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"I still find the work interesting "Linda Kaplan

Linda Kaplan, MA
Special Expert
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT)

Linda Kaplan was at home taking care of her three small children and one morning while out running, she saw a woman waiting at a bus stop in a nice suit holding a brief case.  She thought to herself, “That’s what I want to be some day.”  Fast forward to today and you find Ms. Kaplan with over twenty years of addiction treatment and recovery services experience, specializing in public policy, workforce development, and advocacy for research and treatment resources. 

How did you get started in the addictions treatment and recovery services field?
When my third child was two months old I started graduate school in counseling, and my internship ended up being in an outpatient drug abuse agency run by a neighboring county for adolescents remanded by court for minor drug offences.  This internship involved working with adolescents and their families and was a real eye-opener for me.  I did not receive any substance use disorders education through my graduate studies, so I had to have a crash course in dealing with these young people and their families. 

As I gained experience and knowledge, my career continued to grow and develop.  My internship turned into a position at the agency, and I was then offered a job as the Assistant Director.  However, the day care costs would have exceeded my take-home pay so I realized I needed to find another way to use my skills.  Instead I went to work at a county-run Employment Training Program for high school drop-outs who often had drug and alcohol related problems.  I became the manager of the Employment and Training Center a year later and stayed for three years. I then found a position in association management, first in a large national association as a supervisor and then as the Executive Director for the National Women’s Political Caucus.   My career took another turn when I saw a job in the paper for Executive Director of NAADAC, the Association of Addiction Professionals.  I was hired for the position due to my previous association management and clinical background and consequently, worked for the organization ten years.

Did you have mentors along the way?
Yes, I have had a number of people who were very helpful.  When I first started working with the Employment Training Program, I had no management skills and was supervising 16 people.  Fortunately, I had a mentor who taught me how to manage people.  One day he pulled me aside and said, “If you don’t have at least one person mad at you a day, you are not doing your job right.”  This was a wakeup call for me.  I learned it was more important to be respected than to have everyone like you on any given day. 

I’ve benefitted from several other mentors since then.   One mentor taught me a lot about organizing the work, approaches and ways of thinking about things.  Another mentor, who was not in the addiction field, served as a sounding board and helped me to focus on the “big picture.”

Additionally, I was involved in a professional association for association executives, and they supported a small group of executive directors who had similar size organizations to manage.   Our support group met for years about every six weeks, and was the definition of peer-to-peer mentoring.  It was a great support system.   We discussed problems and helped each other find solutions to the challenges we faced.  I would always come back from these meetings feeling energized.  Peer mentoring is very important because an executive director’s job can be very isolating.  Having someone you can talk with is invaluable.  We need others. 

What were the most helpful things you learned from your mentors?  I learned that you can’t be everyone’s best friend.  Speaking now from experience, this can end up backfiring on you. 

I also learned to go with my instincts, particularly when it comes to staffing.  If there’s something telling you there is a problem, go with your gut.  I found this out the hard way.  Once I interviewed an individual for a position twice and I had a bad feeling about the 2nd interview but ignored my intuition.  My decision to hire this person was to the detriment of the rest of the staff and ended up being very destructive.    

What advice would you give to emerging leaders?

  • Be clear, direct and straight forward. 
  • Let others know your goals and expectations.  Otherwise, you will create larger problems.
  • Know about addiction treatment.  Although I didn’t have a background in addiction treatment when I started, I read everything and talked to everyone on the subject.  I asked questions.
  • Have a sense of history.  It’s important to know where the field has been in order to move forward.
  • Volunteer.  (serve on boards, committees, etc.)
  • Take risks and stretch yourself.  (volunteer to serve, apply for new jobs, take continuing education)
  • Learn from your mistakes.
  • Be willing to push yourself.
  • Find a mentor.

Why have you stayed in the field?
I still find the work interesting and see the mission as socially very important.  I’ve also enjoyed the people I’ve worked with and met along the way.

What are your thoughts on the field’s future?
This is still a small field and it needs additional resources.  One size doesn’t fit all and more education is needed to address the wide variety of occupation levels and  population groups.  Moreover, as we head toward Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care, it’s crucial to have recovering people involved with the process.

Linda Kaplan's Bio

Linda Kaplan currently serves as a Special Expert at CSAT/SAMHSA concentrating on issues around recovery services, including the Recovery Community Services Program (RCSP).  She also offers her expertise on workforce development issues. 

Prior to her current position, Ms. Kaplan was the first Executive Director of the Danya Institute.  She also managed the Central East Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) through a cooperative agreement grant from CSAT.  Before the Danya Institute was established, Ms. Kaplan was Director of Addiction Education and Training at Danya International for several years. 

Linda Kaplan has been a consultant for many addiction treatment and recovery services organizations and served on numerous committees and task forces, including the NIAAA Advisory Council. She’s also been a Steering Committee member of SAMHSA/CSAT’s National Treatment Plan and Partners for Recovery Initiatives.  Ms. Kaplan is currently a member of the ATTC Network Advisory  Group.

Author of numerous articles and papers, Linda Kaplan is a frequent substance abuse presenter at national conferences sponsored by various State and Federal agencies, universities and associations. 

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