I’ve been to my fair share of addiction treatment centers. I’ve attended two inpatient rehabs, one partial hospitalization program and more intensive outpatients than I can count on one hand (probably more than I can count on both hands!).
All of which is a long way to state a simple fact — I’m sort of an expert when it comes to rehab. Not in the traditional sense. I’m not an expert the way many of you reading this are experts. I am, however, an expert from the patient side.
So when I ask myself what makes a particular treatment center better than others, I come to one conclusion. That conclusion, shocking though it may be, is that clinical care takes a backseat to residential care. To put it another way, I believe behavioral health techs can make or break someone’s treatment experience.
Let me qualify before continuing: Clinical care is the absolute heart of any treatment center. Without quality clinicians, patients aren’t going to get better. Period. End of story.
That being said, it’s not hard to find top-notch therapists, counselors and addiction specialists. The rehabs I’ve been to, and remember this is based solely on my personal experience, made sure their clinicians were the absolute best. Their behavioral health technicians though? Not always.
So, I’d like to share how quality BHTs can impact an individual’s time in residential treatment and what makes a quality BHT.
I went to my first treatment center at 13. It was an outpatient program and didn’t have techs, not in the traditional sense anyway. They did have some “sober companions” whose sobriety was dubious at best.
Fast forward to my 18th year. I landed in my first residential rehab. It was here that I was introduced to the idea of a behavioral health technician. These were sober men and women who drove us to groups, did rounds, took us to outside meetings, provided invaluable encouragement and late night talks (when I couldn’t sleep from opioid detox), and generally kept everything running smoothly.
These men and women in long-term recovery showed me that sobriety was possible. They proved to me, in a way no clinician ever had, that I could live a life free of drugs and alcohol.
I ended up relapsing before getting sober the following year, but the BHTs had planted the seed of recovery in my head. How had they accomplished that? Simple. I saw them living a sober life. I saw them meeting responsibilities and succeeding at life. I saw what sobriety should really look like.
When I couldn’t sleep due to withdrawal, anxiety, depression or anything else, the techs were there to talk with me. They were there to offer a helping hand to a struggling addict. I’d walk down to their office and ask them something like “How are you guys so calm?” and get an answer that was simple and straightforward.
These BHTs’ no-nonsense approach to sobriety, these exchanges and their stable and accountable lives made sobriety attractive to me.
Here’s the million-dollar question — what makes a BHT good? And how can we quantify good anyway? Isn’t it subjective for each individual living on this planet? One person’s idea of a good BHT may be very different from another person’s.
While that’s absolutely true, there are two qualities I believe are indispensable for behavioral health techs everywhere. These two qualities will, generally speaking, allow patients to connect with techs. They’ll allow techs to be effective at “modeling” recovery.
I’m talking about empathy and sobriety.
Empathy I think we can all agree on. Hiring a BHT without empathy is like hiring a doctor without a degree. It just doesn’t make sense. Treatment centers need their techs to be able to connect with patients. After all, if I couldn’t connect with a particular tech, you better believe I wasn’t going to listen to them. Addicts are hardheaded like that.
And then there’s sobriety. This quality, if you can call it that, may get a little controversial. After all, I’m sure there are many amazing BHTs who aren’t sober.
In my experience, however, I needed to have a tech who had been where I was sitting. I needed a tech who’d had the same strange thinking and relationship patterns and no longer did. I needed a tech who had faced the insanity of addiction and survived.
Thanks to BHTs like those, BHTs with empathy, sobriety and love, I got sober. It’s that simple.
David Greenspan is a writer and media specialist at Lighthouse Recovery Institute. He’s been sober since 2008 and finds no greater joy than helping the still-struggling addict or alcoholic.