As substance abuse professionals, social workers, 12-step sponsors, or just concerned friends and family we often find ourselves at odds with one another. Wanting what is best for each situation, utilizing every concept and theory forged from our experiences. Experience, education, and ideals that greatly differ from one professional to the next are confusing enough. Ideals are commonly in sharp contradiction with those of the family or the last attending physician. Frantic phone calls take place, faxed reports cease to end, and one disturbing diagnosis after another overshadows the spirit of working together.

Licensed professionals start pointing out how one degree trumps another and start picking apart different types of therapy. In no time we find one train of thought condemning a whole other industry. Doctors discount each other as well as holistic healing. Therapists have been overheard saying slanderous things about each other and competing facilities. One 12-step fellowship may believe they trump all others, that if you do not believe exactly as they do, you are doomed.

The family just wants an honest answer on who to trust, and now their insurance company has made their own assessment, directing them towards what they believe should take place.

Scared and confused, the family lashes out at each person involved. This may be their first such encounter and it is up to us to all work together. Hand in hand, license or no license, it should not matter, this is of paramount importance. We have, each in our own way, sworn an oath to fill the needs of those who seek our help. Despite the emotional level invested in any one situation by the family, more times than not an already difficult situation may become toxic.

Case in point just this morning I was dealing with mother who was upset with me for removing her son. He had brought a controlled substance into our sober housing facility where many other men, learning how to live drug free, reside. “It’s such a small amount, are you sure that you didn’t make a mistake?” She pleaded, “My son doesn’t do those kinds of drugs.” In her anger she added that various doctors and therapists had recommended our place as something that we were not. I am well familiar with the referring agencies and know that no such expectations were made to her on our behalf. This is simply a family member who arguably needs as much help as her son when it comes to honestly dealing with addictions and all of the behaviors associated with it. Biting my tongue I wondered just how much cocaine it would take for her to hold her son accountable.

Understanding irrational behaviors that manifest from stress is a common place occurrence in these situations, the responsibility of promoting an atmosphere of calmly working towards a solution falls squarely on each of our shoulders. The fact is that we usually receive referrals by what insurance (if any) we accept and not necessarily our credentials. Regardless how it came to be that we are involved, it is an opportunity to make a real difference in multiple lives. Is this not why we chose the very professions that we are in? This is why we paid the price of admission, endured years of formal training and experience, the opportunity to make a real difference one person at a time. This is life and death for so many and those of us on the firing line, day in and day out, without praise and widely misunderstood that have chosen to make a difference.

How then can we best serve each situation knowing that at any time benefits may terminate? Obviously if we are aware of funding for such cases we will do what we can to connect the dots, but what happens when the dots run too far apart to connect? Family is done, benefits exhausted, and we know that this person needs help and they need it now! This is when we are given the opportunity to step outside of our usual roles and think outside the “9 to 5” box. In almost every large city there is a network of services including shelters, food banks, soup kitchens, education centers, and health clinics. Within many of these facilities there is an abundance of skilled professionals volunteering services from medical, counseling, life skills, legal, etc…

Many of these places at first sight look to be a last resort, however it is in these very places that one may find the needed services to solve their problem and reintegrate into society. I personally would not want to live at a homeless shelter, one could make a list of reasons why not to go. A much more important list of life saving reasons to stay is that they often provide solutions for, mental health, alcoholism & addictions, life skills, education, and legal matters. Sometimes having no other options breeds enough willingness to accept help.

These places are far removed from where some of us work. How are we to know of these places? Where could we refer someone to when we can not admit them? We should each have a list of services readily available for those in need but, how do we find out exactly who is doing what?

It is up to each of us to reach out and make that effort. A vast amount of information can be found online however I have personally found nothing to be as effective as the various associations. In the Dallas – Fort Worth area I belong to and/or attend several coalitions and associations ranging from the homeless coalitions, local business clubs, mental health networks, and substance abuse professionals associations. At these lunches, banquets, and conventions one is afforded the opportunity to meet other professionals and learn of the areas available services. If we approach this in the same spirit that shaped our career paths, we will touch the lives of countless families.

Author's Bio: 

Scott Wisenbaker is 40 years old, married with three stepchildren, owner of a Delivery Company and works with alcoholics and addicts because he loves to. His career in management started in the restaurant business from 1987-1995 and the transportation industry from 1995 to present. His work with alcoholics and addicts includes speaking engagements whenever possible as well as weekly commitments to various treatment centers, jails, and hospitals. A few long-term commitments are 1997-1998 at The Jefferson County Juvenile Detention Center in Lakewood, Colorado and 2000-2003 at The Green Villa Treatment Center in Greenville, Texas. His date of sobriety is 3-20-1995.