In the past thirty years of my work, I have had the opportunity to visit many facilities that help the homeless. When I see a man in a recovery program I like to ask, “How is he doing?” I usually just get a pat answer like, “Well, he’s been with us for six months.” The problem with this answer, of course is that a sober, healthy lifestyle is not automatically picked up just by hanging around the mission for a certain length of time.
The only way to really know is by keeping accurate written records that show how we are meeting the individual needs of the people in our programs. A formal needs assessment process is needed. The information that is gathered provides the foundation for a written recovery plan (or discipleship plan). The purpose of such a plan is to help program people think through their options, to identify their own needs, and to determine which specific actions they must take to get their needs met. To ensure maximum “buy in,” the plan should be developed with lots of input from counselees themselves.
An effective recovery plan describes how the resources of the mission plus appropriate community resources are to be (or have been) used to meet the unique needs of each individual during his or her time in the program. This is done by scheduling in-hourse resources, such as books, tapes, videos, a work program, recreational activities, one-on-one counseling, support groups, classes, etc. and using outside resources like agencies that provide various services, other Christian organizations and so forth. While we may start with the most pressing needs, a good recovery plans moves step-by-step toward the ultimate goal of equipping program participants to live the life that God wants them to live
There are five elements that are necessary to have an effective plan
A. Identify and prioritize the client’s problems. Everyone who walks through our doors has unique needs. Generally speaking, we could say they need to know the Lord, they need to be sober, etc. For some of these issues we need regularly scheduled classes, worship, work therapy, and so forth in which all program members participate. But there also needs to be a weekly one-on-one session with a staff member who can help each one with the various personal problems that need can only be dealt with on an individual basis.
B. Set goals for recovery that are attainable within the context of the program. For the best chance of success, it is important to develop realistic goals. Make sure they are challenging and make sure they are attainable within your program. This can only be accomplished when a formal assessment has been conducted to identify resources and expertise that is available to clients; both in-house and externally.
C. Develop measurable objectives that lead to accomplishing the goals. Good objectives can include assignments, activities, action projects, etc. – but they must be something that can be measured. Specific habits to be developed, people to call, appointments to make, tests to take, books to read, amends to specific people are all good objectives. Setting dates and describing the exact circumstances of conditions that demonstrate the objectives have been accomplished makes them truly measurable.
D. Establish a timeline for when the various objectives are to be met. Don’t say “sometime in the next three months you will read this book.” Instead say, “this book will be read by the end of the week” or by this specific date.
E. Assign a staff member to assist the individual to meet his or her objectives. Every program member needs one primary staff person who is responsible for overseeing his or her progress in the program; whether it be a counselor, chaplain, or case manager. Someone has to meet with the individual at least weekly to review progress in the program and to coordinate the meeting of program goals and objectives with other staff members, outside referrals, family members, and anyone else who will be involved with helping the person.
A written, regularly updated written recovery plan can be one of the best ways to motivate people in the change process. A regular, weekly review allows rescue mission program participants to evaluate their options, to see progress and establish “benchmarks” for measuring their personal growth. The best way to ensure that this happens is to adopt a set of policies that embody an approach to counseling that will be used by all mission staff members who counsel program residents.
In future installments, we will discuss some methods of gathering data in order to identify and prioritize the problems faced by counselees. We will also look at the details of creating and updating the recovery plan. For downloadable forms and other helpful information for creating recovery plans, see the Guide to Effective Rescue Mission Recovery Programs.