Education & Employment Readiness Programs

When I worked with the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions  as Director of Education, I gave seminars at the Education and Employment Track Annual Conference.   My topic was best practices regarding how educational and job readiness efforts relate to counseling and recovery program efforts.   Here are some of the thoughts I shared with those attending:

A.       Vocational Success is a God-given Need — After God created Adam and Eve, He told them, “Be fruitful…”   (Genesis 8:17)   He wants all of us to work in order to earn a living and also to discover and develop our unique gifts and abilities.   With the second point in mind, mission recovery programs should use testing and other methods to help clients discover their unique interests and abilities.   For some, college or vocational training may need to be the next step in preparing them for a fulfilling career.

B.       A Team Approach is Vital — Staff workers who deal with education and employment readiness must be viewed as integral members of the recovery program team.   They need to be included in all staff meetings where clients are discussed.   Additionally, they must be kept up-to-date on issues relating to the counseling process and allowed to share their observations on the clients with other program staff members.   Much can be learned about program participants while they are involved in educational and vocational training efforts.

C.       “Pulling Your Own Weight” — The Apostle Paul wrote, “”If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”   (2 Thessalonians 3:10)   In recovery counseling, we know that really helping people means assisting them to become responsible for their own lives.   While some addicts may seem happy to let others take care of them, this always impacts self-esteem — especially for those who find sobriety.   Prolonged unemployment or being stuck in an unfulfilling job can create enough stress that relapse becomes a real possibility.   Conversely, the rewards of succeeding in the work life can be a major source of motivation to keep moving forward in a life of recovery.

D.       Timing is Everything! — Introducing the various elements of an education and training program in the proper sequence is essential.   For instance, having clients begin looking for work before they have become stabilized in recovery can be a real problem.   Instead of focusing their efforts on working on their own internal issues, they will begin to look outward and derail the process of growing toward recovery.   Here is the best sequence:

1.       Literacy — Every rescue mission recovery program must evaluate the reading level of their program participants.   Someone once said that reading is the foundation of all learning.   If we want them to learn from our classes, clients must be able to read.   Along with severely limiting job possibilities, illiteracy causes major damage to self worth.   Literacy work can be done by the mission’s staff or by using resource people in the community.   A great online resource for help in this area is ProLiteracy –

2.       High School Completion — A high school diploma is necessary for most any job.   So, many rescue missions now maintain their own computer based learning centers that focus on literacy and high school completion.   Even if your mission does not have such a resource, assisting recovery program clients to obtain their GED (General Education Diploma) still ought to be a planned part of their stay.   This effort can begin very early in the program, possibly even becoming a condition for graduation.   The key is finding appropriate resources in the community to facilitate this.

3.       Employment Readiness & Job Search — While I encourage programs to wait until a participant nears graduation before actually beginning to look for work, employment readiness can begin almost right away.   This can involved classes about the scriptural perspective of work, as well as learning other skills and attitudes that will assist them when they eventually begin the process of seeking employment or further education.

4.      Monitoring Job Success –   Transitional living arrangements are the ideal situation, allowing program staff members to monitor and encourage program graduates once they graduate and enter the world of work or obtaining further education.   Holding them accountable, communicating with employers, and providing additional assistance and encouragement to theses clients will help to ensure their success.

E.       Don’t Forget About Restitution — Where rescue missions use the Twelve Steps in their recovery programs, clients are taken through the “8th & 9th Step Process.”   This involves identifying those whom they had harmed through their addition and making a definite effort at making amends to them.   This process can involve much encouragement and even coaching so that they can clean up the relational messes of their lives.   Inevitably in the process of working these steps, some people will be identified to whom financial restitution is due.   To experience real freedom of conscience, our clients must understand that it is God’s will for them to make restitution.


What to Do When a Drunk Comes to the Shelter

Some organizations use breathalyzer machines to keep all intoxicated individuals out of their shelters.   Those who “blow” over the legal limit for intoxication (in most states it is a .10 blood/alcohol content) are not allowed to stay for the night.   In my opinion, this strict policy may actually prevent us from reaching people with the Gospel and the message of recovery.   The fact that they come to the mission intoxicated certainly tells us they have real needs in their lives!   Still, there are situations where we should not offer shelter services to intoxicated individuals.

The main question is: “Are we ‘enablers’ or ‘interveners.'”   To “enable” means to provide “help” that actually allows people to continue in destructive ways. Being “interventive” means to develop strategies   that   work to disrupt destructive cycles and assist people to develop new, healthy lifestyles.   By develop a definite strategy for dealing with intoxicated individuals we can intervene in their lives.   Let’s take a look at some approaches that could be taken.

A.   The Ideal Situation –   The best way to deal with intoxicated individuals who need shelter is to have a dedicated “wet dormitory” that serves as a special detox center.   This type of program requires 24-hour   staffing by people who understand the medical issues involved in detoxification from alcohol and drugs.     It takes approximately 72 hours for the body to become free of mood altering drugs.   So, the stay in detox should be three days.   During that time, basic intake forms, addiction assessments, and other evaluation tools would be administered to the individual.   During their stay they would be introduced to the rescue mission’s long-term recovery program.     After three days, they may choose to move into the program or move to the mission’s emergency shelter for a limited stay.

B. Other Situations – I believe intoxicated people who come to the shelter for the first time   should be allowed to stay as long as they are not disruptive.   Once they are sober, we should make a special effort to reach out to them and introduce them to the mission’s recovery program.   Those facilities that do not offer such a long-term program need referral arrangements with other rescue missions in nearby cities who do.   Or, they need a relationship with local agencies that offer addiction treatment services.   With this sort of arrangement in place,the person needing shelter can be presented with the opportunity to stay for a few days, with the understanding that they will enter a program when they are able.

