Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Keeping the Passion Alive

Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Keeping the Passion Alive

Article excerpt

One of the buzz terms that appears in publications, conference announcements, and government initiatives is workforce development. This term has been associated especially with addiction treatment because of the growing awareness of the professions aging workforce. Some studies suggest that the average age of addiction treatment counselors is in the mid 40s. This being the case, we are not looking at a young workforce!

In addition to the discussion and concern about the aging workforce, there's the concern about worker retention. Not only is the counseling workforce aging, people are leaving the profession before they retire. Alongside this is the equally important and troubling observation that our leaders (managers and administrators of addiction treatment programs) also are aging! A gathering of addiction treatment administrators will have significantly different age demographics than a gathering of acute-care hospital administrators.

So it's not surprising that a lot of attention is being paid to these workforce issues. The spotlight shines on training, credentialing, degrees, educational loans, etc. The federal government and impacted organizations and associations are rallying around almost any plan that will increase the numbers of individuals interested in working in addiction treatment. Yet numbers alone may not solve the issue. Simply lowering the average age of counselors or administrators may not be the short-term or long-term answer. More degrees, more credentials, or more courses probably won't be either.

From my perspective of more than 30 years with the addiction treatment field, two characteristics have stood the test of time for clinicians and administrators, and these are major parts of the answer to our workforce woes. These may not be unique to the addiction treatment field, but they have contributed to making this field what it is today. These characteristics are passion and the insatiable appetite to be mentored. Without passion and the commitment to be mentored (to learn from those we admire), we quickly lose the special bond that has been built between providers and patients. Without these qualities, the workforce will be filled with people seeking jobs, not people responding to a vocation or calling.

There should be no disagreement over the fact that our clinical and administrative staffs need more training, along with additional skills and certifications, than they did 15 years ago. That is a given. But we cannot sacrifice more training and additional skills for the passion that was the hallmark of the first generation of addiction treatment workers. They did what they did because they felt strongly about what they were doing-and about whom they were helping. …

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