Serving Underrepresented Populations

by Joe C.

Serving Underrepresented Populations by Joe C.

This past October, Minneapolis (aka, Minne-sober), Minnesota, hosted the annual NAADAC conference. The conference theme was, “Embrace Today, Empower Tomorrow.” The mayor welcomed attendees and shared with us something she doesn’t often share with visiting conventioneers: her sobriety date. Minnesota really is Minne-sober!

Sensitivity to minorities became an important subtheme of the conference. NAADAC is taking a self-inventory of strengths and shortcomings in the industry, paying attention to the more obscure, most stigmatized addictions, the least understood, and also the problems of parity in meeting the needs of all cultures and marginalized communities.

Kirk Bowden, PhD, MAC, NCC, LPC, a member of the Editorial Advisory Committee for NAADAC’s Advances in Addiction and Recovery Magazine and also retiring NAADAC President, reminded attendees that there is a growing demand for behavioral-health professionals in a world facing many mental health issues. The profession is aging, and “turnover is high,” Bowden said. This is true in most helping professions where many entering the job market are unprepared for the discrepancy between heavy workloads and modest paychecks.

I left NAADAC 2016 feeling that the industry sincerely cares about those of us whose lives they touch. Addiction professionals aren’t patting themselves on the back; they’re offering each other a hand of support.

Bowden also spoke about the Association’s advocacy for standardized credentials throughout the country. “Qualifications range from 250 hours of online or community college learning to master’s degrees in addiction specialty,” he said.

As a layperson, I have wondered about this. What does it really mean when someone puts the title “Sobriety Coach,” “Substance Use Disorder Expert,” or “Peer-to-Peer Mentor” on their business card?

Cynthia Moreno Tuohy, NCAC II, CDC III, SAP and NAADAC’s Executive Director, was proud to report that is growing. . NAADAC reaches 45,000 individuals with every email blast; Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn social media numbers have doubled over the last few years; and the webinar system for continuing education now eclipses 2,000 participants each month.

Keynote speaker Sheila Raye Charles, preacher, singer, daughter of Ray Charles, and person in long-term recovery, shared songs and stories of her experience, strength and hope. Leonard Buschel of Reel Recovery Film Festival shared a viewing of the documentary, “How I Got Over,” which followed 15 formerly homeless and/or incarcerated women who, through a community arts program in Washington DC called Theatre Lab, learn to share their stories through acting and singing. This heartwarming story culminated with a sold-out show at The Kennedy Center.

William Moyers, VP of Public Affairs and Community Relations at Betty Ford, spoke and read from two of his books, Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption (2006) and Now What? An Insider’s Guide to Addiction and Recovery (2012). Moyers spoke about his 20 years of helping reduce the stigma of both addiction and recovery. He shared the remarks of a congressman, who said of the addiction/recovery industry, “I’ve never seen an industry do a better job of circling the wagons and then start shooting inwards.” He spoke of the many paths and many faces of recovery, noting, “Our diverse profession has to do more to work together.”

Together with John P. McAndrew, MA, MDiv, I presented a workshop called Beyond Belief: Sensible Spirituality in Treatment and Recovery. We shared data about demographic shifts and ways that mutual-aid groups are bending to accommodate more diverse memberships. We engaged attendees in a conversation about how recovery is not a melting pot for a set of beliefs and rituals; it is a tapestry of many paths. We are many voices, with many minorities sharing varying views and practices. We can all learn to be more sensitive to this diverse community.

President and CEO of Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, Mark Mishek, made two bold statements. First, he conceded that the “main reason the mainstream is looking to treat the opioid crisis as a medical problem and not a criminal problem is that it’s now right next door in our suburbs. When it was deemed an African American/Latino problem, there was less concern about criminalizing it. Now when my wife and I ask, ‘who’s had a child who’s suffered an opioid overdose,’ a lot of hands go up.” He also admitted that Hazelden Betty Ford clients and staff are predominantly white. “We don’t represent the population we mean to address. Steps are being taking to be more inclusive.”

It was heartwarming to hear about the efforts of an industry that is trying to catch up with America’s changing ethnic and cultural landscape. The Minority Fellowship Program for Addiction Counselors, a great NAADAC initiative, awards qualified applicants with up to $18,000 in funding for a master’s degree and attendance at the NAADAC annual conference. For a period of time, awardees must work in the addiction/recovery field with an emphasis on care for underrepresented populations. Applicants need not be a member of a minority community to apply. Kirk Bowden reported that all of the eligible minority fellowship scholarship dollars were not awarded.

I left NAADAC 2016 feeling that the industry sincerely cares about those of us whose lives they touch. Addiction professionals aren’t patting themselves on the back; they’re offering each other a hand of support as they try to help us and our loved ones find our way from addiction to recovery.

Joe C. is a radio host and writer of financial, music and recovery lifestyle feature articles. Sober since 1976, Joe wrote the first daily reflection book for nonbelievers, freethinkers and everyone, Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life (2013), for which Dr. Ernest Kurtz wrote the foreword.


1 Comment on Serving Underrepresented Populations

  1. hear the free podcast of Rebellion Dogs Radio Episode 27 for more about the annual conference of NAADAC in Minneapolis including an interview with NAADAC board member, Dr. Mita Johnson. Also, Episode 27 covers Rendezvous With Madness, the Toronto film festival devoted to addiction/mental health.

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