Thursday 17 May 2018

Financial counselling & AOD treatment – a holistic approach

By: Garry Rothman

This article was originally published in the April VAADA e-newsletter available here.

You may be surprised to learn that there are only three AOD services in Victoria with a co-located financial counsellor. We provide financial counselling to clients suffering from addictions, addressing such issues as fines, debt collection, payday lenders, utility debts, phone debts, gambling, superannuation & insurance claims, Centrelink issues, such as “robo.” debts and refused DSP claims.

Through working with clients within an AOD treatment environment we have found that clients are more willing to disclose such issues and in so doing reduce the risk of relapse and improve therapeutic outcomes.

Consider the fear that unresolved financial issues can engender in our clients. For instance, Paul could not open his mail because it was too overwhelming to deal with outstanding debts and fines that kept pouring in. It seemed pointless because there was no way out. He was afraid to answer his phone unless he knew who was calling, or answer the door if he wasn’t expecting anyone for fear that it was a debt collector or sheriff. Leaving his house meant further fear of police or sheriffs chasing unpaid fines.

This level of anxiety is not uncommon, encountering fear at every turn and no resolution to it in sight. Feeling overwhelmed, anxious and hopeless was a continual cause of relapse for Paul and kept him in a spiral of debt and addiction. Further exacerbating his situation were multiple payday loans, unpaid bills and mobile phones that he had sold to pay for drugs.

Seeing a financial counsellor took away all the fear and avoidance. The trigger for relapsing was reduced and Paul was able to focus on his treatment, stay drug free and resolve his financial issues.

Clients experiencing dependence usually have more complex and multiple matters to deal with and the casework involves a longer time span. However the outcomes for the client are not only limited to resolving financial issues but also extend to better therapeutic outcomes, quality of life and improved relationships. Clients are able to feel that they can operate within the community instead of seeing themselves as marginalised thus improving self-esteem.

Unfortunately, government funding takes a silo approach. AOD funders are only interested in AOD treatment. Financial counselling funders are only interested in LGAs and generalist services. This has put an enormous strain on our capacity to provide financial counselling to all those clients and services seeking to engage. As a result, we have had to stop providing outreach financial counselling and at times, we have had to close our books to further referrals. We need funders and service managers to have a broader vision and realise that the quality and outcomes of AOD treatment and financial counselling will be enormously enhanced with a more enlightened approach to funding these services.

Garry Rothman is a senior financial counsellor at Odyssey House Victoria, with 15 years of experience working with AOD clients. He is a winner of the Virginia Noonan Award for excellence in financial counselling.