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Counselor's Corner: Let's Celebrate!

August 30, 2021

When asked what it takes to be a great football player, Hall of Fame football player Jerry Rice said: 

“You have to have a short memory of setbacks and a long memory of success.”

We work in a field where many of the clients we serve may experience multiple setbacks on the road to recovery. Frequent client relapse can be debilitating, disheartening, and frustrating. The memory of client success can fade with frequent relapse, making you feel ineffective in your work—and at risk for burnout.

A substance use disorder counselor of 40 years was asked, What are your keys to success? His reply came straight from the Jerry Rice playbook: “I celebrate my client’s success!”

A long memory of success 

September is National Recovery Month. Let’s take a moment to reflect and celebrate those clients who are doing well. This celebration can take many forms, including a moment of joy over a client who went to a 12-step group meeting in response to feeling an urge to get high. Happiness for the adolescent who stopped smoking marijuana for a month and passed the GED exam during that period of abstinence. Enthusiasm for your former client who now works in the field as a recovery coach. Your celebration can include taking yourself or a colleague to lunch to celebrate recovery or joining a recovery march or rally in your area.

I have learned that anytime I feel pessimistic about this challenging work, all I have to do is think about former clients who are doing well. In March of 1986, I was sitting in my office at 9am on a Monday morning. A man called me collect. He was in tears and asked to see a counselor that day. I told him I could meet with him in an hour. He told me it would take 8 hours. When he arrived, he informed me that he walked 103 blocks to meet with me. He said to me that over the weekend, he spent his entire paycheck on drugs. That is why he called me collect and walked 12 miles to meet with me. At the end of the session, I asked him if he was ready to go to drug treatment. He said yes. I then told him that if he took the bus to the end of the bus route, there was a drug treatment center at the last stop. He stated, “I don't have bus fare.” So we paid his bus fare.

He came back to the agency on the year anniversary of the first visit. He said he was in recovery for one year, and he returned the bus fare. Then, with a smile on his face, he declared, “I am grateful for my recovery!”

Like Jerry Rice, I have a long memory of success: I have celebrated that client’s recovery in my mind for 36 years.

Keep your memory sharp

Celebrate your clients’ successes to stay motivated and energized about the important work that you do, not just during National Recovery Month, but all year long.

RM Instagram post
Mark A. Sanders, LCSW, CADC; Illinois State Program Manager, Great Lakes ATTC, MHTTC, and PTTC
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