A Profile in Counseling

How I Accidentally Became an Addiction Counselor

Bryon Powell, MS, LPC, CAADC, CCTP-II

I always joke that I got to BTG by “accident.” Working in the field of addictions was not on my priority list, it was not even on my radar. I have come to learn that there are very few “accidents” when working in the field of mental health. In reality, the “accident” I joke about is more of a “God Thing”…

I grew up in a military family and lived overseas for most of my formative life. I observed and experienced many different languages and cultures. When my father retired, both my parents became pastors. All of these experiences set the stage for my drive to seek understanding. In college, I sought out degrees in Psychology and Religious Studies, minoring in Philosophy – three main ways humans seek and express understanding. Upon graduating, I knew I was called to serve others but did not know how. It was down to two fields: counseling or becoming a pastor. Around this time, I also had made a difficult decision not to enter the military. As part of that decision, I knew I wanted to give back though.

So, I entered graduate school to become a counselor. Not quite fitting, I went to seminary to see about being a pastor. I spent a year and half in seminary and realized I needed to be a counselor. I went back to my original graduate school and graduated with a Master’s in Pastoral Counseling – a secular degree that teaches how to integrate spirituality or religion into professional counseling.

In my studies, my first internship was at a VA Hospital working with PTSD. It was here that I realized I love working with trauma, I love working with an inpatient population, and I thrive when working with complicated clients. Here was the hitch, I learned that addiction and trauma were closely tied but I did not have a clue how to treat addiction. For my second internship, I sought out a place that could specifically teach me how to deal with addictions. In my head, I thought that the addictions field was a sub-specialty or an adjunct skill I could learn in the course of year. Afterall, I took a class in it! Oh, I was so wrong!

I applied to a few places in the area, looking for that specific internship, with no real results. I stumbled upon Bridging the Gaps’ website. I thought, “I don’t know about all this …but I might as well apply” – it was local, it fit my needs, and I can work around some of the other stuff I was not sure about.

I completely bombed the interview. I was so nervous and did not know anything they were asking. It turns out, I knew the clinical director at the time through teaching her son martial arts. She was able to see in me what I could not get across in the interview. They brought me on – as green and naive as I was. They took a chance on me, put up with me, and nurtured my professional development. In that process, they showed me how to become the clinician I wanted to be. They showed me how to integrate all these different pieces of my life into my vocation.

At the conclusion of my internship, I left to do my residency for licensure in an outpatient community health center focusing on the mental health side of counseling. I stayed connected to BTG running the aftercare program during this time. When I became licensed, I was looking for my next steps. I did not want to ‘hang my own shingle’ and start my own practice. I was looking for a facility that could match what I wanted to do: inpatient and trauma work. At the time, there were not very many options locally and it looked more and more like I needed to start my own practice. I started negotiations with BTG for space and exchange of services. It was not long into these negotiations when they offered me a full-time clinical position. Of course, I accepted the position.

Here I am, with over a decade of service to BTG. What keeps me here is what quickly became apparent to me so many years ago: the value the agency places on its employees, the mutual support of the staff, the way we understand and engage with clients, the ability to therapeutically address deep core issues in a relatively short amount, the overall quality of the clinical services we can deliver, and the ability to adapt services to fit the client’s needs. I strive to keep these traditions alive and well as we continue to provide a vital service to those who struggle.

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