Work Therapy in Residential Recovery Programs

work2Rescue missions depend on labor provided by people in their programs to do a variety of tasks that are essential to their operations.   Men and women in recovery programs can be found in kitchens, performing housekeeping and maintenance tasks, providing office support, and driving trucks to pick up donations. Certainly, we value the services they provide.  

Equally important, though, is the need to give additional meaning to their efforts by creatively using their work assignments to invest in their lives.   What follows is a list of some ways this can be accomplished:

A.  Develop a purpose statement for rescue mission work projects – We need to have a definite philosophical basis for every activity in which we involve program participants that is both spiritually sound and “therapeutic.”   In other words, we need an official statement that establishes the fact that we are not just looking for free labor, but rather that the work they do really is intended to help them.   If   people in our programs feel used, they are certain to shut themselves down to the recovery process. The mission is there for the clients, they are not there for the mission!

B.  Develop a written, individualized plan that makes their work projects an important part of the rehabilitation program. The most effective means of clarifying and monitoring the goals and objectives we set for program participants is to use a written recovery plan.   This written plan identifies the various issues they will work on while with in the program. It should also ties all of the significant activities in which they participant be involved and states exactly what is to be accomplished through each of them.   The work performed by the resident, if is truly rehabilitative in nature, will help them to work on such goals as developing new, healthy attitudes toward work and responsibility, becoming more employable by acquiring new job skills, etc..

C.  Use work assignments to teach essential Biblical concepts of work and stewardship  In 1995, Roper Starch surveyed employers about hiring the homeless and those on Welfare.   They discovered that employers believe the right attitude is 10 times more important than work skills in entry-level employees. They cited interpersonal skills such as dependability (90%), honesty (89%) and the ability to follow instructions (86%) as far more essential than technical skills like typing (11%), prior work experience (15%) and knowledge of office systems (14%).

A well-conceived work program is a very effective vehicle for helping program participants develop a health attitude toward work.   A part of the formal curriculum of our programs, we need to instruct residents in the scriptural principles that show them God’s perspective on their labors.  They need to understand that our work, our talents, and our time all belong to God, since they were given by Him.   Stewardship involves our accountability before God and others who have blessed us — for instance donors whose generosity enables the mission to continue its work.   Both staff and residents are   responsible to them and to God for taking care of the facilities and equipment that have been entrusted to them.

D.  Use work assignments as career training opportunities To assist them with future employment, we must do all we can to help residents to learn real job skills through their work projects.   One example of this is the rescue mission who send all of the program men working long-term in their kitchen to the food safety course sponsored by the National Restaurant Association. While this may involve some investment in staff time and possibly the expense of outside training opportunities, it will have definite payoffs.   The same can be done for office and maintenance work.   We need to be creative about using work done at the rescue mission to help them prepare for gainful employment after they complete our programs.

E.  Develop a system of rewards for work well done To avoid the appearance of an employment situation with wages being paid, we cannot use monetary rewards.   Legally, stipend amounts should be kept exactly the same for all program participants at a same level or phase of your program – regardless of the actual hours they work or the quality of their labor.   However, there are certain privileges that can be granted, a private room, for instance, or extra free time, or even certificates or awards given out each month to good workers.   The goal is to make sure that we provide them with a pay-off for putting their hearts into doing a good job.   This is a lesson many have never learned.

Some Words of Caution

  A.  Avoid anything that would imply an employee/employer relationship between the resident and the rescue mission. — This starts in the initial intake session, where residents are asked to sign an agreement indicating that they understand that some hours of work will be a part of their recovery program. And, that this is a part of their rehabilitation and does not constitute an employee/employer relationship for which they will receive wages.       This also means avoiding the use of terms like “staff” and “wages” when referring to the work residents do.   It is more appropriate to   call money they receive a “stipend”, “sustenance allowance” or simply a “gift.”

B.  Remember that it takes a full 30 days to completely detoxify from alcohol and drugs – During the first few weeks we need to be careful about what types of work assignments we give them.   They will have problems with logical thinking, short-term memory, and motor coordination.   Avoid jobs that could be potentially dangerous to people who are in their early days of sobriety such as work on ladders, handling of potentially hazardous materials, etc.

