Reflections on GED classes as part of Recovery Management

March 5, 2023
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Yesterday, I attended a memorial service for a former co-worker of many years. We worked together at Dawn Farm, an addiction treatment and recovery support program, where one of Robin’s roles was to teach GED classes. She was kind, warm, patient, and never harbored any doubt about our clients’ capacity to learn, grow, recover, and improve their lives. Everyone deserves someone like her in their life.

While we remembered her, some of us tried to estimate all of the people who obtained their GED with her help and encouragement. It was definitely in the hundreds.

For many of them, it was a milestone that enhanced their self-esteem, expanded their options, increased confidence in their ability to grow and recover, their expectations of themselves, and their range of possibilities. Many of them continued their education at the local community college and transferred to a university to obtain a bachelor’s or graduate degree. Of those, many played important roles in forming and sustaining collegiate recovery programs. These were not people who entered treatment with lots of recovery capital. Most of them were publicly funded, many were court-involved, and all of them had multiple prior treatment episodes. By almost any standard most of them would be considered to have high severity, high chronicity, and high complexity cases of SUD. Some of them started in low-threshold services and inched their way into the full continuum of care, while others jumped straight into high intensity services.

These conversations about her work and its place in treatment and recovery prompted me to reflect on some of the schisms in the field today.

As a starting point, I assume nearly everyone engaged in discussions about addiction and recovery has good motives. We may have different assumptions about the nature of the problem, the possibilities, or the best solutions. We may be focused on different harms, risks, and goals. Whatever the case, I assume most people want to improve the circumstances of people affected by addiction.

I think a lot of people would look at Robin’s students and assume that they are likely to spend the rest of their life struggling, and the most compassionate and pragmatic response is to seek to reduce the difficulty of their struggle. Programs that take that approach are important, we need services that meet people where they are.

Robin and Dawn Farm aren’t blind to the absence of recovery capital. However, they felt a responsibility to build recovery capital in tangible ways that addressed short and long-term needs, including long-term treatment, co-occurring disorder care, recovery-informed primary care, family support, treatments for trauma, employment support, recovery housing, social support, and, of course, GED classes.

There ought to be programs whose primary goals are to reduce suffering and harm. (To be sure, some of Robin’s students participated in some of those programs before they came to Dawn Farm and met her, and others may have struggled after their time with her and used those programs later.) While programs focused on reducing harms may feel more urgent, programs focused on building recovery capital and facilitating flourishing are just as essential to a just and equitable system. Those needs should not be pitted against each other.

I’m very concerned that the medicalization of the field will progressively eliminate roles like Robin’s–framing things like education and GEDs as extra-therapeutic issues that are the responsibility of some other system.

I can only hope there are many more Robins out there in agencies and systems that value their work.

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