotionally hostage.
So – how is a family supposed to find the skilled, experienced, and compassionate help they so desperately need? This article is intended to be a guide for you, if you are being run ragged by your loved one’s addiction.
Sure-Fire Tip #1 – Ask Yourself These Questions
The following is a quotation describing the positive aspects of the therapist-client relationship:
Building an alliance of trust with the therapist leads to a reshaping of significant emotional experiences, and builds confidence and wholeness in new and enduring relationships. It provides the presence of ‘personhood,’ not just technique.
~ Gary Hellman
Choosing the best counsellor for you and your family is often an intuitive process. You may have found several therapists with the qualifications you were looking for – or who may fit other criteria you have, such as location, rates per session, or length of experience. To access your intuition about the therapists you may be choosing from, here are some questions you can ask yourself after your initial contact with them:
- Did they return my phone call or email in a timely manner?
- Did I feel comfortable when I first connected with them?
- Do I feel I received non-judgemental acceptance from them?
- Did they answer my questions candidly, without defensiveness?
- How did I feel when I saw their professional photograph on their website?
- Was their website welcoming and user-friendly, addressing my specific concerns and issues?
- Can I imagine myself sharing difficult and perhaps embarrassing aspects of my life with them?
Sure-Fire Tip #2 – Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist
Potential clients sometimes feel too shy and awkward to ask some important questions of a counsellor. But remember that, as a consumer, you have the right to inquire about the service you will be receiving. This can be a great opportunity for you to be assertive – and self-caring – by asking for the information you need to make the best possible choice for you and your family.
The following list includes some questions you can ask when interviewing a potential therapist:
- What is your educational background?
- What kind of counsellor training have you had, and how long have you been doing this kind of work?
- Do you receive ongoing professional supervision as part of your therapy practice?
- What kinds of therapeutic techniques do you generally use?
- Have you treated clients with my particular problems before (such as codependency, being the loved one of an addict, people-pleasing) and how do you usually work with these issues?
- What is your policy about confidentiality, especially when working with a couple or family struggling with addiction issues?
- What is your cancellation policy?
- What are your work hours? Is it all right for clients to contact you either by phone, email or text in between sessions if necessary?
Sure-Fire Tip #3 – Characteristics of Effective Counsellors
Therapists have their strengths and their limitations, just like everyone else. It is important not to put counsellors on pedestals or see them as super-heroes. If you do that, I can guarantee that you will, at some point, be disillusioned.
At the same time, it is vital to be as certain as possible that the person you hire to work with you – and your family – is emotionally stable and has a clear sense of ethical, healthy boundaries.
The following are some characteristics of effective counsellors. If any of these are missing in the therapist you are either interviewing or currently seeing as a client, you may want to look elsewhere for a therapist to work with.
- They are self-aware, able to identify and accept a wide range of feelings within themselves, thus helping clients to identify and accept their own range of feelings.
- They are able to maintain their personal separateness, allowing and encouraging clients to set and maintain their own boundaries.
- They are aware of their own values and beliefs, yet are flexible enough to respect their clients’ values and beliefs when those differ from their own.
- They are able to develop warm and deep relationships with significant others in their own lives.
- They are authentic and genuine, allowing themselves to be seen by others as they actually are.
- They accept personal responsibility for their behaviour, hearing constructive feedback without defensiveness even when it might feel uncomfortable to do so.
- They communicate honestly with themselves and others, self-disclosing with clients appropriately, offering accurate feedback and admitting mistakes.
- They are adaptable and competent; rather than being tied to one single way of working, they can vary their methods to fit the unique needs of their clients.
- They practice effective self-care; that is, they manage their own stress, get adequate rest and relaxation, follow healthy diet and exercise regimens, have a strong support system of people with whom to share their feelings, and take sufficient time off work to recharge themselves with enjoyable leisure activities.
Working with a skilled and proficient therapist will give you the kind of support necessary for healing areas of distress that may be affecting the choices you’re making in your life today. As well, you will be able to learn techniques to manage stress and express yourself emotionally in healthier ways.
Above all, an effective counsellor will provide authentic encouragement as you navigate your way to the transformation you’ve been longing for in your life. Perhaps most importantly, your therapist will help you learn how to role-model the kind of change you want to see in your addicted loved ones.
Allow this to be non-negotiable: You have the absolute right to find a therapist who is the best fit for you and your family.
I wish you all my best on this enormously important – and sometimes even fun – part of your journey.