C.  Don’t let program participants “hide” in their work — We often use the term “dry drunk” to refer to people who put down the bottle but never begin a life of recovery.     Without drugs or alcohol, addicts will often become compulsive about other activities as a way to manage their emotions.   This could include things like work. TV, exercise, etc.   So, we need to be watchful about program participants who seek overly eager to work, which may indicate a desire to stay busy in order to avoid working on themselves.

D.  Don’t give them authority over other program participants — The Apostle Paul warns Timothy to avoid giving new converts too much authority too quickly, lest they fall into pride and other snares of the devil. ( I Tim 3:7).   For recovering addicts, grandiosity is a major problem. It is very easy for them to take the focus off of themselves and onto controlling others.   This can result in an abuse of the authority we give them, which can create all sorts of problems among people in your program. My recommendation: only paid staff members should be given authority over program participants.

  E.  Don’t give them assignments that subject them to unnecessary temptation.   For instance, too much exposure to people still living on the streets and using alcohol and drugs or too much contact with unstable people of the opposite sex.

F.  Hire those who have proven their worth. –   It is very tempting to “missionize” talented people by keeping them “in the program” indefinitely.   A better arrangement is to fill important positions (cooks, drivers, etc.) with individuals in a latter phase of a program who become actual temporary employees of the mission.   These individuals will naturally be more stable and dependable.   Minimum wage requirements may be met by combining cash payments with the established “fair market” value of the housing and meals that are provided.   In most cases, the mission is then only responsible for the FICA withholding and matching payments, since non-cash compensation is usually not subject to state and federal employment taxes.   Not only will this arrangement reward those who are doing well in their recovery, it also assists them to begin re-establishing an employment record.


The Power of Making Amends (Part 2)

amends2In his book, Staying Sober, Terence Gorksi shares a simple exercise that creates a workable “road map” for the process of making amends. On a sheet of paper, draw lines to make three columns. In the left column, list those who were hurt by my drinking/drug addiction. In the center one, list how they were hurt in very specific terms. And, in the right, list what must be done to make amends with them.

A final step in the process is to determine who can and cannot be contacted and to develop a chronological list of those who will be contacted. The second half of Step 9 offers a warning — there are certain people to whom we should not attempt to make amends. This is because doing so could actually be more harmful than doing nothing. In Step 8 the focus in on a list of all those to whom one is willing to make amends. Step 9 involves talking real action to restore relationships. This requires much more discretion.

A. Some Practical Suggestions: Here are things to consider from the Serenity New Testament:

  • Start with those to whom we may turn immediately, such as spouses or close family members.
  • There may be those to whom only partial disclosure can be made, because to do more would cause harm to others. We need always to consider the risks to other individuals’ security, privacy, and confidentiality.
  • Also there are those to whom amends should be deferred until a later date. Perhaps the hurts are so fresh that our presence would only trigger rage on their part. Maybe we also need to work through some anger and resentments of our own.
  • And, there are those whom we should never contact, because doing so would only open up old relationship doors that need to stay closed. This may be especially true in the case of former sexual partners

B. Take Your Time: We don’t want to rush recovering people into going out to make amends with those they have hurt. Because it can be very frightening and stressful, relapse can easily occur during this process. Even with several months of sobriety behind them, they still need a lot of love and support. Coaching can be extremely helpful in regard to specific attempts to make amends. Rehearsing the amends with a sponsor or counselor can be important. This can help them to avoid blameshifting and to keep the focus on their own behavior and actions in the situation.

It never works to say, “I did this but you did that, too.” In certain cases, they may not even be sure of whether a situation requires a real amends or not. And, there are some difficult situations where amends may be required, for instance with an abusive parent. They must be reminded of the fact that making amends does not mean ignoring, excusing, or condoning the abuse and wrong the other person may have done. The main point is that they are still responsible for negative hurtful things they have done in respect to these relationships.

