It’s understandable that treatment professionals might ask clients to abandon their own decision making process and accept the advice of someone trained in helping clients deal with the specific problems that led them to seek treatment. But this can be a very big mistake.
This course is designed to help counselors, social workers, and addiction professionals equip their clients for lifelong success. It offers suggestions for helping clients develop, rather than abandon, their own decision making process and their ability to advocate for themselves. This is much more supportive of long-term recovery than blind obedience to someone else’s direction.
Teaching self-advocacy helps in several ways:
- It makes return to the problem behavior less likely. Some clients can follow instructions while in our care, but are unable to apply principles of recovery to their post-treatment life. When principles of living and self-advocacy skills are developed in clients, they internalize them. Clients who try to follow an externally imposed set of guidelines are more likely to abandon them.
- It increases self-efficacy. Clients’ self-esteem gets healthier as they take a bigger role in their own decisions. This helps them from attributing too much of their success to the counselor, builds self-confidence, and makes clients happier.
- It helps clients handle not only the current presenting problem, but also helps resolve future problems and achieve goals.
This course will cover several approaches to teaching self-advocacy, how to apply these to a wide range of diverse clients, and how to evaluate your own effectiveness at teaching self-advocacy.
Following the rules is also given a lot of weight during treatment. Many clients in treatment are told exactly what to do each day: when to rise, when to eat meals, when to go to Day Treatment, when to do chores, when to take medications, and when to see the doctor. They are told when they are ready for another level of responsibility and told when they are ready for discharge.
Discharge decisions often give a lot of weight to compliance with clinical advice while in treatment, and not enough weight to how well clients will be able to advocate for themselves after formal treatment is terminated.
Partnerships between service providers and consumers are much more effective than reliance on expert-patient relationships. A commitment to teaching self-advocacy involves adjustments in the way we conduct outreach, assessment, treatment, discharge, and follow-up care.
Training through behavior modification in one setting does not always translate well into another setting. We must continue to address stigma and discrimination to make our communities more tolerant and accepting of people with psychiatric disabilities and addictions.
Teaching self-advocacy involves a view of rehabilitation as preparing clients to meet their own needs. It’s difficult for clients in treatment to conceptualize all the possibilities for a better life, so the first step is helping clients paint a picture of their preferred lives after treatment. This is often welcomed by clients as a refreshing change from talking about their past mistakes and current disappointments.
Counselors should help clients build hope (based in reality) and extinguish wishful thinking (based in fantasy).
Hope is a great motivator. It encourages action because clients are inspired by future possibilities. Wishful thinking undermines self-determination. It discourages action because clients wait for forces outside their control to save them.
It’s important to keep in mind that we have a responsibility to help our clients realize their chosen potential. We often devote more attention to clients with the most obvious behavior problems than to compliant clients who don’t make waves. But these clients who don’t rock the boat are equally in need of self-advocacy skills.
Clients build self-efficacy through exposure and access to opportunities and choices. Teaching self-advocacy involves creating more choices during treatment, rather than less. Our primary goal is to promote personal growth to the point that the client no longer needs us.