What I’ve seen as a therapist treating people with addiction

Acadia Hospital Adult Outpatient Services Clinical Supervisor Ann Soule, M.Ed., NCC, LCPC, CCS has worked for the hospital 11 years, specializing in treating substance use and mental health disorders. Her essay below demonstrates the human element of substance use disorders, and the impact treatment has, not only on the client but the provider.

ann soule

Ann Soule, M.Ed., NCC, LCPC, CCS

I knew everything about her pets. I knew their names; I knew their conditions, their ages. I knew how much they were loved. I knew this was how she coped. I knew she struggled with meeting expectations – she missed so many days of medication that resulted in her being considered for taper and discharge from treatment.

And one day “it” clicked. I don’t know what “it” was. I’m not sure she knows what “it” was. Whatever “it” was, “it” clicked. She began attending daily for medication; her random drug screens became negative. She came regularly for therapy. “It” changed. At the year anniversary of her not missing one day of treatment, I gave her a congratulations card. It was a celebration! She had morphed from the throws of addiction to a thriving individual in recovery. It was the most amazing thing I had seen, and I was front row, center. I was honored to be a part of her journey, and I am proud of her.

In another case, a client met with me several times a month. He was older and in significant pain; he had cancer as a result of hepatitis C from using IV in his youth. We utilized art as a means of therapy as he loved to paint. We talked of death – his fears and beliefs of what was on the other side. He did not want to be cold in the ground. He did not miss an appointment. Toward the end, he was told he could have a doctor prescribe medications for pain and not have to come to the clinic, and he said no. He wanted to see me; and he did. One day he missed an appointment. I called the local hospitals and found him. We talked briefly on the phone, and I told him to take care, and I would see him soon. He died later that day, and I cried.

I could tell you so many more wonderful and heartbreaking stories. I have met some of the most real people working with substance abuse. Some coped with so many traumas I wondered how they functioned. How do they make it day to day, minute to minute? I hear their stories and am in awe of their survival, of their ability to lift their heads up and move forward. I’m frustrated when I see many with so much potential, yet they don’t see it. I’m frustrated when I know – when I see those who do not or cannot walk away from addiction.

People use substances to change what is happening. To change the pain – physically and/or emotionally. Substances – whether prescribed or illegal – work. We wouldn’t use them if they didn’t. They stop the pain.

I see people come into treatment daily, most with hope and some looking for hope. All have resilience in some way. As a therapist, I am privileged to be their guide, to help them find and nurture their “want to change,” that resolve to discover a hidden or new self. To dissolve the pain. To be sober. I look at them and say, “You got this!”