Addiction Treatment (Drugs and Alcohol)

Facilities and Services:

» Link to This Page
 Forums & Discussions

Share your stories and support others...

High Recidivism for Counselors in Treatment Centers

It is a well-known fact of the treatment community that a proportionately large number of counseling and ancillary staff in agencies providing addiction treatment are recovering from addiction themselves. To a varying degree, many are called to take the necessary steps to attain certification as counselors relatively early in their own recovery.

The Cause

What is also true is that this field of work can be a high-risk factor for relapse amongst those who work in this field. There are various reasons for this level of risk.

The first is the sheer proportion of those who are recovering who work in these agencies. Because of this high ratio of recovering employees, there is bound to be a higher risk for relapse among them.

Another reason this occurs is that the environment of a treatment or recovery program is not conducive to levels of recovery that are required after a year or two. While most people believe it is a healthy and healing environment, it is important to remember that the sheer numbers of people in early recovery outweigh the numbers of counselors, therapists and other staff working there. While some of the staff may have several years of recovery, many will have a year or two, which makes them vulnerable to relapse. Because the environment of a community of recently using addicts will outnumber those who have even a bit of recovery, their new recovery may not stand up to the pressures of working in such an environment.

Treatment workers face incredible challenges and stress daily. The work is high in emotional content and low on support for those who work with up to 10-12 newly recovering addicts in group settings. It is important that recovery counselors learn to process the high level of emotional content they work within periodically, daily if possible. Support from peers is essential, as well as their regular support group for maintaining their personal abstinence. Few who are within their first few years of recovery are equipped to deal with the high levels of emotion found in this setting on an ongoing basis. They will need to step up their meeting attendance and personal work with sponsors.

A final reason is the risk that exists for all recovery populations. Statistics vary regarding the chances for remaining abstinent from the beginning of their first experience in recovery. The fact that so many choose to work in this field makes it doubly risky.

What to Do

Many agencies employ those with only a year or two of recovery. When 2 or 3 counselors are working in groups of 10 or more clients, they are likely to fall into patterns of talking the old talk and walking the old walk in order to communicate with their clients. This is a dangerous step toward the inevitable relapse if they are not supervised closely by a staff member with a longer period in recovery.

Therefore, a good way to work to resolve this particular problem is to pair counselors who are newer in recovery with those with more years under their belt. Their coping mechanisms will be greater, their experience withstanding the ongoing stress involved in working in treatment will be more solidified and they will be able to be more balanced when dealing with some of the problems that occur in this line of work.

While job descriptions may include minimum time in recovery from addiction as part of the requirements when hiring Counseling staff, employers seldom have policies that are specific about meeting attendance, sponsorship and other recovery tools essential to maintaining abstinence. Counselors quite often feel that their participation in their work is a substitute for personal recovery work. This is a dangerous and slippery slope to relapse.

Education on treatment issues is no substitute for personal recovery. It is information only, not directly attributable to maintaining recovery. Therefore, some employers may find it necessary to mandate meeting attendance and personal recovery work for those who work in their facilities. Another option is to provide personal and group processing for employees who work in this stressful field as part of their program structure and benefit package.

Encouraging intervention by peers can also assist employers in maintaining good mental health for Counseling staff. If they provide opportunities for staff members to speak about their issues in a safe environment, this can be beneficial for those who are treading a thin line toward relapse. Most often, the recovering addict is the last one to recognize the danger signs for themselves. For new counselors, knowing that there is a need for even stronger personal recovery when working in this field is a good way to begin a career in treatment services.


SAMHSA; (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). Partners for Recovery – Supporting Our Greatest Resource: Addressing Substance Use, Misuse and Relapse in the Addiction Treatment Workforce.Retrieved online at:


Kelly McClanahan has an MSW/ASW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 25 years, she has a CATC-IV credential. She is also a lecturer and workshop provider for meditation, mindfulness and issues arising in long-term recovery. Kelly is currently writing a book about the spiritual principles in 12-Step recovery.

Copyright © 2020 MH Sub I, LLC. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Policy | Health Disclaimer | Do Not Sell My Personal Information