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NAATP: Keeping Our Voice

May 1, 2008
by Ronald J. Hunsicker, DMin
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If we forget our history, how will we interpret the future?

Photographer: david g. hollinger

Photographer: David G. Hollinger One of the fundamental truths is that unless we understand and learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Or, said in a more positive way, by appreciating our history we are more likely to be energized for the future. The overall message is that knowing our past will prepare us for the future.

The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) is celebrating 30 years of history as a trade association representing the interests of organizations providing addiction treatment. In the grand scheme of things, 30 years is not a long time. But in the area of addiction treatment, an entire generation of leaders, innovators, and pioneers have come and gone in those 30 years. Many people active and involved with NAATP today were preceded by a complete generation of leaders with whom they have had little, if any, firsthand encounters or experiences.

It wasn't all that long ago when the recipient of the NAATP Nelson J. Bradley Lifetime Achievement Award would begin his/her acceptance speech with a personal experience or conversation he/she had with Dr. Bradley. Now, sadly, there are few, if any, firsthand stories about encounters with Dr. Bradley. I am one of the very fortunate ones (or now one of the old ones) who have had the opportunity to share time with Dr. Bradley and many other “heroes” in our field, whether in meetings, over coffee, or by just hanging out.

Many people in the field today often note how tough it can be to get our cause and our passion recognized, but it was even tougher 30 years ago. Back then, few programs were available to those who wanted to begin their recovery journey. Few, if any, employer-sponsored healthcare plans covered treatment for alcoholism or other drug addictions. There were few, if any, conferences where we could come together and learn from each other, as well as celebrate our good work. At the same time, just a few brave and courageous people were making a lot of people uncomfortable because they insisted on talking about alcoholism! People like Vern Johnson, Gordie Grimm, John Keller, Sen. Harold Hughes, Dick Caron, Jerry Diehl, Geraldine Delaney, Dan Anderson, Len Baltzer, Harry Swift, Uwe Gunnerson, and so many, many others have played an important part in the history of addiction treatment and the history of NAATP.

As I look back over this brief but very dynamic 30 years, the single most important aspect has been the voices of the individuals who are so very much a part of this national trade association. Voices that sometimes spoke with such vigor and passion that the coffee cups rattled on their saucers. Voices that sometimes spoke with a quiet resolve. Voices that sometimes spoke again and again until others began to join in and agree. Yes, our 30 years have been filled with many voices.

In the early '90s, when NAATP began to experience difficult times along with its members, the voices of Dennis Gilhousen, Ben Underwood, John Schwarzlose, Phil Eaton, David Hillis, and others were the ones that rallied the board and membership to stay the course. It would have been easy to pull down the shades, lock the door, and close the books, but instead those leaders pushed, prodded, and planned for an even more vibrant NAATP to emerge out of the dark years of the '90s.

As NAATP made its way from 1978 to 2008, the voices of its leaders have been the constant. Just as fewer and fewer people today have met Dr. Bradley, so there are fewer and fewer involved with NAATP who know the leaders who have given so much of themselves to the association. Yet if we forget, or do not know, our history or our leaders, if we ignore where we have come from, we will significantly increase the risk of making the same mistakes we made in the past!

Sometimes I am asked why I have been with NAATP so long, first on the board in the mid-'80s and now as the president/CEO. The answer is very simple: I do it because it keeps me connected to the voices and keeps me in touch with the passion and compassion of those voices. NAATP has become an association that welcomes those in the business of delivering addiction treatment. We welcome new and long-established organizations. NAATP provides an umbrella under which we can speak to each other, learn from each other, identify common issues, and address them as one voice.

Because these voices have been and will continue to be so very important to NAATP, for our 30th anniversary celebration we have published a history of our association. This is really a collection of the voices speaking about the association, addiction treatment, and all the voices that have been so very important in our brief but amazing history. Author William White (see sidebar) has collected these voices in such a way that they speak both of the history, but also of the future, of addiction treatment. They speak about events and they speak about commitment. They speak about struggles and they speak about hope.

As someone who has been so very blessed to have heard many of those voices in board rooms, plenary sessions, small groups, and phone conversations, I urge everyone—both today's leaders and those we are grooming for the future—to read this collection. When we forget the voices, we lose our past. When we lose our past, we risk the future. Now is not the time to risk the future of addiction treatment.

Ronald J. Hunsicker, DMin, is President and CEO of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers. He is also a member of Behavioral Healthcare's Editorial Board.

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