As a counselor who primarily works in the substance abuse field, I get a lot of clients who are court mandated to treatment. Either their probation or parole officers have mandated treatment as a part of their legal requirements or their lawyers have strongly recommended they attend treatment to help with the outcome of their court case. When I first started working in the field, I had many counselors tell me that working with court mandated clients was “the worst” because they were “just going through the motions” without any intention of changing.
My experience working with court mandated clients has been quite different. I believe that those counselors who warned me about working with court mandated clients had such negative experiences because they were so closed-minded about what their responsibility was as these clients’ counselor. My experience has been different for several reasons.
Finding a Common Treatment Goal
For one, I meet my clients where they are at. If they don’t acknowledge having a substance use disorder, either because they genuinely don’t have one or they do but aren’t ready to admit it, I ask them how they would like to spend their time in therapy. When court mandated clients identify goals they want to work on, they go from being primarily externally motivated by the legal system to developing some level of internal motivation. Eventually, I am able to tie their goals to behavior change and better decision making skills.
Becoming an Advocate
Another reason I believe I’ve had a different outcome working with mandated clients than some of my colleagues is because I understand my role as their counselor. I am not their probation or parole officer; my job is not to “catch” them if they mess up. My role is to help them make better decisions so that they do not mess up in the first place, and to support them and help them learn from any mistakes they might make. Yes, I do have to speak with their probation or parole officers, but it’s important that my clients know that as long as they are trying to improve their lives, I will advocate for them to stay in treatment and out of jail.
Every single court mandated client I have worked with has told me that they got something valuable out of therapy and that the experience was more enjoyable than they anticipated. To me, that is one of the biggest compliments I could ever receive as a counselor. If you are mandated to treatment by the legal system and want to work with a counselor who sees you as someone who has potential to change, contact Rehab After Work today.
Article Written by Shaylyn Forte, LPC, CAADC