Counseling Experience or Counseling Academics: What Is the Mark of a Good Addiction Counselor?

January 21st, 2014 | Posted by Michael Taleff in Addiction | Addiction Discussions | Addiction Education | Counselor Education

I just started another college semester this week, and in that very first class the discussion centered on what is really important in making a first-class addiction counselor. As discussion progressed, a student came to a conclusion, “ that experience seems to be the only way to really know counseling.”

That’s not quite true. I wanted to reply to that statement well, but the response I gave was a bit lame. That inadequate response stimulated me to contemplate a better reply.  After sleeping on it, the following metaphor emerged that I think is a more sound solution to the experience versus academics dilemma.

The metaphor is (and I borrowed it from a writer of my youth whom I forgot) of wind being experience that fills the sails of a grand seafaring ship.

You can feel the wind on your face, as one can feel the dynamic shifts of a counseling session. The wind begins to increase ever so slightly, but you feel it. The counseling session begins to shift ever so slightly but you feel it, as in the shifts of client’s frustration, resentment, or impatience. You just feel it. Those types of experiences cannot be taught in a college class.

But, the grand sailing ship needs a rudder to guide it on its journey. Otherwise the ship is at the mercy of the wind (experience). This is where all the academic learning plays a role. Navigating a windy sometimes turbulent ocean is needed if the ship is to enter a safe harbor after a long journey.

How shall that ship be guided, North, South, East, West, or any of the compass points in between?

To know ship navigation is comparable to understanding counseling navigation. Both require years of training and education. All that training with all its suggested directions provides guidance for the real thing, be it sailing or counseling. And in counseling, there are volumes of directions to choose from. While these volumes may provoke confusion, it is the ship’s navigator, or the addiction counselor who suggests from among the variations the best path to the helmsman of the ship, the client, which direction to take in order to bring the ship home to a safe port. Safe harbors allow time to refurbish, so the ship can take on the unpredictable ocean again.

Experience or academics, one without the other is impotent.

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