Interview with Ken Feldstein, Licensed Alcohol & Drug Counselor and Certified Addiction Recovery Coach

    Ken Feldstein is both a licensed alcohol/drug counselor (LADC I) and a Certified Addiction Recovery Coach (CARC). Ken has his bachelor’s in criminal justice from John Jay College (NY, NY) and his Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Curry College (Milton, MA). More recently he studied at UMass Boston, earning his LADC after meeting all academic, practicum, and state exam requirements. Ken has lived experience with opiate addiction personally as well as its impact within the family. He is active in the greater Boston recovery community and champions all pathways to recovery, with respect for every person’s unique choice of journey. Over the past 10 years, Ken has worked in various support and clinical roles, helping clients seek improved lives while affected by substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders. He is experienced in working with people one to one as well as facilitating therapy and psychoeducation groups in such areas as relapse prevention, community recovery, and health/wellness planning. He has worked in the peer recovery center setting, coached/mentored clients following in-patient treatment, and provided direct clinical services in residential and intensive out-patient programs. Ken presently consults with and reviews training and educational materials for substance use and behavioral health related organizations. He has special interest in family support, education, and compassionate understanding when a loved one is touched by addiction.

    1. You had a long career in the apparel industry before pivoting to substance abuse counseling. What prompted the change, and what advice would you have for others considering similar career changes?

    /ken-feldsteinI actually began work in addiction and recovery before the long apparel industry career. From 1974-1979 I was senior counselor, then program director, for an outpatient substance use counseling, education, and job training center in the Bronx. I left to help support a close friend who had started an apparel manufacturing business in NYC, and stayed in the manufacturing and global sourcing space for 35 years! I “retired” but was not ready to stop working, so I thought about the work I once loved, and whether I could rejoin some aspect of the substance use arena. I started attending some community support meetings for families needing help with their addicted loved ones and told my own story to try and convey that there was hope, and people DO recover. I then went for recovery coach training. I went back to school for alcohol and drug counseling. It all led to another 10 years (thus far) in my “second career.” My advice would be to follow your passion and let your heart lead you to the work you do.

    2. Could you share your preferred therapy methods or approaches in substance abuse counseling, and why you favor them?

    My approach begins with the belief that EVERYONE is born with gifts and strengths, but we don’t always notice them right away. Through active addiction, these assets are further buried. I see therapy as a process of helping uncover (or re-discover) those strengths, see the value in them, and learn to leverage them to help ourselves, and, eventually, others. The way I try to work is always client-first and strength-based. Nothing is more satisfying as a clinician than to watch a person heal by using what they already have.

    3. How do you assess the effectiveness of your counseling techniques with your clients?

    I try to use different tools during therapy that help measure progress. I like goal setting and roadmapping, meaning, laying out a wellness and recovery plan based on several key aspects of the client’s life, such as:

    • Are they connected to a recovery community?
    • Are they spiritually active?
    • Do they have a primary care doctor who monitors their health?
    • Are they employed or going to school or training, etc.?

    I ask the client to think through these questions and write their answers down. We review it all together, set realistic, time-sensitive goals in each area, and celebrate the wins when they happen. No win is ever too small!

    4. Given that many individuals with substance abuse issues also have comorbid mental illnesses, how should one proceed if they suspect that an underlying mental health condition requires assessment?

    It is essential for both substance use and mental health disorders to be treated simultaneously, and ideally by the same clinical team. That is not always possible, so when it’s not, the therapist should make sure the lines of communication are open across all involved providers, once the client understands and agrees to the treatment plan. It isn’t always clear which issue is primary, so this clinical approach is the standard of care for co-occurring disorders. The therapist should develop relationships with vetted providers who can, on referral, conduct psychiatric interventions, including the ability to prescribe appropriate behavioral health medications if needed.

    5. Do you conduct video therapy sessions? What are the advantages and disadvantages for both you and the clients in video sessions compared to in-person therapy?

    I offer virtual therapy sessions, but prefer in-person sessions. If a client is challenged with barriers (work, school, transportation, childcare, etc.) the virtual session is a good workaround, but I prefer that at least the first one or two sessions be face-to-face. My ability to best work with a client depends on having a full assessment, which I call the “360 view.”

    6. What practical experiences, such as internships, volunteer opportunities, or relevant electives, would you recommend to students starting a therapy or counseling program today?

    If a student is thinking about working in the substance use disorder (SUD) and behavioral health space, an internship at a hospital emergency room would provide substantial exposure to people coming for treatment, and the nurses, doctors, social workers, and psych staff who participate in the treatment process. The community peer recovery centers are great places to volunteer, as they welcome the help, and the student would have access to how a recovery community comes together on behalf of its members. Any elective connected to a practicum in social services would be worth considering. The practicum aspect provides invaluable field experience, and would also help satisfy degree requirements.

    7. Can you discuss any ongoing professional development or training that is essential for staying current in your field?

    The addiction/recovery and mental health profession is constantly evolving. Research is ongoing, and the focus on “evidence-based treatments” is strong. Some of the emerging topics that would be essential to engage with are:

    • Impact on the LGBTQ+ community
    • Economic/racial disparities in healthcare
    • Importance of words and language to help fight stigma against people who use substances
    • Harm reduction philosophies and safe injection sites
    • Use of medications for addiction treatment
    • Importance of peer support work in both substance use and mental illness
    • Many more!

    8. Is there anything else you think is important that we haven’t discussed yet?

    This field of substance use counseling provides an opportunity for someone to have an impact on their community. Helping others help themselves to enable them to move closer to a better life is very rewarding work.

    The caution I’d like to highlight is the importance of us, as practitioners, ensuring that we take time for ourselves. Our work can easily become all-consuming, often without us even realizing it, if we’re not mindful of setting limits and boundaries. Remember to practice self-care, always.

    Thanks to Ken for sharing his experiences and advice with us! You can follow and connect with Ken on Linked In.