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Leadership and Succession Planning in the Addiction Treatment Field

By Art VanDivier, Executive Director

What attracted me to the addiction treatment field in the late 70’s was witnessing the transformation of individuals as they embraced recovery. I also noticed that a natural by-product of recovery for many was a strong desire to turn “taking the message to others” into a full time career. This dream became attainable for many in the early 80’s when the State of Texas created a certification for alcohol and drug abuse counselors.

The next challenge was to find academic classes and field work experience to meet Texas requirements for certification. Suddenly intern programs sprang up across Texas. Admittedly some more closely resembled indentured servitude where “three hots and a cot” were exchanged for long hours without pay. However La Hacienda’s Intern Program was made up of a structured academic curriculum, supervised field work, board and room and a small stipend. No one got rich but it was an excellent education.

La Hacienda still has an active intern program that we are very proud of. Today all programs are closely regulated by the State of Texas, certification has been replaced by license, and rather than being volunteers, interns are full time employees. Best of all La Hacienda’s purpose for having a program hasn’t changed; it is still based on reinvesting in people so the work we so highly regard can be passed on to the next generation of counselors.

The latest leadership buzz word in our field is “succession planning”. It’s a nice way of saying the “boomers” time is about up and we need to be about the business of preparing the next generation of leaders. La Hacienda’s answer is our new Mentoring Program. We secretly know the next generation is going to take the work we have done and turn it into something we never dreamed possible. Our vanity in sharing our experience is our hope it will keep them on course as they carry the message forward.

As I look back over my education, the counsel of parents and teachers was “take this class– it will build a foundation for your next level of education”. When I finally got to graduate school I thought this was what they had been talking about for so many years. I was finally in academic heaven. Imagine my shock when post graduation the supervisor in my new job advised me to forget everything I learned in graduate school because my real education was about to begin.

La Hacienda’s Mentoring Program is designed as a real world learning experience. It is meant to be our gift to the next generation. I encourage you to start a similar program in your workplace so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. Treatment works–it changes lives! We have to protect this industry and one way to do this is by sharing what we have learned.