Some years ago I worked as a drug and alcohol counselor in Sacramento, California, while I was working on my master’s degree. It was a methadone clinic, and I remember having to punch in on a time-clock at 6:00 am every morning to meet the clients that showed up early to get their methadone treatment. I led groups, met with clients individually for their mandated billable minutes every month in order that they earn their “take homes” of methadone so that they did not have to come in as often every week for their methadone treatments.
It led to another chemical dependency job here in Washington state, at a nonprofit I’ll just call Protestant Charities, which is a made-up name but close enough. I worked there for under two years, but I’m glad I got out when I did. I was treated badly and I felt sorry for the clients who had to receive treatment there.
I felt the overload of having so many clients that I couldn’t really learn their names fast enough to not be embarassed by that. I facilitated treatment groups, and I remember having about 40 clients dumped on me all at once where I suddenly had to facilitate this group after a young counselor got rid of the group which was then dumped on me. It already left me with so few minutes I could spend with clients every month and I barely got to know any of them. This is not the best way to serve clients, nor is it the best way to serve clients when they are bunched into such a huge group, so that no conversation can take place with everyone talking over each other so much that you couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
I know they were bored, and they told me there were unhappy with the level of treatment they were receiving before they got into my groups. During my sustituting and leading a group for an absent counselor, people began complaining about how she never got back to them, never returned their phone calls, never worked out their issues, and I realized she probably had no time for these things with the amount of paperwork we were burdened with. We had to get ready for audits, a few times a year at least, from state and county auditors and that’s a huge amount of files we had to review and make sure they were in perfect order for the auditors, for fear that we night get fined or a fee for missing documentation. Another lady in one of my smaller groups was sarcastic when she said that the previous counselor had them play with “tinker toys”, and I felt anguished at what that must have felt like for adults in treatment. Week after week apparently, they had to “play with tinker toys” and this is why I’m writing this blog post. This came to mind and I thought about how that must have felt.
The counselor was an immature guy in his 30’s I would guess, and he rubbed me the wrong way almost as soon as I met him. He asked me what kind of music I liked, and when I told him that I liked to listen to “soft, Christian music”, he scoffed, making a face and I sensed his unapproval. He never accepted me after that.
Another young counselor thought I was her enemy because there was a shortage of clip boards for our groups. She had a client open my office door and walk in, thinking he would grab some clip boards without knocking, and I was sitting in my one-to-one individual session with a client which he should never have walked in on. She would not keep track that her client walked out of her group and walked right into my office without so much as knocking, when my office door was closed. That should have told her and him that that there were people using the office, and we should have had our privacy respected. I felt bad because later, it was learned that he was killed on the highway, and there was an outpouring of grief when other clients found out; one lady was inconsolable and kept crying loudly for about an hour until she left the building. It was a horrible time.
People were so disrespectful there. I felt like everyone hated me, the staff, not the clients. I scrambled every day to keep up on the paperwork. I was being given all the new clients coming in and had all the intakes to do. That meant about 15 pages of taking the history of the clients, including their previous drug and alcohol treatment, their drug usage from when they first started “using”, their physical health reports, where they lived, how they spent their time, their goals, any jail time or DUI’s, also taking a urine specimen. Then I would give them a diagnosis in order to place them in the appropriate level of drug treatment.
We had groups three times a week that they usually started with, and after so many months, they were reduced down to two groups per week, then one group per week, then general check ins every other week or once per month. It was a whole schedule with the number of group meetings they had to participate in until they finally graduated.
The people receiving treatment were not so bad, and often I felt a close, kind-hearted connection with them. I truly enjoyed the connections I made with some of the closer clients, but it was the employees I didn’t like. They seemed to be on worse terms with me than any of the clients and they were hard to deal with overall. The bad-mannered employees made me feel angry because they were so hard to get along with. It was a personality and popularity driven place, where people were not so hot about how well they provided treatment and it seemed that as a group they were highly immature. There was no professional boundaries that I was used to as a mental health clinician working in mental health where there were more highly trained people with higher academic degrees.
I have learned that I have a very difficult time trying to squeeze myself into a small box. I’m not good at squeezing into a lesser-trained area, where I feel like I am the only grown up with younger people who don’t seem to have the maturity of a gnat. Difficult personalities are drawn to work in those places; especially in nonprofits that “help vulnerable populations”, such as the chemically dependent, homeless and mentally ill. It is the people working in those places that have consistently given me such a hard time by their difficult, abnormal behaviors, that I have gotten out of working in nonprofits.