Friday, October 10, 2008

5 Questions for Tanyel Johnson, Counselor

5 Questions is our ongoing feature where we introduce you to the people who make Brandywine Counseling run, spotlighting a different staff member every two weeks.

Name: Tanyel Johnson
Job: Counselor, Alpha Drug Free Program
Time with BCI: 4 years

1. Tell us what you do at BCI.
I provide encouragement for clients who are coming through the disease of addiction, who are addressing their issues - for whatever the reason, whether they were coerced or if they are self-referred here. I offer feedback for clients, pointing out discrepancies about things that they say. I provide referrals for clients who are in need of other resources than what I can provide here at Brandywine, like clothes closet referrals, mental health referrals.

I also listen. That’s a big part of my job. Listening, and hearing things that clients are saying without saying. Watching for body language, watching for any problems with the ability to communicate, because a lot of our clients are not capable of articulating specific needs. Showing genuine congruence. I think because I am in recovery, I can feel the pain that a lot of people go through. Because the disease of addiction, it doesn’t discriminate. It tears families apart. It destroys people’s very soul.

2. What can I expect if I come to your group?
I run the Women’s Education Group, which is held on Tuesdays at 10. And I gotta put a plug in for Brandywine! They worked with me, because I go to school now, and so they adjusted the schedule of the group. So now it runs Tuesdays at 10:00. And then I run the Relapse Prevention Group Tuesday night at 5:30 to 7.

For my Women’s Group, I provide salads. We do a mix-up, because I know a lot of our clients are strained when it comes to nutritional issues. So, trying to make sure that a little filling happens on Tuesday at 10:00, that’s a big difference. It started because I was trying to breathe life into the Women’s Group, trying to increase my population. When you mention food, folks show up. And it just works. I am open to my women bringing their toddlers, their young folks to the group, because babysitting is an issue for women. And a lot of times, they bring their children in and they eat, and that’s always a win-win. [And] my population did increase. So, it worked.

I also have a small clothes closet in my office that is available for my ladies, when they express, “Y’know, I need a shirt.” “Well, c’mon. Let’s go in my office and look and see.”

3. Why did you decide to work in addiction treatment?
It was an assignment by my Creator. Actually I’ve been preparing for this role all my life. So when it came to pass that I needed to make the change in my life, I evaluated what I had, and how I could continue my life on a positive note, and drug addiction counseling was it. I realized I needed to go back to school as a part of this, because just wanting to do it wasn’t enough. I needed to improve academically, how to write a sentence, how to speak. It took me going back to school. I did that. I got my Associates degree.

And as I journeyed, I realized more and more that this was something I really wanted to do. Especially with women, knowing all of the issues that I personally went through as I began my journey of sobriety. I was faced with things like, how do you get a job when you have a police record? And when you have been marked “unsuitable” for so many years, how do you build self esteem?

So my own journey needed to play itself out in other people’s lives, not to change anyone, but to show that it can be done. You can do it if you work hard, if you open up and let the information in, and know that it’s not about you anyway, it’s about helping another person. And watching families be destroyed made me closer to this issue. So that’s why I stay and why I do it. I feel it.

4. Tell us your favorite client success story.
A female came to me as a referral from Gateway Foundation. She had already done six months [of residential treatment], and we were her aftercare, and we were tying her into the next piece, which was housing. She needed to get a support system, and she needed to get a place to live. She named everything that she wanted when she walked in our door, and piece by piece, she accomplished each one of them.

She now is in a place of her own, she has a new renovated apartment, she now is chairing her home NA group. She is employed full time on her job. She is going to community college. I’m a big advocate for going back. When my clients come in, one of the first things I suggest is community college, and this client followed up with it.

So, all of the things that she came in this door saying that she wanted to do, she’s done each one of them. She was successfully discharged recently, and has been asked to speak at various places on what recovery has done for her. I think that was a big success story.

5. You can tell a lot about a person from their office. Tell us what you have in your office.
As you see over here: “Live, laugh, and love.” “Dream, believe, and discover,” are my philosophies. I also say, “How do you change? By being honest, open-minded, and willingness.” And I put these on the wall so that my clients, when they come in and do a survey, they’ll get a feel of who I am.

Then over on this side, are my accomplishments, because these are the degrees that I’ve afforded myself, because of hard work, because of some sacrifices that I had to make, and I like to put this on display. When I got my CADC [Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor], it was Lynn Fahey and Mark Lanyon and Luther [Whiting] who prepped me for my orals. And I had failed my orals. It was simple enough, but I kept stumbling through it. So when they took charge, giving me a mock audience, and the feedback that actually pushed me where I needed to go, I think that was my shining moment. When I finally passed the orals and became CADC, I had proven to my colleagues, my peers, that I was qualified to become a drug and alcohol counselor.

Then, the center of my life is my Heavenly Father. And of course I believe in recovery and sobriety, which is posted there. And “New Life.” It’s about nature. If we pay more attention to how nature replenishes itself, then I think we would get a feel of what we need to do for each other. It’s important to remember, to continue to encourage, assist, detach, and stay healthy. So that’s why my office looks like it looks.

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