I used to think that credibility with an alcoholic sprang from credentials and clinical experience. It doesn’t, of course.

Credibility really comes from having some piece of knowledge that the alcoholic values at that particular point in his life.

I’m reminded of a clinical director at one outpatient program who was himself a much-respected therapist with several books to his credit. For some reason, the clients paid little attention to his advice. Most of the time, they treated him like a visitor from Mars.

You know who they sought out for guidance? A trainee counselor.

Why? Because she was good at providing the sort of guidance they were interested in. Such as how to stay sober when your wife makes it plain she liked you better when you were still drinking. How to manage a craving that starts when you wake up in the morning and hangs around deep into the night. Even what to do when that ex-boyfriend bangs on your door at midnight looking to get high.

This trainee was pretty good at that sort of advice.

It’s tempting for a counselor to get caught up in discussing issues and lose sight of the reality that early recovery is about changing behavior. The ‘how’ of change being more important than the ‘why’.

With alcoholics and other substance abusers, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about the different tactics recovering people have used to make it through that difficult first year. Giving up booze and pot is easy unless you’re addicted to them. Then it feels as if your whole life has been turned upside down.

It’s the simple stuff that people respond to. If your client doesn’t seem to be getting it, it might be because you haven’t simplified things enough.

No, it’s not the role for which therapists were trained. But the client is sitting in front of you, not someone else.

Now’s your chance, as well as his.

Don’t blow it.