Bill Dunne

January 08, 2018

Taking time to see the person rather than the problem

In his 26 years as a substance use counsellor — 14 of them at Phoenix — Bill Dunne calculates he’s worked with more than 7,000 clients. “These people are not damaged or immoral or bad,” he says, “most have just lost their way in life by making unfortunate decisions.”

Bill’s approach is simple. He treats his clients like regular, everyday people and helps them find their way back.

A lot of models for substance use treatment are deficit-based ones: they look at what the problem is so they can try to repair it. At Phoenix, however, the idea is to look at clients’ strengths and build upon them. “What [clients] find most helpful is that I’m actually genuine with them. I take time to see them as the person they are, versus the problems they have,” he says. “It’s all relationship-based.”

Bill did his initial training at Vancouver Community College and since then, has earned more than 30 different certifications in addictions, mental health and related fields. He’s currently working on BA in adult education from Fraser Valley University.

With his many years of experience, Bill has observed certain patterns in addiction. One of the standard entry points, he says, comes from “average” families where the kids have done pretty well in school but, when they got into their teenage years started hanging out with the wrong crowd. “The family usually tries to help but the person rebels and continues down the road, until they get in a really bad place. They may be forced to go for treatment but they haven’t really bought into it, until they decide that they need help” he says.

Another entry point for addiction often comes from people from families with significant challenges. Their parents abused drugs or alcohol, suffered from mental health issues or lived in poverty. “These clients have been involved with addiction their whole lives,” Bill says.

There are also addicts who end up where they are as a result of mental health problems. They use substances because they want to medicate themselves. For many of them, drugs or alcohol help them cope with problems like social anxiety, isolation and other mental health issues.

Often, drugs and alcohol aren’t the only challenges people face. Bill says that a fairly high percentage of his clients have other compulsions such as gambling. “It’s about the pleasure they receive from winning,” he says. “That’s pretty much happens with substance use: They try it and they like what happens with it so they continue to use it to get that effect.”

For Bill, the secret is to help his clients create positive experiences that don’t come from compulsions. “At some point, everyone has had some good times in their life,” he says. “I work to help them recreate that type of attitude and experience.”