In the field of addiction treatment there is a persistent question: Is it possible for the staff of a treatment center to be personally better off for having worked within the environment? Historically, many treatment professionals would confer that the answer is all to similarly, no.
Leadership teams within these organizations must make staff health a top priority in order to influence constructive client outcomes. Centers must have healthy and reliable staff in order to build the trust and enduring rapport that is essential when working with clientele.
However, the challenges are well documented. Working within a residential addiction treatment environment is a difficult and complex vocation. As front line providers we walk through perhaps the most challenging chapter in someone’s life and often face a defense system ranging from strong to categorically combative during that process. The administrative structure within treatment organizations often place economic goals ahead of the clinical necessities frequently resulting in high caseloads along with subpar financial remuneration for staff. Although most addiction counsellors make light of the fact that we are not in this field to get rich, financial pressure is one of the most damaging types of stress we experience. This leads into the next challenge: maintaining work/life balance. Clinical staff in a residential treatment center often take their work home with them and bring their life to work; to the detriment of both. When work/life balance becomes unbalanced, we can end up with short tenures of employment along with patients, referral agents and other key stakeholders losing faith in the organizations’ ability to reliably produce positive clinical outcomes.
The first step for a leadership team is to recognize these challenges and develop a strong, proactive plan to address them. All to often staff plans are reactive to confront the stressors and challenges encountered in the workplace. The staff training and development plan for Cedars at Cobble Hill contains both formal and informal approaches to account for the varying workplace risks associated with a residential addiction center. The most essential aspect of this plan is to ensure that each staff member possesses the ability to be cognitively present in their work. Developing a proactive strategy considering factors internal and external to the workplace is a crucial factor towards ensuring holistic balance. To this end, our agency has developed a monthly flex day (in addition to regular 3 weeks of holidays), caseloads of 6 patients per counsellor and a flexible scheduling philosophy to allow for family functions. Organized debriefing as a team conducted twice per day along with weekly case conference meetings focused on supporting counsellors in case management and not a simply reporting on patient progress. Integrated training opportunities combining professional and personal training modalities such as utilizing the services of Dr. Allen Berger and other experienced professionals. These facilitators do more than a modest workshop – they are performing hands on training for 3-5 times per year and become a regular fabric of our team. Staff are involved in strategic planning sessions and have ample opportunity to discuss things that are not working for them within the organization. Leadership listens and responds, even if the answer is not what the employee is looking for at that time, a full response is both vital and healthy to ensure the success of this process.
Ultimately, it is a combination of many factors that create the type of environment which fosters personal and professional growth in a residential treatment environment. Leadership must first understand the problem, listen to their staff and patients and then create a proactive approach towards the development and training of staff that addresses these complex issues.
Through this process, we believe that YES, staff can be better off for having worked in our environment.