Thirty-six years ago, young social worker Claudia Black reluctantly accepted a fill-in speaker's role at a conference sponsored by the group that would become the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA), receiving a hearty introduction from the iconic Father Joseph C. Martin. Black was beginning to do some innovative work at the time with the children of addicts, though probably few outside of Fr. Martin could see its potential in an era when comprehensive analysis of family systems didn't exist and the widely held definition of “family” in addiction care usually meant spouse only.
The experience started a longtime mentorship and friendship among Fr. Martin, his Father Martin's Ashley co-founder Mae Abraham, and Black. The relationship reached an extremely meaningful milestone for Black this weekend when she received the prestigious Father Joseph C. Martin Award for Professional Excellence.
The award, given annually by the Maryland treatment center to an individual who has made significant contributions to the understanding of addiction while maintaining strong 12-Step recovery principles, was presented Aug. 24 at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) in St. Louis.
“Father Martin was so accepting that they needed to hear what I had to say,” said Black, MSW, PhD, a senior fellow at The Meadows, co-founder of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA), and accomplished author, lecturer and educator. “He spoke mostly about the addict, but he was a real believer in family recovery,” she said in an interview with Addiction Professional following the award presentation.
Among Black's many contributions to the professional field's understanding of addiction's effect on families, she broke new ground in exposing the manifestations of trauma in these families. Black described herself as having been the quiet child whom observers openly worried about, living in an addictive family system.
She concluded early on that “none of us deserved to live with this fear that permeated this family system,” she told the NCAD audience. As a professional, she became involved with family work after a hospital that needed to hire an MSW social worker brought her on and then asked her to establish a family program.
“They really had wanted me to work with wives, because most of the people who came in for treatment in those days were men,” Black said. She exceeded those expectations by also inviting in the children, including adult children, and grouping them by age in her programming.
Her original exposure to Fr. Martin occurred because Jack Fahey, the man she was dating at the time who would become her husband, worked for a company that was producing videos of Fr. Martin's internationally famous lectures. She remained close to Fr. Martin until his death in 2009, and stays in contact with Abraham.
“I don't know anybody who loved the alcoholic and the addict more than Father Martin did,” Black told the NCAD audience.
Present and future directions
Black said in the Addiction Professional interview that her move to The Meadows in 2013 has allowed her to expand her family work in meaningful areas such as young-adult services and treatment of eating disorders (the latter made possible through The Meadows' acquisition of Remuda Ranch).
While she does not believe that her own presence in the field will be necessary long-term to carry on the mission, she does worry that without other clinical champions the cause of family-focused service will not survive the rapid turnover and system change in the field—marked by the arrival of new professionals who perhaps will not have the same grounding in these subjects.
Black hopes that entities such as drug courts and community-based agencies outside of the mainstream addiction field will help carry the mantle for family-focused approaches. She added, “We also have a very powerful group of physicians in this field who have a very strong voice. They are family advocates.”