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January 2008 – Tips & Topics

Volume 5, No.9
January 2008

In this issue
— Until Next Time

Happy New Year and may 2008 be a successful and productive year for you and your team.

January’s edition takes a fresh look at the Mission, Vision & Values of both your agency and your personal work. Similarly I also am taking a fresh look at my Mission, Vision & Values and -my website,

I am evaluating the website – what works, what doesn’t, what’s relevant, outdated, helpful, useless, unfriendly, missing, time-saving, cumbersome, easy, difficult. You name it —- the good and the bad! I want my website to be really useful to all the people I serve, including you, the readers of TIPS & TOPICS.

Many of you have given me helpful feedback about TNT. Now I’d like to harness your feedback to help me revamp the website. I want it to serve you better, and build on the community of TNT readers. So I’d like to meet you where you’re at: I need your opinion.

Look for a second email where you can express your opinions. There just might be some prizes for three randomly selected responders. We all love free stuff!


It seems there are hardly any cities, counties, states and health care systems NOT thinking about, planning for, or actively working on integrating services for people with co-occurring substance use and mental health problems. Administrators may decide to re- define their mission to better serve people with multiple needs. That doesn’t mean every frontline worker is ready and willing to suddenly shift focus. I have consulted with systems on this, and here are a few steps I suggest:

Tip 1

  • Assemble team members to take a fresh look at the Mission, Vision and Values of the agency or system involved in the change process.

Addiction counselors may not be interested in working with those “crazy” psychiatric patients, and mental health clinicians in working with “those people – those out of control alcoholics and addicts”. In fact these sentiments partly explain why clinicians may have chosen their ‘specialty’ in the first place. Suddenly they are now expected to work with clients with both problems (not that they weren’t actually working with them already.) The juices for working with co-occurring disorders don’t just automatically flow simply because administration declares a new direction.

Where does a system start in the change process? Team members will be challenged on their attitudes, perspectives and comfort zone of work competence. Include all important stakeholders to fashion the Mission. This meeting sets the context, and establishes the process of collaboration with all involved parties. It gives each person the opportunity to take responsibility for re-committing to his/her job. It is a time (if they are honest in their heart) when some may decide/declare they are not interested in, or committed to the new Mission.

When you arrive at discussing Values, the team identifies principles before policies, procedures and personalities. This discussion usually provokes the inevitable disagreements over “what to do” in a variety of clinical situations. What do we do if a client shows up to treatment having used alcohol or some other drug on the way? What do we do when a client refuses to take medication? What do we do when a client wants to stop methamphetamine or heroin, but keep drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana? When we discuss and name Values before a concrete clinical situation arises, this creates an anchor, a solid reference point to guide what to do in the heat of the moment.

–> For example, suppose your team agreed on this Value:
“Any relapse -whether in addiction or mental health – will be addressed as a crisis in a client’s treatment. This requires evaluation of the crisis and a revision of the service plan. We will not suspend, discharge from treatment, or have zero tolerance for relapse with any client – whether a substance use or mental health crisis.”

–> When the Value is discussed as a group, all team members have the chance to air their various points of view.

Tip 2

  • Develop individualized agency development plans and individualized staff development plans that recognize all agencies, program sites and team members are likely to be at different levels of preparedness to integrate co- occurring services.

Most clinicians are familiar with Stages of Change, and understand that clients seek help at different “stages of readiness.” Agencies (or program sites within an agency) are no different, just a larger organism. Staff also may be at different “stages” on being ready to adopt more integrated services. However, all would be expected to develop a formal plan that begins where they are comfortable, but also requires that they progress toward better integrated services.

–> Change leaders, technical assistance (TA) staff or consultants guide each agency/service site in the development of an “individualized agency development plan” matched to the stage of change and readiness for integrated services of that unit or provider.

–> They then monitor the progress of the individualized plans inside each agency in their service network.

–> Similarly each team member fashions an “individualized staff development plan.” This is done in collaboration with their supervisor, Change leader or TA consultant. The plan should honor each team member’s stage of readiness. It provides for training to increase awareness of the need for integrated services, as well as the skills to engage and treat people with co-occurring disorders.

–> Change leaders are personnel who have embraced the mission for integrated services. They are committed to improving services to the co- occurring population. To give Change leaders time to meaningfully participate in this mission, administrators and supervisors may need to adjust caseloads, job descriptions or duties.


It is fairly easy to stage training workshops, write up elaborate strategic plans and sketch out impressive timelines for goals/tasks to integrate services. The more challenging task is actually making change happen, the type of change which ends up making a difference on a daily basis to the people we serve in the trenches.

Tip 1

  • Develop specific implications for each Value raised in discussions of the new Mission and Vision.

Nearly every agency and company has a Mission Statement which very few team members can recall, let alone articulate, or explain concrete implications of the Mission.

–> Test yourself. Can you recite right now your agency’s Mission Statement without looking it up?
–> Have you always thought of it as being so generically lofty, “motherhood and apple pie,” so broad as to be of little practical use in the dilemmas and pressures of daily life on the job?

