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"My Addictions Career began in High School. "

Onaje SalimOnaje M. Salim, LPC, MAC, CCS
Director, Georgia Office of Addictive Disease Services
Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities & Addictive Diseases

Onaje Salim, who has served the field for almost three decades, feels his career began in the 11th grade when he wanted to concentrate in psychiatry. “Even in my childhood,” said Salim, “I was interested in human behavior and the mind/body connection. I also had an early calling to the healing arts.”

How did you choose to be in the addictions field?
In my junior year, I left Morehouse College seeking employment. I ended up working in a Therapeutic Community (TC) setting as an undergraduate intern. This is where I fell in love with the work and saw the connection between the mind, body, and overall health, which was consistent with my long standing interest. I came to think of the TC as a “Laboratory of Human Behavior.”

Did you have mentors along the way?
Yes! At the beginning of my career I had clinical supervisors, RN’s and a psychologist who provided me with very valuable training. The psychologist, for instance, explained the various theories and why there are different approaches in treatment. I also had a great experience working with a clinical supervisor who was in recovery. She was a superb leader and showed tremendous compassion. Each mentor helped me to learn and understand addiction and recovery. This experience and training was invaluable.

In addition to the guidance I received from my mentors, I also had the opportunity to work in diverse settings. I intentionally worked all shifts and was exposed to many addiction treatment elements and disciplines. Attending my first therapeutic group as a young intern, I realized that the patients were every day human beings like me or anyone else – except that their brains had been “hijacked” by substances of abuse. Because of this experience, I learned how to apply different clinical theories and therapeutic approaches to addiction problems in a compassionate and culturally appropriate manner. In this regard the diversity I encountered in the TC offered an excellent preparation for my addictions career.

Through your mentoring process, what was the most meaningful advice you’ve received?
Some of the best advice I was given was:

  • Never lose sight of the reason for the work. It should always be for the client’s benefit.
  • Get out of the way and let the client do what is necessary for his/her recovery.
  • Constantly better yourself (Steven Covey calls it “Sharpening the Saw”) and take advantage of the continuing education opportunities presented.
  • Prepare yourself for multiple roles to avoid burnout.

Do you mentor others and if so, what are the benefits?
Yes! Throughout my career, I have been able to help recovering and non-recovering staff to become credentialed. I have found this work to be enormously gratifying. I’ve also served as a Leadership Institute mentor for two years. Networking with other mentors and emerging leaders was incredibly rewarding too, and I have enjoyed the one-on-one relationships with my protégés. I saw a reflection of myself in the different stages of development while working with them. Plus, I always learned some important things from my protégés along the way as well!

What would you say to those who are mentoring and/or supervising others?

  • Aspire to establish clear and healthy boundaries.
  • Don’t superimpose your agenda on a protégé. Help find his/her own best methods and approaches for serving others.
  • Be a good role model. Be transparent with no hidden agendas. Let your protégé/staff see your strengths, weaknesses and limitations.
  • Surface and discuss cultural differences and similarities.
  • Balance sensitivity and honesty in providing feedback.
  • Be resourceful.

What advice do you have for emerging leaders?
First of all, integrity is important. You will want to establish this in everything you do.

  • Know what you’re talking about and do the necessary research.
  • When you taking on a new job, become grounded in that position and take advantage of continuing education opportunities. Seek to advance to the highest level meeting your potential. To some it will be obtaining their CAC and for others it will be a doctorate degree or higher. In either case, always strive for life-long learning and pursue self-improvement. Have diverse experiences including those from therapeutic communities, the public and private side, clinical and managerial positions, institutions and community, plus the self-help arena.
  • Experience therapy as client in whatever format that is appropriate (individual, group, or family). Attend support group meetings. This experience is vital in helping others achieve recovery.

Onaje Salim's Bio

Onaje Salim recently assumed his new role as Director of the Office of Addictive Disease Services in Georgia. He is responsible for managing the financial resources of the substance abuse treatment delivery system, which includes state and federal dollars totaling $150 million. He monitors and allocates these dollars where appropriate and also makes modifications as needed.

He has a perspective on health care grounded in the civil/human rights movement and draws on nearly 30 years of working in the addiction treatment field. His parents were educators and civil rights activists, colleagues of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His father was an original Board member of the King Center for Non-Violent Social Change.

Mr. Salim has an impressive list of credentials and successes in the field of addiction treatment. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Master Addictions Counselor (MAC) and a Certified Clinical Supervisor (CCS). He completed his undergraduate work in Applied Behavioral Science and then obtained a graduate degree in Counseling.

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