Dan joined the SMART Recovery Australia team in late 2016. Originally from Scotland, Dan worked in addiction, peer education, and homelessness services before coming to us. These days, in addition to his duties as National SMART Coordinator and Trainer, Dan facilitates a weekly SMART Recovery meeting in Brisbane, and recently oversaw the first National Peer Conference. In the wake of this massive success, I asked Dan for some insight into his experience of SMART Recovery.

What inspired you to work at SMART Recovery?

Working with people who are experiencing addictive behaviors is interesting to me on many levels. Having worked in residential and community settings for many years in Scotland, since coming to Australia I had limited opportunity in the alcohol and drug field. I missed working in the addiction field and was very happy to get the opportunity to join the SMART Recovery family last year. On a personal level, having come through serious addiction myself over 15 years ago has been a huge driver for me. The passion and desire to see participants empowering themselves to make change is very rewarding.

Tell us about your SMART group in Manly West.

I have been running a meeting in Manly West since February. The group has seen approximately 10-12 people come through overall, but there has been a struggle with consistency. This is due to the demands of my National Coordinator role, which requires me to travel to deliver SMART training across Australia. I am currently trying to training up co-facilitators to run meetings when I am absent. This highlights the need for those who do train in SMART as facilitators to ensure they have co-facilitators to support them. It is going well but will take time to promote further and get the numbers up.

In your opinion, what are the advantages to attending SMART meetings instead of other addictive behaviour programs?

I think it depends on what works for the person to make change. SMART can be very effective for helping support people to move towards behavioural change and maintain it over time. The evidence based nature of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Motivational Interviewing gives good grounding for success. SMART also focuses on behaviour and not the substance itself, so it can empower the participant to make change and be accountable. This is a marked difference from other programs, which focus on the substance and identify participants as having a disease, which in turn can leave them feeling disempowered. However,SMART is not just a stand alone program (although it can be), and it can also work in collaboration with other programs and models.

You spend a lot of time travelling around Australia, training people to become facilitators in their communities. How has facilitating your own meetings helped you train people?

I think running a group gives you stories and experiences to draw upon and make it real for people who you train. Training can be a little detached from the reality on the ground so running a group gives validity and credibility to the training we deliver.

What’s your favourite part of facilitator training?

I do enjoy the role plays as it can be very light-hearted and fun watching the participants play characters through the day. However, I actually enjoy the first day when I run a real SMART meeting with the trainees and ask them to bring a real life behaviour they would like to change. Often, these are things such as eating too much sugar, not going to the gym, or too much social media. By doing this, they can see that a SMART Recovery meeting and our principles and tools can be used for any behaviour at all and help them make a positive change. It doesn’t just need to be drugs or alcohol. I also like it because it provides the trainees with insight into how much we do ask and expect from the participants who attend SMART or engage in therapy.

What’s the hardest part about being a facilitator?

We are dealing with serious issues that people want to change, so that will always be hard. One of the challenging things is not to give advice or prescribe or encourage a certain plan. I have been in this field professionally and personally for over 20 years, so I do know a few things. However, SMART Recovery is about self-management, and that is most powerful when we talk about change and intrinsic motivation.

You’re originally from Scotland. What do you enjoy about living in Brisbane, and what do you miss about your home country?

The weather! I love Queensland weather. I can understand why so many people drink whisky back home – it’s just to keep warm. I do miss talking in my natural dialect. I have had to change my accent a little so people can understand me, and I’ve lost the use of some words. I will give you a couple of examples and see if you know what I am saying.

Dan’s Guide to Speaking Scottish

“Hooyedain neebur?”…translated as “how are you my friend?”
“Haud yer wheesht”…translated “I think you should be quiet now”
“Awa and bile yer heid”…translated as “I would suggest you go away and rethink your actions”