By: Rev. Dr. Kevin T. Coughlin Ph.D.

It’s a terrible thing when a human being is lost to suicide or addiction.  Thank God we have wonderful human beings in the addiction recovery industry. They help people change, save lives, and restore families – every day. However, we all must be ready for the client who takes their life. I felt led to write this article because a colleague had a client commit suicide last week and I know how hard that type of situation is.

from addict 2 advocate marilyn l davis human being Could I Have Done More?

Counselors, therapists, recovery coaches, case managers, and anyone who works in the addiction treatment industry must be prepared when they get the news that their client has overdosed or taken their own life. This is one of the most stressful situations that an addiction treatment professional can face during a career in the industry.

It’s probably every addiction recovery professional’s greatest fear; when it happens, it can destroy a career very rapidly, and at times another life.

It’s imperative that the professional did everything that they could do to help the client. The problem is that we all suffer from the human condition.  We all tend to have self-doubt at times, especially during a crisis. It’s very difficult when someone you know and have helped dies; without question, this is not an easy situation for anyone. We have to realize that we are not superheroes; we cannot save everyone.

Are My Expectations and Reactions Realistic?

We especially cannot save someone who does not want to be saved. The truth is that we have no control over what other human beings do.  We can give them information, help them to understand the situation that they are now in, and provide information on solutions and support. We can help with treatment plans and action plans, activities, modalities, programs, and facilities; however, it’s up to the person to make the decision and take the action to get well.

Professionals have to be realistic about their role with clients, and have realistic expectations of themselves. It is also crucial that all professional ethics are in place one-hundred percent of the time. Can the professional look in the mirror and say to themselves that they did their job to the best of their ability, and move on without regrets?

from addict 2 advocate marilyn l davis human being Could I Have Done Something Else?

A normal emotion that professionals will also experience in or after a crisis is fear. You will ask yourself if you did anything wrong if you did all that you could do.

You may experience self-doubt, most people do. You may have a fear of what other peers will think, what the family of the client will think, and fear of legal repercussions. If you did everything you could in an ethical way these are unrealistic; however, normal fears. Certainly, you can consult professionals in this area if you feel the need.

Each Client Deserves Our Best

We cannot ever get emotionally involved with clients; that’s where the ethics come in.  We must keep healthy boundaries at all times. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have empathy and compassion, of course we do. We just cannot get mired down in the lives of our clients; it’s not fair to them or to us.  We must be able to keep a clear and objective perspective of any professional situation. Yes, that can be a difficult thing to do in our industry because there is a great deal of human pain and suffering in our industry and the world today.

However, the next client to come through the door is just as important, and we will cheat them if we are too enmeshed with another client.

When a fifteen-year-old comes to you for help who was homeless, sexually assaulted, and shot up by a pimp and beaten daily, you will feel outraged! The way that we make a difference is by keeping our cool, being professional, and doing our jobs to the best of our ability. Because if we get emotionally involved, or are still thinking about the previous client, we cannot do our very best.

We All Need “Me Time”

from addict 2 advocate marilyn l davis human beingWe as professionals in this industry must take care of ourselves, find a balance of body, mind, and spirit. We tend to see the bad side of life a great deal and because of confidentiality we can’t talk about it with others in many cases.

If we don’t find a balance, we burn out quickly. It’s a good idea to have a professional to talk to, whether it’s a coach, therapist, or counselor. Should a client’s life end, the best thing that you can do is talk to a professional. That’s the advice you would give to someone else, isn’t it? Whatever you do, don’t stuff the pain! Don’t let ego stand in the way, if you need to talk to someone, do it!

Finding Our Balance

We are good at giving advice when someone else is in crisis; however, we’re not so good at listening to it. We all need a little help sometimes; we’re human beings. The most important thing is not to let ego and pride block you from getting help or sharing pain or concerns. You are not alone either!

“By making time for self-care, you prepare yourself to be your best so you can share your gifts with the world. Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. Self care isn’t selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” ~ ― Eleanor Brownn

Choosing to Help

from addict 2 advocate marilyn l davis human beingThe point is that we all have freedom of choice. Those who decide to work with addicts, alcoholics, and their families get into these fields because they want to help save lives.   

They want to help make a difference. It’s not realistic to think that your words as a professional are going to get through to every client, they’re not. Some people just aren’t ready to hear your words, or don’t want to be helped, or aren’t ready to be helped. These are facts that we as professionals have to understand.

I train professional interventionists and recovery coaches.  During training, I always tell my students about the day that I received a free coaching session from a young man who totally changed my perspective and perception.  Today, I believe that everyone should have sounding boards or mentors, especially those in high-stress positions.

When I was a younger man just out of the police academy, I had two people die in a fire that I had responded to one evening. The sounds, smells, and sights of that evening haunted me for years. I didn’t have the tools back then to handle such a crisis, so I stuffed the pain. It was many years later that I was set free from that pain!

Thankful to the Professional Human Beings

This extends way beyond the treatment industry to any profession that deals with high stress, serious injuries, and death. I would like to take a moment to personally thank each  one of you that has chosen the road less traveled, who works in a service or helping industry, because you are saving lives every day.  

You endure tremendous stress, have incredible compassion, and strength.  Thank you for all that you do!  Please remember that if you are going through a personal crisis or trauma, you are not alone, share your pain and it will become lighter.


Writing, and recovery heals the heart.

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