A good next step is to comprehensively explore and list all the implications for each Value you created. Let’s work with the example Value above.

It states: “Any relapse -whether in addiction or mental health – will be addressed as a crisis in a client’s treatment. This requires evaluation of the crisis and a revision of the service plan. We will not suspend, discharge from treatment, or have zero tolerance for relapse with any client – whether a substance use or mental health crisis.”

What would be the implications of such a Value? The list could include:

–> If a crisis of substance use, suicidal, violent or self-mutilation behavior, psychosis, mood instability should occur, all clients will receive timely assessment to address any immediate needs. We will revise the treatment plan to improve the client’s progress and outcome.

–>If a client’s relapse triggers reactions in other clients, this provides the opportunity to assist both the relapsing client, as well as helping other clients learn from their reactions to the relapse and crisis.

–> No client will be excluded from treatment because symptoms recur. But if a client deliberately undermines treatment by enticing others to use substances or violates boundaries with violence or impulsive behavior, we will likely discharge a client who is not interested in accountable treatment.

When you actually put pen to paper and write out the implications, this generates open discussion of often disparate ideologies and attitudes. When implications are made explicit -before confronting a “live” relapse crisis- this minimizes the inevitable conflicts which arise amongst people of different disciplines, personalities and life experiences. Remember, conflict is normal. There are policies and procedures that can make resolution more likely. See the February 2007 edition of TIPS and TOPICS for one example.

Tip 2

  • Work with team members in the same way you would with a client: i.e. challenge/ support one another in adhering to each team member’s development plan.

When a client presents for services, what drives the treatment planning process should be an alliance around what the client wants, and why they chose to walk in the door.

Here is the parallel process on the agency level. When a new Mission is written, it requires team members to re-commit to work in that agency. So each team member can ponder the following steps. Supervisors and Change leaders can facilitate the team member’s personal exploration by ensuring a strong, supportive, safe work environment:
–> What do you want that makes you choose to work here, especially with the new Mission? For example: being honest, do you just want a paycheck especially if you are close to retirement? Or are you getting ready to go to graduate school and want to be on the cutting edge of new directions? Or are you wanting a paycheck and not wanting to change what you are doing- in which case, your plan may be to transition out of the system if you are taking responsibility for your personal sanity and self-care.

–> Where are you at as regards the new directions the Mission promotes? What is your attitude, stage of change, comfort level and competence level? For example, if you see no reason to change the Mission, your personal development plan will require attention to some consciousness-raising. What information do I need to convince me of the need for change, before I am ready to focus on actually expanding knowledge and skills? If you are eager to be on the cutting edge of new technologies and methods, your development plan might have you lead the team in a journal club; or plan the in-service training curriculum; or be the local change agent champion.

–> How best would you acquire new skills necessary to promote the new Mission? Do you learn best by observation, trial and error, didactic presentations, individual supervision, group peer supervision, discussion of case examples, viewing videos, on the job coaching etc.? Your personal plan would include whatever methods will quickly and efficiently expand your knowledge and skills.


I have not gotten on the Harry Potter bandwagon of incredibly successful books and spin-off films and merchandise. It’s not because I approve or disapprove; I just haven’t read JK Rowling’s works. Her fans may gasp at this point. What I do admire about her is how she pressed ahead when hardly anyone believed in what she had to offer.

In an interview recorded in TIME Magazine’s December 31, 2007 – January 7, 2008 edition, she was asked about her beginning fame. “It happened very, very quickly. I had written a book that I was told repeatedly was uncommercial, overlong, wouldn’t sell. So when it happened, it really was a profound shock.” That prediction about her book is right up there with “Who would want a computer in every house?” What successful author, musician, artist, entrepreneur, politician or athlete has not faced repeated failure, before eventually finding themselves contributing in a way they had set their sights on? And it is not just those professions. This is true for just about anything worth achieving.

Most of us are involved in work, leisure and community activities which do not require the kind of commitment and energy that it takes to run for the Presidency of the United States or to compete in the Super Bowl with a perfect win record of 18 straight games. But when you show up for work everyday, have you chosen to be there? Or are you just going through the motions? How cynical, burnt-out, compassion-fatigued, frustrated are you? When a flight gets cancelled due to weather, and I have to drive seven hours in freezing rain and snow to make sure the workshop goes on the next morning, the experience of frustrated, burnt- out and fatigued come to mind. All that melts though, when participants leave having gained a lot to help them in their work—and appreciatively feed that back to me.

Here’s what JK Rowling also said: “I hope my work sends the message that self-worth is about finding out what you do best and working hard at it.”

This won’t necessarily translate into instant fame and fortune. Who wants the paparazzi anyway? But it is a great formula for a meaningful way of being and contributing; and a potent antidote if you find yourself cynical, burnt-out, compassion-fatigued, and frustrated.

Until Next Time

Thanks for joining us for this first edition of 2008. See you in late February.


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