Relapsed? Here’s Your Addiction Counselor’s Take…


“Don’t stay too long in the shame-filled grounds of relapse. Fertile soil awaits your return and your recovering.”   Holli Kenley


As professional Addiction Counselors, we are well trained to work with clients who relapse during or after completing alcohol and drug treatment. We are taught to view relapse as a clinical issue and make every effort to retain clients, providing the level of care that is most appropriate to their changing needs. We help clients examine their thoughts, feelings, circumstances and behaviors that led to the relapse and we assist them in recognizing their role in personal choice and responsibility. We also review their relapse prevention plans for problem solving and behavioral avoidance strategies.


The above statement describes our clinical responsibility. What about how we personally feel?


Counselors Have Feelings Too…

As counselors, we can feel sad, aggrieved, and angry. We can move into thinking irrationally, that a client’s relapse was due to our inadequacies. We can distance ourselves (and our egos) from the situation and recount numerous reasons why we forecast this relapse event. Or worse, we can blame a client and label her “resistant” as if she somehow failed to grasp our brilliant teachings.


All therapists are taught to be aware of their own values, boundaries and ethical decision making. We are educated in how to recognize transference – the unconscious redirection of feelings from a client to a therapist, and countertransference – the same phenomenon, but with the therapist redirecting her feelings to the client. It is important to note that as therapists and treatment staff, we do not always have to be experiencing countertransference to have complex feelings about our clients.


Sanford House is a unique treatment center, with its small size, women-only clientele, direct service staff and comfortable 24/7 care. And, like any group living together for an extended period of time, bonds can quickly form among the people in a treatment center. Caring and empathy proliferate. Staff act as leaders for recovery and clients can be guides for each other. The goal is not to “fix” one another, but to help move each other down the path to wellness.


When a client relapses, it can feel sorrowful and discouraging. A wise therapist does not take it personally, as if the client did not follow her advice. We also do not tell ourselves or others that our client needs more drug-related consequences to “hit bottom”, nor do we impose negative consequences on her. We can mourn the forces of the disease, silently or with our colleagues. We can seek supervision if we find we are having feelings of anger or incompetence. We remind ourselves again that growth is a process, not an event. And we all attempt (sometimes literally) to wrap ourselves around the client and bring her back into the fold.


The care of others in recovery.



Author Christine Walkons (MA, LPC, CAADC, CCS-M) is an emeritus Clinical Director for Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers. She has been working in the addiction field for over 30 years, developing residential treatment, outpatient and intensive outpatient programs. Christine lives in Elberta, Michigan among the scenic dunes of Lake Michigan and divides her time between Grand Rapids and her small northern village.