Entering Addiction Studies 1 on Monday afternoon, an observer might expect a quiet room full of serious faces – but music is playing.
The professor is discussing Miles Davis, and his dog, Benny, is lying curled up under his desk. Students are smiling, conversing and appear at ease.
The course is taught by Dr. James Crossen, who founded the Addiction Studies Program at Pierce College.
Though he has a doctorate in psychology, he dedicated himself to the field of addiction studies, partly due to his personal experience.
He wanted “to be of loving service,” distinguished from those who pursue money, prestige and power.
“There are few occupations that do not involve exploiting or abusing other people,” Crossen said. It is this consciously compassionate mentality that will allow these students to offer the guidance and support it takes to be an addiction counselor.
After completing the program at Pierce, students will be certified Chemical Dependency Specialists and may adopt the informal title CDS. They must complete a minimum of 36 units in the program and have 100 hours of field work.
Students must also demonstrate complete understanding of a 12-step program for recovery and demonstrate what the program calls the three C’s: competence, charisma and commitment.
Chemical dependence is not the only behavior that is categorized as addiction, with other forms related to relationships, eating, gambling and many other behaviors.
Addiction is a disease that affects one’s personality and judgment – it is not an uncommon occurrence, either.
“Addiction obliterates choice,” said Crossen. “It controls everything.”
Paul Karlbon, who has been to prison three times for selling drugs, is now in his first semester in the program and aspires to be a drug addiction counselor.
“When I got out of prison, I felt I had a chance to turn my life around,” Karlbon said. “I want to clean up my record and give back to the community.”
He said it has been hard for him to get a job with his criminal record, but he knew he could prove that he had really made a change in his life by pursuing addiction studies.
“I’d say about 80 percent of students in the program have had addictions of some kind,” said Judy Davis, an instructor in the program and a licensed marriage and family therapist.
“There’s an addict in all of us,” said Pamela Lorenzen, another student in the program who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
In her native state of South Carolina, Lorenzen worked in a program offering counseling for families.
counseled people with addiction problems, but it was also her own struggle with addiction that led her to focus studies on it.
For an addict, the long process of recovery is never truly complete.
“Recovery is a myth – provocative, perhaps – but it is an ongoing, one day at a time issue,” Crossen said.
Much of the drug counseling in the first year of recovery is essentially coaching and offering support. “Dr. Crossen is incredibly brilliant,” said Davis, who worked previously with Crossen at Mission College. “I have the highest regard for him. He is a mentor to the faculty.”
The Addiction Studies Program takes pride in its department, and each instructor has gone through the certification process themselves.
“We walk the walk,” said Davis.