Creating Peer-to-Peer Connections

Valerie Gustafson

Valerie Gustafson

“Addiction may seem like a choice, but it isn’t,” Master of Professional Studies in Addictions Counseling (ADDC) student Valerie Gustafson says. “It is a disease that hijacks your brain. It supersedes basic life functions and logical decision-making.”

And while becoming addicted may not be a choice, the decision to stop often is.

Answering the Call

Gustafson is a single mother of two who was able to achieve sobriety in her home town where there weren’t a lot of resources available. She credits finding a dedicated supporter and outstanding role model who encouraged her to be more “open to recovery.”

“I received so much support and love along the way. I wanted to give back.”

That woman became a kind of peer recovery coach for Gustafson, and that experience introduced her to a career possibility she hadn’t explored before. She started taking courses and career assessments through her local Workforce Center, which confirmed what she already suspected: that she is suited for a profession where she could help others.

“I was both relieved and terrified,” she remembers. “I received so much support and love along the way. I wanted to give back.”

Valerie Gustafson

Her search for the right instruction led her to the recovery coach training program at Minnesota Recovery Connection, whose mission is to “strengthen the recovery community through peer-to-peer support, public education, and advocacy.”

There, while serving with the Minnesota Recovery Corps as a recovery navigator, Gustafson worked one-on-one with clients in person and over the phone, answering recovery-related questions and providing referrals to services. She also ran a recovery meeting, participated in outreach, and attended conferences. Upon completion of her training, she received an educational stipend, which she is applying towards her tuition.

A Network of Support

Addiction,” Gustafson notes, “is the only chronic disease that has had essentially only one accepted mode of recovery. That doesn’t seem efficacious since people experience addiction and recovery differently.”

Fortunately, that attitude is slowly changing, as more and more addiction and mental health counselors recognize that one method of treatment may not be effective for everyone. The ADDC degree trains counselors to address this shift and uses a case-based approach that emphasizes effective counseling theories and techniques.

“I used to feel like the system was broken,” Gustafson says, looking back at her own journey. But she feels positive about where the discipline is going and wants to play her part. “Having a peer network will add to the services available.”

She believes what she is learning in the ADDC program will provide a synergy with her training and empower her to provide a range of options to her clients.

Advice for Future Students

“Be very clear about yourself and your motives. Be aware that people won’t change because you want them to. The effort is the reward.”