Agent of Change

A loved one's recovery journey empowered social worker Kay C. to help others find their strength

Heartened by her son's hard-won new life in recovery, Kay C. discovered her calling to bring hope to other families—hope that recovery is possible.

"I understand the chaos and fear of addiction," Kay relays. "It was a terrible, dark time in our lives. But Hazelden was a beacon for us. Hazelden saved my son."

When her son completed treatment at Hazelden in Plymouth, Minnesota, Kay watched as he carefully began "putting his life back together in a beautiful way."

He worked the Steps. He got a sponsor. He went to meetings. He did the work to change his life.

"I saw how he connected with the Twelve Step Program. I saw how he was able to make healthy choices in his life. I saw that recovery is possible," explains Kay.

Being of help

Through her son's unfolding journey, Kay became involved in Twelve Step recovery. Although she had a background in social work and served as a board member for nonprofit mental health organizations, it wasn't until one of her son's doctors pointed to her personal experience with addiction recovery as impetus for professional growth.

"He saw my interest and involvement in the recovery process, and he suggested that I could be of help to other families facing addiction."

In short order, Kay returned to the University of Texas at Arlington to earn a master's degree in social work and, subsequently, gain clinical licensure. Kay interned for and was later hired by an addiction treatment center for women, where she helped patients understand how they could put their lives back together.

"I knew from experience that people could find their own strengths and become their own agents of change in the recovery process. That it's possible for families to mend fences, and it's possible to find healing."

Tools of change

In 2008, Kay heard about a week-long professional development program at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California.

"I hadn't been working in the treatment field very long at that point, and here was an opportunity for an intensive look at how a really effective addiction treatment program works," she recalls.

At the Betty Ford Center, Kay shadowed a patient for the week, sitting in on group sessions, attending lectures, and learning about one another.

"The experience showed me both sides of the treatment process: What the patient was going through as well as the clinical team's approach. I left with tools I still use in my clinical practice, tools for building patient rapport and engagement and for educating family members about supportive versus enabling behaviors."

Within months, Kay signed up for the five-day Professionals in Residence program at Hazelden in Center City, Minnesota. Much like her Betty Ford Center experience, the program immersed Kay in the treatment process from both the patient and clinical perspectives. She was especially interested to learn more about the integration of science and Twelve Step practices as well as women's issues in treatment.

Her life's work

Today, Kay has a private clinical practice specializing in individual and group therapy for substance use disorder and addictive behaviors, mental health issues, trauma, anxiety and women's issues. She recently began a three-year doctoral program in clinical social work at the University of Pennsylvania and plans to conduct her research thesis on trauma-informed addiction treatment for women.

"I'm really passionate about helping people understand they have the capacity to reclaim their lives," Kay notes. In both her professional practice and personal life, Kay is reminded often of a line from a Rumi poem about embracing chaos: "You never know—it might be bringing gifts from beyond."

Join Kay C. and her family in supporting patient aid

Through their gifts to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, Kay C. and her family directly transform their gratitude into help for other families facing addiction. Every gift helps to save lives. Please consider making a gift to help those suffering from addiction rediscover hope.

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