LAURA LOVES, LAURA LOATHES
Laura Graham gives a personal perspective on the news, trends, people and events she encounters as she travels across the country. She loves mutual aid – while alerting us to beware of “wealthy peasants” – but loathes power struggles in some services.
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Laura loathes… the power struggle of some services.
On a similar theme to my “Loves” topic, I am again disappointed by the confusion about recovery and recovery support. This time, it is the ongoing and relentless attempts by the less- informed drug- and alcohol-treatment providers to drag “recovery” into their services, kicking and screaming, rather than steering people to the recovery community in the community!
This goes beyond the simple act of buying a licenced CBT group for £500 a year under the auspices of mutual aid when it is available for free in the community. The following is a recent example of what I’m talking about…
A couple of peer supporters, badged as “recovery champions”, working for one of the bigger treatment services offered to provide a volunteer-run weekend social group for people accessing treatment and for people in recovery. The benefit for the service is that its service users will meet people in recovery, will be able to access peer support at the weekend when the treatment service is closed, and the recovery community can demonstrate by example how to live life sober and drug-free. All that was required of the service was weekend access to the building, and some corn-seed funding for communal eating activities.
The service agreed. But, to satisfy statutory requirements, time-consuming red tape and other hurdles, had to be satisfied how the building was to be used. The volunteers rose to the challenge and these hurdles were jumped. The weekend activities were opened up to entire families – which meant more paperwork to satisfy safeguarding of children requirements. The volunteers did this.
With everything in place, the group was an early success. It was well attended, the activities were inclusive and enjoyable, and the activities extended out to the local community with a local gym providing free membership to the group. Friendships were made and recoveries enhanced and sustained. But, increasingly, the weekend group appeared to outgrow the weekday service. These tensions grew until the peer supporters decided to leave the treatment service, frustrated with their lot. The service tried to continue the weekend group but with a treatment-service rather than a peer-support ethos. The group disintegrated quite rapidly until its demise.
At the request of people who had used the weekend group, the peer support volunteers decided to re-start the group away from the service involved. The service was not receptive to this idea. The group has been threatened with legal action if it does not remove its online meeting space from a popular social networking site. As this treatment service is reliant on statutory funding, any legal action will be funded from the public purse – effectively, this money will not be spent on treatment but on closing down an avenue of support to people in recovery!
The service advertised far and wide for volunteers to run the weekend group which the peer supporters had set up and which the service was unable to maintain. The advertisement states that the role might suit a student, which in itself speaks volumes as to how this group will be run.
This is by no means an isolated incident. Statutory services have rarely worked well with established mutual-aid networks such as the 12-step fellowships – largely as the result of their ignorance as to what the fellowships do, as staff in these services are rarely required to experience an open meeting to understand how their clients could benefit. This should be a training requirement.
Now we see “service user” groups which are housed in the services, funded (if at all) by the services and, even when run by peers, are vulnerable to the service changing its mind. More often, we are seeing these service user groups used as a marketing tool for that particular service, when they are expected to promote how great the service is because they “take them fishing on a Tuesday” or basket weaving on Wednesday mornings. But, having yet to leave that service, no one talks about the fact that, once they are no longer a service user, they can no longer access these groups, but are expected to find their own support in the community.
In recent years, we have seen a spurt in the growth of independent peer support groups and services across the UK. Rarely do they receive new members from the local statutory services. In fact, we hear, these services actually advise their clients NOT to join local groups or engage in activities organised by local recovery organisations. They are warned that these groups are dangerous, that they are not ready to join in, or the people in charge are dodgy. This must stop. It benefits no-one.
Treatment, instead, must work better at doing treatment and let the recovery community do the rest. Introduce your clients to the local recovery community at first contact. Be a better treatment provider by telling your clients where these groups are. Be an exceptional treatment provider by taking your clients to them. Talk to the independent organisations, familiarise yourself with them, promote them to your clients, and have faith that they will support you in your work in getting people well.