Living Changes

By Cassie McCarthy, Living Changes

It’s challenging not to roll my eyes when a well-meaning person tells me that what I do for work is “so honorable,” or when they say the oh-so-common “I don’t know how you do it.” Being a social worker isn’t about being a martyr; it’s about being compassionate, having insight into the human condition and remembering that people are generally doing the best they can.

What’s interesting to me is how much credit I am given for entering my field, and how little appreciation is given to the clients I serve. I have chosen to make a career out of helping people who have experienced terrible traumas and losses; specifically, I work with families who are grieving the death of a loved one to drug overdoses, or who have a loved one who is still battling addiction. In a state where we have lost over 200 people to drug overdoses in the span of a few short months, this is no easy task.

Our society has shunned families of addiction, criminalized a disease and allowed managed care to make a mess out of its treatment. Families are forced to deal with a perfect storm: a loved one who has a progressive illness when left untreated, a culture that disenfranchises their experience and needs and a system that is overwhelmed and under-resourced.

Families are stuck between a rock and a hard place, and somehow, are able to continuously fight on behalf of their loved one, never lose hope that one day things will be better, and hold tight to the belief that their family member deserves love no matter how terrible an act they may commit.

When I see my clients in action I am often overcome with a feeling of awe, and in fact, it’s an honor to do this work with them. They didn’t choose this life, despite what society might say—because honestly, who would choose for their child to battle drug addiction and be at risk for secondary and tertiary issues such as incarceration, HIV, homelessness and much more. This was the hand they were given, and I have the task of being their confidant while they struggle through the many feelings, wounds and losses that they may face.

Being the therapist to families coping with grief and trauma related to a loved one’s addiction has its hard days, but it is also incredibly inspiring. Like my clients, I didn’t choose this path, it chose me, and truthfully I can’t imagine myself in any other career. Bearing witness to a person sharing their darkest moments, biggest fears, toughest decisions and horrible traumas isn’t for the faint at heart. It requires an inner strength to do this work, but it also requires empathy, patience, self-care, humility and, most importantly, hope. It also requires an open mind. When you are able to stop judging and start listening, you are able to learn a lot about people’s capacity to heal, be resilient and continue to love.

So yes, I work with the families of addicts. Yes, it is hard. But—more often than not—it’s inspiring.

These are families who are doing their best they can with the hand they were dealt, and it is my honor to see them through it.

Cassie McCarthy, LICSW is the founder of Living Changes (1234 Broadway), a private organization dedicated to helping families and communities after a loss or a traumatic event. For more information, see or contact her directly at