Substance Abuse Treatment Counselors Say Workplace Violence is Common

Counselors at substance use disorder treatment programs say violence against them is common, a new study finds. More than half said they personally experienced violence, 44 percent witnessed violence, and 61 percent had knowledge of violence directed at a colleague.

The study is the first to measure the extent of workplace violence in treatment programs across the United States, according to

“We know that workplace violence disproportionately impacts health care and social service providers,” lead author Brian E. Bride of George State University said in a news release. “Our goal was to quantify its existence in substance abuse treatment centers, identify personal and institutional responses, and identify any characteristics that may put counselors at greater risk.”

Bride and colleagues found 29 percent of counselors reported that exposure to workplace violence led to an increased concern for personal safety, while 15 percent said it affected their treatment of patients and 12 percent said it impaired their job performance.

In response to patient violence, 70 percent of treatment centers have increased training on de-escalating violent situations, and 58 percent have increased security measures, the researchers found.

The study appears in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.

“Workplace violence has been shown to interfere with a clinician’s ability to manage his or her workload,” Bride said. “Additionally, these professionals suffer lower mental energy. They are less likely to participate in work decisions and more likely to offer a decreased quality of care.”

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    Dave Finch

    July 10, 2015 at 1:04 PM

    This should not be a surprise as, by a huge majority, drug addicts suffer from co-occurring disorders. It is important to keep this perspective and not be hoodwinked by the myth that drug use causes healthy people to turn violent.

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    Patrick Mahoney

    July 9, 2015 at 1:22 PM

    Having worked for over 10 years in a residential treatment program, I have witnessed two physical fights between clients, less than a dozen verbal conflicts among clients with raised voices and aggressive posturing, and fewer than six incidents where staff felt threatened by clients. We have policies and procedures that support staff interventions, insure client safety, and allow for immediate assistance by calling for help via 9-1-1. We make it clear at the outset that violence and threats of violence will not be tolerated and are grounds for discharge. Most folks coming into treatment are not at their best physically, mentally, or emotionally, so we ask staff to provide unconditional positive regard, treating others as we would want to be treated with compassion and dignity. It is more productive to walk beside someone than stand behind them pushing. I have noticed that violent episodes are often reported by peers who work in centers that have larger populations, fewer staff to patient ratios, punitive and authoritarian management, and little staff support through ongoing training, adequate compensation, and genuine teamwork. Many facilities need to increase the supports they provide their staff to enable the building of trust and rapport with clients.

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    Vicky Wood

    July 7, 2015 at 1:28 PM

    I worked as a Licensed Addiction Counselor at an inpatient chemical dependency treatment center for over 10 years. Not once did I ever feel I was in danger, in any manner. I treated the patients with dignity and respect and that was returned in kind.

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    Glenn Major

    June 25, 2015 at 2:18 PM

    The title of this article is a little miss leading. It should state

    Patient Violence Towards Counselors in Substance Use Disorder Treatment Programs: Prevalence, Predictors, and Responses

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