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May 1, 2007
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A conference presents an opportunity to bring the “family” together

This month the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) will celebrate its 29th anniversary at our annual conference (this year in San Diego). During the countdown to our 30th anniversary, field historian William White will be constructing a written history of this association and its relationship to so many other key events in addiction treatment during the past 30 years.

One of Bill's important, but albeit difficult, tasks will be to take the vignettes and conversations from past conferences and weave them into the association's history. NAATP's annual conferences have been like family reunions. Stories, hugs, smiles, “secrets,” sharing of dreams, shedding of tears—these have been key elements of NAATP's conferences.

When a small group of treatment providers gathered together in California early in 1978, little did they know that their creative vision would result in a national association that also includes member organizations in eight other countries. They initially were focused on forming a unified voice to “lobby” California Blue Cross and Blue Shield to include a uniform benefit in its plans to cover treatment for alcoholism and other drug addictions. This group laid the framework for a trade association that listens to its members and represents their interests in a wide variety of venues.

Early in its history, NAATP recognized that it was important for members to gather on a regular basis and to not only provide education and information, but to create a climate of celebration and exchange. NAATP has long held that its strength is in the connection between its members. The celebration, informal exchanges, and short (sometimes not so short!) coffee breaks have provided the connections that have motivated people to reach out to colleagues and share marketing ideas, supervision structures, billing procedures, contracting ideas, vendor selection tips, and a host of other activities.

And we also recognized that to celebrate we needed to recognize those among us who have made outstanding contributions to addiction treatment and who have provided the momentum that has kept the association and a lot of us going. Both formally and informally we use our conference to recognize the members of the family who have kept the family story and history alive, made it exciting, and told it to other families.

Thus, the NAATP annual conference is more about relationships and collaborative connections than specific topics on the agenda. Nevertheless, the 2007 conference does have an agenda and presenters to explore important leadership questions, such as: Where will we find tomorrow's leaders? Where should we be looking for those leaders? What sorts of activities should we be undertaking to ensure that we identify the best and the brightest among us so that they get the exposure they will need to assume leadership roles in the not too distant future?

But as I've said, annual conferences do not need to be all about presentations; they do not need to be all about sitting and listening. They can be about celebration, collaboration, networking, and making connections. The greatest value of being part of an association is knowing that you can reach out to others facing the same issues. This is especially true if you have shared coffee with them, spent time at a reception with them, or played golf with them at a conference.

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.