C.   Avoiding Enabling –   The “worst case” scenario is to simply offer shelter to anyone, any time, with no stipulations.   Offering a bed to a person so that they can get drunk as often as they like and still have a place to “crash” is not helping them.   Instead, we end up becoming a part of the problem.   I am not advocating denying shelter to people when the temperature is 40 below zero – there are extenuating circumstances. But, what I do advocate is setting limits on the services we make available to those individuals with whom we have repeated contact. Here are few “rules of thumb” to consider:

  • Never try to “minister” to an intoxicated person –   They probably will not even remember what you say to them the next day.   Instead, gently lead them to a place where they can sleep it off and then speak with them.
  • Limit the number of “free” shelter nights offered –At many rescue missions, 3-7 days of completely free nights are given.   After that period, those who stay must do some sort of work in the facility, or pay some nominal amount (even $1.00 a day) for a bed.   Others require that individuals who stay beyond the initial “free” period to actually demonstrate that they are working to improve their lives.   This could mean making a certain number of contacts each day in search of a job, participation in support group meetings and classes, or saving up money for housing if they already have a job.
  • Restrict shelter for those who do not want to change – For those individuals who constantly show up at the rescue mission intoxicated, it is important to draw the line on which services will be offered to them.   A few nights a year might be appropriate, but, in some cases, we may need to simply tell them that no overnight shelter is available – except in the long-term recovery program.

In conclusion, dealing with homeless alcoholics and drug addicts requires some thought and prayers for discernment.   It also requires good record-keeping and a strategy for dealing with specific individuals who look to us for assistance.

Why Become a Certified Addiction Counselor?

So, what is the Certified Addiction Counselor credential?   And would Christian recovery program staff members benefit from attaining it?   I think there are some compelling reasons to pursue credentialing for anyone considering a career in the field of addiction.

A.               Introducing the CAC – The CAC is the professional credential that is the standard for individuals working with addicts and alcoholics in hospitals, treatment centers and other agencies.   It is awarded through a peer review process and is administered by independent agencies in all fifty states of the US.   The CAC is based on experience and the ability to demonstrate the most important skills of addiction counseling.   No specific college degree is required.

B.               Benefits for the Worker — Pursuing of the CAC can be a rewarding   professional development experience.   Besides displaying competence in the Twelve Core Functions of the Substance Abuse Counselor (which we will discuss in more detail), credentialing bodies also require a certain number of hours in formal education in the substance abuse and counseling fields.   Participation in AGRM-sponsored training events and certain Rescue College courses can be used toward picking up these required educational hours.     Additionally, the process requires a specified number of supervised hours, where the individual works with an experienced addictions professional.

C                 Benefits for the Program  —The key to an effective program is staffing it with qualified people.   Rescue missions tend to hire people with biblical and theological training.   A growing number have also recognized the importance of having staff members who are competent in the area of substance abuse counseling.   Hiring individuals who posses the CAC means bringing in people with a combination of experience and demonstrated competence in the additions field.   It can also help when seeking financial support from private foundations and governmental funding sources.   Other agencies and ministries that recognize the value of the CAC are also more likely to refer client to the program.   Having current staff members become involved in the pursuit of the CAC is a great way to equip them by obtaining useful skills and a professional approach to their work.

C                 The Twelve Core Functions — Though administered by different bodies in the various states, there is   movement in the area of reciprocity; allowing the credential granted by one state to be transferred to another if the counselor moves.   This has been accomplished through because of the near universal acceptance of the “Twelve Core Functions” in which the counselor seeking the CACA must be able to demonstrate competence. These are:   *

I.             Screening:   Determining whether the client appropriate and eligible for admission to the program.

II.         Intake:   Completing admission, assessment and other program forms,   releases of information, and assigning a primary counselor to the client.

III.       Orientation:   Describing to the client the goals of the program; rules of conduct and infractions that can lead to disciplinary action or discharge from the program.

IV.       Assessment:     Identifying and evaluating an individual’s strengths, weaknesses, problems and needs in order to develop a treatment plan.   This usually results from a combination of focused interviews, testing   and/or record reviews.

V.         Treatment Planning: Identifying and ranking problems needing resolution; establishing agreed upon immediate and long-term goals; and deciding upon a treatment process and the resources to be utilized.     A written treatment contract (or recovery plan) is based on the assessment and is a product of a negotiation between the client and the counselor to assure that the plan is tailored to the individual’s needs.

VI.       Counseling: Basically, the relationship in which the counselor helps the client mobilize resources to resolve his or her problem and/or modify attitudes and values.

VII.   Case Management:   Knowing how to bring outside services, agencies, and resources to assist the client to recovery and attain other goals of the treatment plan.

VIII. Crisis Intervention: Knowing how to   respond to an alcohol and/or other drug abuser’s needs during acute emotional and/or physical distress that threatens to compromise or destroy the rehabilitation effort.

IX.       Client Education:   Education that supports recovery from alcohol and drug addiction can be provided in a variety of ways;   a sequence of formal classes may be conducted or outside educational resources may be used.

X.        Referral:   Identifying the needs of a client that cannot be met by the counselor or agency (mission) along with assisting the client to access   the support systems and community resources available.

XI.       Report and Record Keeping:   Charting the results of treatment;, writing reports, progress notes, discharge summaries and other client-related data.

XII.   Consultation — Relating with in-house staff or outside professionals to assure comprehensive, quality care for the client; involves meetings for discussion, decision-making and planning.


Learn about the requirements for addiction counselor certification in your state. If you have any questions about these matters or need help in contacting the agency in your state that administers the credentialing process, please feel free to contact me.