Annual Catholic Appeal helps Catholic Charities’ substance abuse counseling program


Special to The Dialog

Brad Williams used to go through a costly routine. Every night after work he would drink 10 to 12 beers. Somehow, he managed to get up the next day and go back to work.

“I was functioning,” said Williams (not his real name).

But the price he paid went beyond the $70 a week he spent on beer. His fiancé, who bore the brunt of the effects of Brad’s drinking, since most of it came after his daughter went to bed, decided she had enough. She left him about two years ago.

Louise Stevenson, a substance abuse counselor for Catholic Charities in the diocese, meets with a client recently. The Annual Catholic Appeal provides support for Catholic Charities' counseling programs.

Her departure forced Williams to acknowledge he had a problem. He quit drinking and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. Later, he began attending Catholic Charities’ Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling program.

When he told his fiancé of his efforts, she decided to try to work things out. Williams also is repairing his relationship with his daughter.

“Now that I’ve been sober for almost two years, we are focusing on relationships,” Williams said of his counseling sessions. His fiancé and his daughter often accompany him.

Williams is one of about 75 Catholic Charities’ clients helped through the substance abuse program last year, according to Mark Coffey, who heads the agency’s addiction, substance abuse, and domestic violence counseling services.

Funds from the Annual Catholic Appeal help support the addiction and substance abuse program and more than 30 other ministries in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland that help people with medical, emotional, spiritual, educational and financial needs.

This year’s Appeal goal is $4,220,300, with the theme “Come, Follow Me” taken from Matthew 19:21. Commitment Weekend, when Catholics are asked to pledge to the campaign, is April 21-22.

Appeal funds help Catholic Charities provide a holistic approach for clients like Williams.

Charities’ counselors Louise Stevenson and Peggy McLaughlin, certified in both in substance abuse counseling and mental health counseling, provide a wide range of services.

They also have access to other Catholic Charities programs that assist clients who experience what Mark Coffey called “multi-systemic dysfunction. That means all the systems are breaking down – financial, relationships, jobs, extended family – and so it seems overwhelming. We’re trying to deal with mental health issues, depression, substance abuse, but in the meantime the person has all these other difficulties.”

Coffey said Catholic Charities offers a variety of services under one roof – including anger management, domestic violence, emergency mortgage and bill assistance, energy assistance, immigration services, and HIV services in addition to addiction and substance abuse counseling – so a counselor can immediately direct clients to other programs that might address other needs they have.

“There are a lot of cross-referrals within the agency,” he said. “A person comes in for help with their energy bill, their mortgage, and is identified as a very depressed individual who they can walk down the hall and get an intake for counseling. And when our counselors see that financial stressors are contributing to the overall clinical picture, they refer the clients to crisis alleviation or energy assistance.”

The holistic approach also extends to families of people who refuse to deal with addiction and substance abuse issues through an intervention program. Interventions have been quietly offered since Coffey arrived as supervisor four years ago. Now Catholic Charities is publicly offering the intervention service.

“The idea is to change the family dynamic,” Coffey said. “Of course, the concrete goal is to get the client into treatment, but if that primary goal is not accomplished, then the goal is that the family changes how they approach the problem,” so it becomes more difficult for the abuser to continue an addiction.

Interventions require at least three sessions, each of which costs $150, Coffey said. The family gets together to decide how they will approach the situation, with Coffey offering approaches they might consider. Once the family decides its plan, members rehearse the intervention.

Then the family, with Coffey, meets with the abuser.

While Williams didn’t undergo an intervention, his fiancé accomplished the same thing by leaving him because of his drinking. His experience provides a case study in how Catholic Charities works with its clients. He had become aware of Catholic Charities several years before he quit drinking when he went through its anger management program. After joining Alcoholics Anonymous for group support, Williams turned to Catholic Charities for individual counseling.

“Catholic Charities helped with the stuff I was going through at the time,” Williams said. “It helps to talk to somebody and not a group thing.”

Stevenson, Williams’ counselor, said, “When people hit stress they go back to their old, familiar coping style,” which in the case of substance abuse is to “self-medicate. That’s why it is so important for someone in recovery to have new supports, like 12-step programs or a counselor or a sponsor, so they don’t go back to that old, primitive, familiar but destructive way of coping.”

Tending to an individual client’s ongoing needs requires the counselor’s full attention.

“We might see a client at 9 o’clock whose mother just died, and we’re helping him process that, and then we might have another client at 10 o’clock who is going through a divorce or having a problem with their children,” as well as dealing with the substance abuse, McLaughlin said.

“Just trying to process what happened in the first session and move on to the second and be very present for each person and what they are going through is a challenge,” she said. “We do it, but we have to be very aware of it.”

As Williams looks back at his progress over the past two years, he appreciates how the Catholic Charities’ counseling programs have helped him.

“They care for you,” Williams said. “It’s like being with a family member when you go and speak to them.”

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For more information on the Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling services, contact Catholic Charities at: New Castle County, 655-9624; Kent County, 674-1600; or Sussex County, 856-9578.