Meet Stephen Rogers, Program Director at the CLARE|MATRIX Los Angeles clinic. In this interview, we talk about his journey into substance use disorder treatment, hope for people he works with, and and what 26 years of working in the field has taught him.
What was your life like growing up and how, if at all, did it influence you choosing a career in substance use treatment?
I grew up in the inner city New York and lived in a poverty-stricken, Brooklyn neighborhood where substance use and abuse was the norm. I fell prey to the ills of the inner city and entered the world of substance use and abuse which eventually led me to rehabilitation and recovery. I have been in recovery since 1989. These early experience influenced my decision to work in treatment. It has been my desire to help those who suffer from substance use disorders.
When did you begin working in treatment?
In 1992 I began working at the Salvation Army’s Residential Treatment Program in Downtown Los Angeles. Making minimum wage, I was always searching for better opportunities and learned about openings at a Matrix Institute methadone clinic. I had never heard of Medication Assisted Treatment, but took the job because of the better pay and growth opportunities.
I have a Master’s degree in Behavioral Science, Negotiation and Conflict Management and along the way got a Master’s in Marital and Family Therapy. I became a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in March of 2018.
What is the most fulfilling part of the work you do?
I have worked in this field for over 26 years, and a little over 15 years of that time has been at the former Matrix Institute on Addictions, now CLARE|MATRIX.
Seeing change happen in people is an amazing thing. It’s not always a drastic change. Our focus is to assist our participants to improve the quality of their lives. This often entails spending more time at home with their families, maintaining employment and staying out of legal trouble. As a result, people no longer see treatment as a chore, but instead show gratitude for the opportunity to get better in a place that understands and accepts them. We have someone who knocks on my door to tell me something funny-just to make me laugh—to share a joyful moment. I remember when he came here and things were not so funny. Witnessing people living rather than just existing, is what is fulfilling to me.
How do you think the community at large can be helpful in the process of destigmatizing substance use disorders and Medication Assisted Treatment specifically?
Education is key to breaking the stigma. Some people are afraid to tell others (doctors, judges, and family members) they are in treatment and receiving medication because of the way they may or may not be treated. If we educate the community on opioid use disorders and Medication Assisted Treatment, maybe they will be more willing to accept people as they are instead of perceiving them as a threat. First, we must remove all shame from the treatment process and make sure people know that it is okay for them to disclose that they are receiving treatment if they feel that is best for them. How can we break the stigma if we feed into it by telling people to keep their life in treatment a secret? The most important thing is making sure that everyone understands that the people in our programs are people just like you and me. Our Chief Clinical Officer, Scott Van Camp, expresses this sentiment beautifully when he speaks of treating the people in our programs as if they were our beloved. How would you want your mother, father, sister, brother, or significant other treated if they were in a time of despair?
What is your favorite thing about CLARE|MATRIX?
My favorite thing about CLARE|MATRIX is the fact that we provide treatment opportunities for people who otherwise would not be able to afford treatment.