C. The Risk of Rejection: There is a definite risk of rejection that can be a part of making amends. There is no guarantee that people will respond to their request for forgiveness with openness and love. They may have simply experienced too much pain and are not willing to forgive the person and trust them again. And, they cannot be expected to ask forgiveness of them for wrongs they may have committed either. Those who would make amends must be reminded that while others may not respond as they wish they would, it will still do them a world of good. In a sense, it is a bit of a one-sided process. Ultimately, the practice of making amends is more for one’s own conscience than it is about changing other people’s attitudes. We do it because it is pleasing to God and for the sake of our own peace of mind and serenity. We are not responsible for the reactions of others. *

D.   Real Healing is the Reward: Great healing occurs when recovering addicts start taking responsibility for the wrongs they have done and move forward constructively to make things right with those they have harmed. This whole process of making amends always begins with those closest to the addict: spouses, children, parents, and other family members. Often, despite initial skepticism, these people may see real change and begin to open their hearts again.

There is no greater joy for rescue mission workers than to see families that have been torn apart and mothers who never knew what happened to their sons or daughters, to see the reunions that could come out of this. It’s such a powerful thing, and these restored relationships can create such motivation for recovery and reward for all the hard work they put into getting to this point. It’s tremendous.

Read the Power of Making Amends (Part 1)

Rescue Magazine, August 1997 Journal of the AGRM

The Power of Making Amends (Part 1)

amends“If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”(Matthew 5:23, 24)

The Power of Making Amends  

A rescue mission counselor asked me to talk with a man who had returned to their recovery program for the third time.    Despite completing their program twice, he was unable to remain sober for more than a few months.    Not too far into our discussion, I recognized he had not been able to develop the healthy sort of relationships essential for continued growth in recovery.    Fearful of becoming too involved with others, he could not experience the joy of meaningful, fulfilling relationships. I asked him, “Have you ever done the 8 & 9 Steps?”      His answer of “No” made perfect sense.    Like many newly recovering people, he still carried a load of guilt and remorse from unresolved past relationships.    Thus, he could not move forward with confidence to make new intimate relationships. He needed to clean up the residue of his past first.

Homeless addicts are the loneliest people in the world.    Their destructive behavior alienates those who care about them.    They come to rescue mission recovery programs with long trails of broken relationships.    When they find sobriety, their minds clear up and their thoughts naturally turn toward their loved ones.    They tend to be filled with all sorts of guilt, shame and remorse over the loss of these significant relationships.  So, mission programs can offer real healing by helping these people become restored to family members and others they have hurt.

Some very practical guidance to do this is found in the Twelve Step approach to recovery:

Step Eight  – Made a list of all persons we had harmed and become willing to make amends to them all.

Step Nine  – Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

These important “therapeutic exercises” are also an essential dimension of Christian discipleship.    The 12 Steps, in essence, bring recovering people through a process of progressive humbling.    Each successive step is a deeper opportunity to forgo ego for the sake of doing what is right.    This starts by humbling themselves by admitting they have an addiction that they cannot overcome by themselves.    Then, they are called to humble themselves before God and to turn their lives and wills over to Him.    Steps 4 & 5 involve a further humbling experience; sharing the “exact nature of our wrongs” with another trusted human being. (See James 5:16). And finally, Steps 8 & 9 involve an even more difficult proposition, going to those who have been harmed and sincerely attempting to restore those relationships by making amends.

What are amends?    According to the  Serenity New Testament  they are:

  • Sincere efforts to offer apology for past harm.
  •   Wonderful bridge-builders for more positive future relationships.
  • Effective agents for removing the tremendous weight of guilt, shame, and remorse. *

Along with a verbal apology and recognition of the hurt and wrong afflicted, some sort of restitution may be necessary.    This could involve a repayment of money or some other gesture intended to restore losses from individuals that were harmed.

The process of making amends actually starts early in the 12 Step process.    A written inventory of one’s most troubling sins and character defects is developed in the Fourth Step.    This sets the stage for Steps 8 and 9 because most items listed involve harm done to others.    Step 5 is also essential.    It helps addicts to more fully understand what is means to really repent of one’s sins.    Sharing the personal inventory with another person also helps them to experience more deeply God’s forgiveness.    This is absolutely essential if they are to move toward repairing the damage they have done to their relationships with others.

Read the Power of Making Amends (Part 2)

* This excerpt is from fhe  Serenity New Testament  (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 1982).