Sentences to ponder: the roles of professionals and community

…I do want to suggest that something got lost along the road to professionalization. What got lost was a relationship between two people that transcended the roles of counselor and client. What got lost was our deep involvement in the community and in local communities of recovery. What got lost was our recognition of the power of community to heal and sustain people. John McKnight in his recent book, The Careless Society: Community and Its Counterfeits, argues that compassion shifted from a cultural value to a job description as paid helping roles replaced functions of families, extended families, neighbors, co-workers and friends. He argues that we don’t need more agencies or larger agencies, but that we desperately need more community. In medicalizing alcohol and other drug problems in hopes we could escape its social stigma and moral censure, we turned our backs on the power of community and created an ever-growing distance between ourselves and those we are pledged to serve. Perhaps it is time we went back and discovered what was of value along that road we didn’t take.

White, W. (2003). The road not taken: The lost roots of addiction counseling. Counselor, 4(2), 22-23.

(Photo credit: “a fork in the road” by pipiwildhead is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)

4 thoughts on “Sentences to ponder: the roles of professionals and community

  1. William Whites comments continue to ring true in as much as community should be centered in the work of lay and professional peers, but it’s important to not that the professionalization of peer support work (PSW) was only a small factor in this shift. The book Bowling Alone came out a year or two before this comment—in that analysis, Robert Putnam found that the forces (tv, internet, decline of civic groups, commuting) driving us as a society into our homes and away from others were ascendent. Later analyses by Picketty and other economists note how inequality is driven by the reality that the bottom 2/3 cannot afford to own a home and are forever bounded by paying rent and working the long hours to do so in jobs that Marx would find similar to those of the 18th century—utterly alienating and dreadful. The decline of community engagement, in this view, is a symptom of larger societal collapse and inequality. In Deaths of Despair, this phenomenon is also observed, especially among rural white folks. In small town America and in poorer urban cities, no one knows, or wants to know, their neighbor. So the driving forces are not the professionalization as much as the breakdown more generally. Professional PSW would do well to recognize this trend and work to increase community engagement. They can start by targeting recovery capital-especially those aspects that fall under community and social forms of capital. They can do this professionally better than as private citizens because it can be a target of evidence based practice.


    1. This was written before peers were widely integrated into the workforce, and one function of peers was to reconnect services to communities of recovery and other community-based recovery capital. As your comment implies, the nexus created by peer roles has deteriorated due to professionalization and the use of the role as a catch-all for every gap in programs/systems.

      I think you also allude to a couple of other important things. First, the “bowling alone” phenomenon sets up communities of recovery as something that runs against the cultural grain, but also has the potential to make recovery and communities of recovery very attractive and “sticky.” Second, the original recovery management and ROSC writings emphasized recovery capital as a property not just of individuals, but also of communities and challenged providers/systems to develop and support community recovery capital. Most discussions about recovery capital today seem to focus on it as a property of individuals.

      Thanks for the comment!


  2. That point about community/cultural capital in the initial conceptualization of RC – very important and completely overlooked. Also great points KD.

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