Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, a 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992 when he had a year sober. He's in his 27th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he sometimes disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Peers helping Peers

A few weeks ago a friend was asked by a group of non-addicts what kind of work she did. When she replied that she worked at TLC, one of the group asked: "Isn't that the place that's run by drug addicts?"

When she told them it was, their reaction wasn't very positive. My friend got the impression that they thought that professionals, such as psychologists or therapists, could do much better with addicts and alcoholics. My friend realized that the discussion would probably not be going in a positive direction, so she changed the subject.

We run into this attitude every once in a while. For some reason, the average non-addict has the idea that addiction and alcoholism can only be dealt with by professionals. However, studies have shown that peer counseling is just as effective – if not more so – than professional counseling.

And if one thinks about this it makes a lot of sense. After all, who understands addiction better than one who's already been through it and has stayed sober?

A good example of an organization that's saved millions of lives, is Alcoholics Anonymous. And it's totally nonprofessional, simply one alcoholic helping another. The only professionals involved are those with drug or alcohol problems. And indeed, one can meet any type of professional in the world in a twelve-step meeting – including doctors, lawyers, and scientists, plus the average everyday workingman. But the one thing they have in common is that those who have been around for a while understand alcoholism on a deep level. And that's the knowledge that allows them to help each other get their lives back on track.

And the same principle applies here at TLC. We get all sorts coming through our doors. Everything from homeless addicts and alcoholics to those with masters degrees in various fields. But their common desire to stay sober is what helps our organization to succeed.  And allows them to help each other.

And a final point is that peer counseling organizations, like ours and the twelve-step programs, are readily available at little or no cost to those who are seeking help and have a genuine desire to change their lives.  Giving everyone a psychiatrist or psychologist is unaffordable - nor has it proved to be more effective.