Been There, Done That: How Having Lived Experience with Addiction Brings Empathy and Understanding to Family Counselling

Jennie Bell’s children were in their teens when she found recovery from addiction. Over the more than 13 years that have passed since, Jennie has had honest and open conversations with her children about her addiction and the impact it had on them. These conversations help give Jennie a unique and empathetic perspective which she brings to her role as an Addictions Counsellor in Renascent’s Family Program

“In my role, I have the opportunity to share with others what I have found for myself and my family,” said Jennie, who celebrated her 13th year of sobriety in February 2021. “My clients are able to see me as a human being and identify with me on a different level because of my lived experience with addiction. I can bring elements of humour to our therapy sessions as I am active in recovery and no longer live under the darkness of addiction. And most importantly, I am able to offer encouragement as I share my story of experience, strength and hope.”

If you ask Jennie, she’ll tell you that addiction is a family disease and everyone – loved ones and family members of the person experiencing the addiction – should seek help. Renascent offers support for children, youth and adults within its Family Program. In addition to group counselling, the Family Care Team provides one-on-one counselling as needed.

“It’s imperative to treat and support the person who is using the drugs and/or alcohol, as well as the entire family if we are hoping to fully address the family’s recovery,” said Jennie. “We at Renascent believe that is the best way to achieve long lasting healing.”

For Jennie, her role is deeply rewarding. “I feel a true sense of fulfillment when I see changes in family members as they find their own recovery. It is very gratifying for me when clients have ‘ah-ha’ moments; especially when they realize that their own recovery is not contingent on their loved one’s,” said Jennie. “When family members understand the concept that they didn’t cause, can’t control and can’t cure the addiction, it gives me a lot of satisfaction because that is a critical step in their healing.” 

For those who are hesitant about attending a Family Program, Jennie has a simple message. “The family has a right to their own recovery. They often feel the person with the substance abuse issues is the only one in need of support, but we provide everyone with an opportunity to heal,” said Jennie. “Renascent’s Family Program provides education and tools for personal growth, with real opportunities to learn about addiction and yourself. There is always a benefit to increasing self-awareness and reaching your own potential.”

About the Authors

Renascent Staff
The staff at Renascent is passionate about helping people with substance addictions so they can reach their full recovery – with compassion, respect, empathy and understanding. Our staff includes our counsellors, all of whom have lived experience of addiction and recovery.