Sneak Preview: How to Engage Your African-American Clients in Treatment

February 24, 2016

Maureen Fitzgerald
ATTC Network Coordinating Office/NIATx

Mark Sanders, LCSW, CADC, of On the Mark Consulting, is an international speaker on addiction and mental health treatment. He's written several books, along with the recovery monograph, Recovery Management.

This week, Sanders is presenting a webinar as part of the Great Lakes ATTC Behavioral Health webinar series:
Counseling African Americans with Substance Use Disorder
Thursday, February 25, 2016
12:00-1:30pm CT (10:00am PT, 11:00am MT, 1:00pm ET)

View the recorded webinar here.

I caught up with Sanders recently to ask if he could give a sneak preview of his webinar, and here's what he told me:
"Helping clients recover is all about engagement," says Sanders. "Half the clients we serve will miss their second outpatient session." He describes himself as a "micro specialist" who encourages agencies to take small steps to make incremental gains--like getting clients to engage successfully from their second appointment to the third, and then the third to the fourth.

What's one of those small steps that anyone could try in their agency -- next week?

"Pay attention to your waiting room," says Sanders. "It tells a story about who is welcome in an agency."

Creating a welcoming environment that reflects patients' cultures and interests can have a big impact on client retention. As an example, he cites the agency that treated gang-involved Latino adolescents. The reading material available in waiting room included issues of Martha Stewart Magazine, Oprah, and Good Housekeeping.

Another agency that specialized in treating patients with substance use disorders who are also HIV-positive displayed posters about sexually transmitted diseases in its waiting room.

"When we asked clients what they liked least about this program, they said "the waiting room," says Sanders. "The STD posters made them feel less than welcome."

Sanders adds that people who have a history of experiencing oppression and discrmination may contact a treatment agency with their antenna already up. This makes that first contact vitally important, whether by phone or in person. "Just imagine how having a security guard at the entrance to your agency might impact the trust of an African American who has experienced police brutality."

A quick and easy way to assess your waiting room environment? A NIATx walk-through.

"An agency could easily conduct a walk-through with an eye to addressing clients' cross-cultural issues," says Sanders.

Join the webinar tomorrow to learn the additional strategies for engaging clients in the first five minutes, along with tips on effective ways to overcome cross-cultural barriers and gain trust.
If you can't attend tomorrow, the webinar will be recorded and posted on the Great Lakes ATTC webpage.

Have you done a walk-through of your waiting area recently?  What changes did you make to create a more welcoming environment for all the clients you serve? 

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