March 2022: This month, we spoke with Kelsey MacLean, a Recovery Support Specialist at Hartford Healthcare. Kelsey shares her journey from addiction to building a career, and how TryCycle has helped her, help others

By: Michelle Voegtle, M.Ed., LPC, Director of Clinical Programs at TryCycle


What led you to become a Recovery Support Specialist (RSS)?

What led me to become an RSS was my personal battle with addiction and then wanting to give back to others.  My passion for seeing people not go through what I went through is what pushed me into this field. That’s what drives me every day.  Helping others NOT go through what I went through.

Are you able to share what you went through, what you’re helping others to avoid? 

A lot.  Stealing from family, homelessness, not being truthful to myself and others, breaking the law.  There were many consequences that I had to overcome.  Which started with me being truthful with myself.  For a long time, I couldn’t do that.  Finally, I put into action what I wanted out of my life.

What changed for you?

I just went into treatment. I didn’t want to go to jail. If my treatment wasn’t court-mandated I’m not sure where I would be today.  While I was in treatment, all I wanted to do was go home. My drug of choice was heroin, but I knew that wasn’t the life I wanted to live.  I knew I could take the opportunity to make a change.  I could lie and tell everyone what they wanted to hear, or I could listen to others with long-term sobriety.  While I was in treatment, an RSS shared her story with me, and she ran AA meetings. Just knowing that leaving this lifestyle behind was possible gave me motivation.

What training did you complete to become an RSS? 

I attended the Recovery Leadership Academy, a Recovery Support Specialist Training and Certification Program, at Hartford Healthcare.  The Program prepares people in recovery from mental health or addiction, as well as family members of people in recovery, to become a Certified Recovery Support Specialist (RSS).  The course was 120 hours and I had to take a final exam at the end to graduate. It gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of people, like doctors and clinicians.

I pinch myself every day.  I went to class 3 days a week for 8 hours and I gained a career out of it. I’ve even signed up for school now!  I was a high school dropout. I don’t have formal education outside of culinary- and to be able to get this job, I found my calling.

What was your favourite part of the training?

The training was easy to follow, and I met great people. I gained tools for the job, but I can also apply them to my personal life.  It was a great learning experience! I learned about: Family interventions, Harm Reduction Techniques, the History of Behavioural Health, Holistic Alternatives to Treatment, Mental Health First Aid, and Motivational Interviewing.

My two favourite classes were the holistic ones where we learned about Chi Gong, which is the movement of energy, and laugh therapy.  I forgot I could laugh like that, deep in your belly.  Those two I remember the most. And we had such good speakers, diverse speakers.  They came from all walks of life.

I understand you use TryCycle as part of the RSS program?  What is TryCycle and how is TryCycle a part of guiding people in recovery?

TryCycle is what we call a “digital compassionate tether.”  It’s an early outreach and intervention tool. It lets us connect with clients before they relapse and before there’re in crisis with their mental health.  Clients can reach out through TryCycle anytime and RSS gets an alert and can follow up with clients.  We rotate on call and so most of the day someone is available to work with clients when they feel they need support.

Why do you believe TryCycle works?

The first thing I’ll say about TryCycle is that it’s easy to navigate. I can’t tell you how often clients say it helps them out.  It’s a place they can really express what’s going on with them. At first, they say, “oh it’s an app.”  But once they get on, they say “TryCycle is a lifesaver.” It gives clients the structure they need.  And teaches clients they have support because there’s always someone there.  It helps build trust because I can walk into a group and a client will say, “I put on TryCycle…” And I already know before I see them!  So, when we are face to face, I can follow up.  They don’t feel so alone.  It’s recovery.

Tell me about how your role as an RSS and how the use of TryCycle supports the work that clients are doing in treatment?

In early sobriety, honesty is not your first policy. TryCycle helps clients approach the problem before they have to say it. It’s hard to say you’ve relapsed in a group setting. Clients feel ashamed, guilty, and remorseful.  With TryCycle, clients can express what’s going on and they know it’s private; it helps clients find their voice at their own pace – especially with shy clients.  I can follow up and it helps me gauge where they are in their recovery.  It’s a safe place for clients to talk which is vital in recovery.

What have you learned about yourself or recovery through being an RSS?

I’ve learned a lot.  I’ve learned that I’m very capable.  That if I continue to put my recovery first, things in my career fall into place.  I learned that I’m great with people and I have a lot to offer.  But I’ve also learned that I’m still growing, very much still growing. And I’m ok with that.  It’s taught me to be patient with the process but be urgent with the learning.

How has being an RSS impacted your own recovery?

It’s helped me in many ways. Being an RSS keeps me sober. It shows me what the lifestyle still does and takes from you.  It reminds me of what I don’t want to go back to.  The newcomers are so important, and I often need that reminder.  More importantly, to be able to help someone.

Clients tell me that the conversations we share, have changed their path. Especially the youth, they are our future.  To show someone at a young age, that life can be beautiful, it’s very powerful.