Meet One of AARC`s Peer Counsellors

Q & A with Karl:

Karl has been working at AARC since January 2016 and currently holds a position as a Junior Peer Counsellor. He is working towards an education in social work and hopes to one day become a Trauma Counsellor trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Karl graduated the AARC program in April 2014 and will be celebrating four years of sobriety this July. His journey from methamphetamine and MDMA addiction to recovery is a huge asset when helping youth suffering from addiction.

A photo of one of AARC's peer counsellors

What motivated you to work here as a Counsellor and what keeps you here?

What motivated me in the beginning was that I just wanted to help kids that are going through the same thing I did and also to get the vital experience that I need for my future career as a social worker. I always looked up to the peers who worked here and helped me when I was in treatment and now I can be one of them and give hope.

Honestly, that’s what keeps me here, the kids on my caseload and the connection that I have with them. I want to see them succeed.  It helps motivate me to keep working the solution and reminds me where I came from.

Describe how AARC’s required training, combined with your personal experience with addiction and recovery, qualifies you for this position.

I graduated AARC myself in 2014. My personal experience with addiction and my current life in recovery have given me tools to be able to help myself and others. When meeting with clients, we talk about the 12 steps, how they apply to my life and how they can apply to their lives. I share how I worked through the same feelings, struggles and problems they are having. I’m able to build rapport with them because they aren’t just learning from a book or talking to someone who hasn’t experienced addiction, its learning from someone who lived it.

I have to do six hours of addictions training each year, four hours of diversity training and I also attend mandatory workshops. Everyone gets trained in first-aid and completes de-escalation training and restraint training.  Our aim is to try and de-escalate a client before they become physically aggressive. The training I’ve had has helped me do this in an effective way.  If violence occurs, our staff are all trained for non-violent physical restraint. Safety for all clients is the most important thing.

What are the responsibilities and limitations of your position as a Peer Counsellor?

My responsibilities are to meet with the clients on my caseload and run group sessions to help clients with their understanding of the 12 steps. As a peer, I need to maintain contact with the clinicals assigned to each of my clients to ensure we are all on the same page with respect to treatment. I am working towards an education in social work, so right now I can only talk about my own experience and I have to let the counselling and therapy come from the clinicals. Looking after the clients on my caseload is more than just making sure they finish their step work; it also means making sure they have everything they need, whether its toiletries, clothing or even pens and notebooks.

Every peer is assigned job roles as well. I’m on the Events Team and help organize holiday celebrations for the clients and their families here at AARC. I’m also a part of the Court Team which is headed by a clinical staff member. The main purpose of the Court Team is to help clients that have legal problems. I go to court with them, oversee calls to their Probation Officers with them and file documents accordingly.

Why do you think Peer Counsellors are important to the treatment process?

Oftentimes it is easier for a client to relate to someone closer in age, with more recent experience in active addiction, than it is for them to open up to an older “professional ”. Peers are usually the first people that the clients feel they can trust.

When I went through treatment here, I felt more equal to my peers; I felt understood.  It was more like a friend helping me, rather than an adult coming down on me saying “don’t do drugs”.  It’s almost as if ego comes into play. When I first met with my clinical in treatment I thought “Ya right, try and fix this”, but when I met with my peer it was like I was just talking with a friend that cared.

I looked up to them because they were young, in recovery, they looked happy, were getting an education and had good relationships with their families. It helped me see that this would work for me if I did what they did.

How is your connection with the clients different from that of the clinicals?

It’s more of a mentor-type relationship; it seems to be more of a level playing field.

Usually the clients will open up to their peer counsellors first; often about things they thought they’d never talk about. We always inform them we are here to listen but anything beyond the 12 steps or basic recovery they will need to process through with their clinical.

Once a client becomes comfortable sharing with their peer, it becomes easier for them to open up to their clinicals and begin working through some of their heavier issues. My relationship mainly entails sharing my experience, strength and hope and how I got to where I am today.