Change is tough. Really tough. Whether dealing with an addiction or making a change in an organization to improve treatment, we are wired to keep doing the things we have always done and resist the new.
My last post provided an academic framework for how we should get evidence-based practices commonplace in real-world treatment and educational settings, but doing so often means going against the grain – big time!
It means being a change agent in an organization that often does not want to change. It means knowing you have science on your side, and continuing to work at breaking down the walls of ignorance – even when all your peers seem to be against you.
Why you should be a change agent?
Because those who struggle with addiction deserve the absolute best when it comes to treatment and getting help. And when they seek out help from those who are not aligned with science, the outcomes simply are not as good.
A colleague of mine a few years into her work as an addiction’s counselor emailed me recently about her efforts to enact change within her organization:
With regard to my attempts to enlighten others on topics such as housing first initiatives and pharmacological treatment for alcohol dependence, I am finding that scientific findings are no match for anecdotal evidence based upon meaningful personal experience.
My colleagues/superiors are either entirely skeptical or they simply minimize the validity of addiction interventions that are non-traditional or abstinence based.
The resistance seems to derive from defensive beliefs that the research methods are somehow flawed, the purpose and designs are somehow biased, and the results are somehow over-inflated, over-reported, or just misinterpreted. It is so disheartening.
Beyond that, there is the very real challenge in finding funding for medications and housing. I was also told I have to terminate a client who continues to relapse though I adamantly oppose.
My attempts to advocate for this client with, I believe, sound rationale are ignored and viewed as my unwillingness to accept supervision, etc.
All of this leaves me quite shaken. Yet I love working with the folks I work with. For now anyways.
It’s no wonder the turnover rate for addiction counselor’s is higher than in the fast food industry!
Not only is it challenging helping patients, but the job is made even more difficult when working in organizations that resist change, resist embracing findings from research, and fail to acknowledge the limitations of personal experience.
So what to do?
We need to be smart about how we go about making changes, in our life, and in organizations. We need to be aware that change is a process, often with many underlying factors that can influence outcomes. And we need to recognize what science tells us about change. This includes understanding the limitations of the widely adopted Stages of Change Model.
If you are contemplating a personal change, you might benefit from reading The First 30 Days: Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier by Ariane De Bonvoison. A very readable approach that focus on optimism and eliminating fear.
If your challenge is implementing change within treatment organizations, a great place to start is The Change Book: A Blueprint for Technology Transfer and the Change Book Workbook. There are other great resources specific to personal and organizational change, but the key message is that it is a lot harder than people think. It takes perseverance, commitment, and discipline. I applaud my colleague for continuing to push what is right her treatment organization.