Sue Adamson has always felt a sense of responsibility to help others, and this personal mission is more than evident from her career path. Initially, as a health and fitness contractor, Sue’s work helping people recover from medical injuries allowed her to be a positive influence in patients endeavoring to reclaim their mobility. While working in this field, she continued her education and became a trauma-informed therapist. It was with this newfound expertise that she was able to move forward in her career.

As the clinical director for a residential addiction recovery center, Sue has assisted many people in transforming their lives for the better. Guiding others to find a sense of self-empowerment has always been a driving force for her. For Sue Adamson, there is no better feeling than that of watching someone come to the realization that they can overcome chemical dependency and succeed in leading a life free of addiction.

Tell us a little about your industry and why you chose to be a clinical director for a recovery center.

I have always had a passion for helping others. Even while I was working with medical recovery patients, I have seen what issues with addiction can do to a person. I wanted to be able to help. I feel it is a responsibility for me, and I was particularly drawn to those at the beginning of their recovery journey. As a trauma-informed therapist, I have skills that can be beneficial to those in this phase, so it was a kind of natural progression in my career to move into this area. Unfortunately, there are just so many people that have needed pain medication for legitimate reasons only to later become chemically dependent.  No one struggling with addiction intended for this to happen. I have seen this situation over and over again during the course of my career and I wanted to do more to help.

What does your typical day consist of?

As clinical director, my day consists of overseeing all aspects of programming, client referrals, and staffing. I also see clients throughout the day, both in individual and group counselling settings. Recovery is not always a linear process. My position allows me to help others both directly and indirectly by creating an atmosphere to promote and support the process.

What keeps you motivated?

I have always been in awe of the strength of the human spirit. Therapy in a residential setting is solution-focused and brief therapy by comparison to outpatient, which can take months or years. To be present and witness people coming into the center feeling very beaten down, and then, with support, being able to take ownership of their lives and move on to a successful future is the most rewarding experience of my life.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I’ve been in health and fitness for almost thirty years. Previously, I worked with people recovering from medical injuries or chronic pain management issues. While doing that, I met a lot of people that ended up becoming addicted to legal pain medication prescribed for their injuries or chronic pain issues which manifests into mental and emotional pain, as well. I’ve thought about that a lot over the years, and come to the conclusion that the most effective way to end the cycle of addiction is through evidence-based methods—science, research, and prevention. As for me and the inspiration for my career, the transition naturally evolved from my understanding that addiction is a chronic progressive relapsing disorder that can be successfully treated with the right tools, and that patients respond well when required to maintain an abstinence-based recovery program along with developing a healthy lifestyle.  Basically, I want to help where I can and give guidance and support to those who are ready for change. 

What is one piece of advice you would give someone starting in your industry?

The biggest thing would be to be mindful and be empathetic. Don’t come into this industry thinking you can ‘fix’ people. You can support them, you can provide them with the tools they need to make better choices, but you can’t do the work for them. Having that understanding from the beginning is very important for anyone entering into the mental health and addiction field, really.

Who has been a role model to you and why?

I’ve been very blessed to have several role models in my life. If I narrowed it down, I would say I have looked up to people like Oprah and Ellen DeGeneres. They have both overcome a lot, and very publicly. Seeing them survive their past and thrive beyond that trauma has been inspirational for me. I have worked with many mentors in my industry, as well. They helped to guide and support me as I was learning, and now I pay it forward by mentoring others in my field.

How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?

I try hard to model what I encourage others to do—to practice what I preach. In my work, I always recommend adopting healthy lifestyle choices like healthy eating, self-care, and daily exercise. All of that helps with the recovery process by putting the person into a better overall state of wellbeing. It’s not always easy, for them or for me, but it is such an important part of the process. Being present-focused and mindful is a big part of recovery. One thing I usually suggest is finding a method that helps you take your work hat off at the end of the day so you can be present at home with your family. It’s something that is sometimes easier said than done, but it can be very helpful.

What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?

To be authentic. When you look at the people in your life, the ones you are closest to are the ones who are the most authentic with you. As I’ve gotten older, I have learned to let go of certain things that used to seem so important to me, like what others thought of me. Being your most authentic self really resonates with people and it will help with so much in life.

What traits do you possess that make you a successful leader?

I always try my best to lead by example. Showing others what you expect by living it yourself is such a large part of being a successful leader. You want to be an attentive listener and be approachable to anyone you work with. Try to understand where someone is coming from when they approach you with an issue and really work to find a solution. It’s okay to show your own inner ‘humaness,’ and it will even encourage others to do the same. Having an open line of communication is such an important part of being a leader.