Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Letter submitted by Alcohol and Other-Drugs (AOD) Counselor & Educator Josh Ellow.
My name is Josh Ellow, and it has been 5 months since I was hired as the Alcohol and Other-Drugs (AOD) Counselor & Educator for Swarthmore College. I am writing today to highlight the reasons why my position should be considered friendly, novel, and one of the many pieces of the wellness continuum within the Swarthmore community.
To begin, I’d like to tell you a little about my approach as a clinician. My years as a counselor and clinical supervisor have shown me that any drug can impact our biopsychosocial and spiritual well-being. Remarkably, these impacts could be positive for one person and negative for the next. Accordingly, I encourage us all to “hold up the mirror” and self-define our AOD choices with the ultimate goal of safety. This perspective allows me to remain open to varying viewpoints while never assuming I know what is best for a student. It is always my intention to remain student-centered and maintain co-accountability within the counseling or educating relationship. While working with students, I do provide pertinent information to assist in sound decision making, as I truly believe education can act as armor to unwanted AOD consequences. Moreover, I am a confidential counselor, with some limitations relating to immediate or future harm. Because I implore honesty, I also make efforts to be genuine while offering a safe space for students to be real. This approach is an integral part of what I bring to the college. I chose to come to Swarthmore because I truly believe this college to be progressive in its commitment to AOD education and treatments. Swarthmore College is one of the few higher education establishments that provide such specific and supportive AOD services and it is with great honor that I commit to the Swarthmore community.
Since beginning my commitment to Swarthmore, I have been steadfast in spreading the message that I hope to expand my services beyond sanction referrals. As a result, I hope to increase accessibility, prevention messaging, and overall AOD discussions with all community members. This increased connectivity will relate to CAPS [Counseling and Psychological Services], the athletic department, fraternities and sororities, and student, staff, and faculty bodies, amongst others. For example, I will be presenting the first-ever AOD lecture series in the upcoming fall semester. This school-wide offering will link AOD use to athletic and academic performance. My goal is to develop relatable topics within these lecture series, which I hope will be an opportunity for students to put a face, style, and character with the name. An underlying message within these lectures and my daily commitments is that AOD awareness is part of a larger wellness model that may go beyond AOD use and contribute to meeting one’s mind, body, and spiritual needs. I do believe there is power in numbers, and I hope that you will be one of the many who choose to be mindful and healthy in their entire AOD decision making!
My background and first-hand interactions indicate there are students on campus who do not enjoy AOD use or even identify themselves as being in recovery from addiction(s). Next year will turn a new page in providing opportunities. A key addition will be the “SAFE, SOUND, and SOBER” peer-led group. This will be a safe place to talk about AOD issues, where intoxication and access will never be present. While the specific details are still being ironed out, this weekly group will be a way to embrace the voice of abstinence. When it comes to addictions, often times we may think, “that will never happen to me,” or “I can handle it.” No one ever thinks their first sip of alcohol or their first hit of “pot” will lead to future problems. Current research, however, emphasizes the fact that addiction is progressive, and that significant changes occur without our intention. Accordingly, AOD escalation is not a fault of weak will and should be recognized as following the same course of treatment as many other chronic diseases. So please keep a close eye on yourself and those close to you. If you see AOD use increasing or leading to issues, be responsive and seek guidance from your AOD counselor or other campus resources.
I thank you for taking the time to read this article, and for expanding your awareness of AOD resources and support at Swarthmore College. If you would like to contact me regarding this article or any issues related to alcohol or other-drugs, please reach out!
Joshua M. Ellow, MS, ICCDP-D
Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselor & Educator
Certified TIPS Trainer