A Counsellor’s Story – treating addiction in prison, Part 1

Toni says: We are really pleased to present a piece written by Alex Baldock about the work he does in HMP X and his reflections on the way that counselling addresses addiction and his journey as a counsellor. Here’s part 1, enjoy:

“The first time I came to prison my heart was thumping, my pulse was racing, and the butterflies in my stomach were doing their best to create a tsunami.  And that was just for an interview. 

Ten years in(side) and I am probably too complacent and don’t consider or think about the environment in which I work.  Certainly not beyond the unconscious decisions and actions I take every morning as I attach my keys to my belt, lock doors and gates behind me, and look through bars to the countryside that stretches away on the other side of the barbwire-topped fence.

I began working as a substance misuse administrator in prison in December 2007.  It was okay, but the interesting work seemed to be being done by those around me.  So, by April 2008 I had done the necessary training courses and took part as one of two facilitators in my first Prisoners Addressing Substance Related Offending (PASRO) course.

I knew very little about the drugs themselves and this didn’t seem to be an issue, as the training had focused on delivering sessions, group management, and providing information to the participants.  Essentially, I had taken the first steps in counselling without even realising.  Building rapport and developing therapeutic relationships, whilst offering a cognitive behavioural approach to their learning and engagement.

Whilst helping clients I was learning a huge amount.  I had never heard of things like the ABC model, and why people would need to know about such things as triggers, cravings, and high risk situations, and how they might try and cope with them.  I learned about the power of addiction, and how, despite everything to the contrary, that single pull, that solitary reason, can outweigh the everything else.

My learning for a time followed the 12 Step route, which I loved.  It was emotional and draining listening to our clients every day as they opened up about themselves, the things they had done, the people they had hurt.  I felt every one, coming away sweating as though it had been me doing the talking.  One day a client asked me if I followed the Steps.  My automatic response was ‘no, why would I?’.  But on thinking about it the Steps are designed as a way of life, so actually, ‘why wouldn’t I?’”

Toni says: We hope you have enjoyed Part 1 of Alex’s Story. Check back at the end of January for Part 2.

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