Interview with Talitha Klingberg, LCSW

Can you tell us a little bit about how clients come to the professionals program at MARR? 

If someone has come to the attention of a professional board somewhere because of their substance use, or maybe they’re just self-reporting that they have an issue, once they get to MARR they’re going to need advocacy with that board.  So I am a liaison between them and the board. I help with the documentation that they’ll need for their treatment. And sometimes they have ongoing paperwork that they might need to file with that board. That paperwork can last up to five years after treatment for the physicians and the nurses. So I handle that for our professionals, and I help to demystify some of that.

And some professionals might not have a licensure board making them come to MARR, but they might still need support from the professionals program. Some employers send their staff here for treatment even when there is no license involved. Or sometimes entrepreneurs might need help, like “How do I stay in recovery when I work without a lot of accountability as a business owner and when I have a lot of cash that comes through my hands?” So the professionals program provides a place where you can talk about the specific pressures of your profession. 

What themes have you noticed with professionals in treatment at MARR? 

A lot of the professionals come in and they have worked really hard for their careers. Their careers might be the last thing that they let go of during their addiction. They might have lost their family to their addiction, but they’re trying their best to hang on to that licensure or their job because they’ve kind of lost touch with who they are outside of it.

Sometimes they cannot separate who they are from what their job is. Part of the treatment is helping them re-engage with who they are as an individual and redevelop their identity. We help them to see they are not the same person they were when they started grad school. Their addiction has changed them. Their addiction actually traumatizes them in some ways. We help them find out who this new person is. 

Also, as a professional you learn to keep a lot of things private, to not tell your feelings, and to state things factually. A lot of times when people come into treatment, they’re so used to dealing with facts, they’ve lost touch with their heart. And so to say “I’m afraid” is a huge leap. You don’t say that on your job as a professional. You’re still sort of acting like you’re not afraid and that you have everything in control so that your clients will trust you. 

A lot of the professionals have had such incredible stress on their jobs, dealing with the stress of their actual work and also maintaining the unmanageability of addiction at that same time, that they haven’t been sleeping. They might have started drinking to sleep because they work seven days a week. Now with texting and email, an employer may contact them on Sunday afternoons or whatever their off time is. And so sometimes people really don’t have time off in their professional lives.  By the time people get to MARR, they’re psychologically, spiritually, and physically exhausted. 

What is something you would want to communicate to potential professional clients coming into MARR? 

A lot of times professionals can feel like it is just “my problem” or “my secret.” And then they’re amazed when they come to the ARP (Atlanta Recovering Professionals) group that we have on Tuesday nights.

They go to that group, and they find out “I’m not the first doctor in recovery.” Or they find out, “this person has gone on to find new employment.” So it helps them realize that there’s a path forward. They get to see other professionals that are not just surviving in recovery but actually thriving. They will hear other professionals say things like, “I am a much better person than I ever was before treatment.” So it can give a sense of hope that there’s an actual path forward. 

What are some things that clients will receive at MARR that they might not receive elsewhere? 

People here are not just creating relationships with the staff like some other places that use the medical model. Our clients are also creating relationships with their community. You might have a professional come in who’s just used to dealing with people in their particular profession. Like say you’re in the medical field, you only deal with people in the medical field. So then you end up becoming all medical. And so then they come in here, and they’re dealing with a housewife or a young adult that has never really worked. This helps them re-engage with who they used to be before their career. It also helps them to recognize that the medical field isn’t the whole universe. 

The therapeutic community model we use at MARR is very important for professionals. If you have to negotiate grocery shopping and whether you can get your yogurt or not get your yogurt, it changes the dynamics of your communication.  If you’re a professional, you are used to saying something like “take this three times a day,” or whatever it may be. It’s different when you are part of the therapeutic community and you have to go to your community and say “Can I get my yogurt?”  It teaches humility and different communication skills that you might not have used for a long time.