For clients to feel comfortable and ready to engage they need to trust in the integrity of both the practitioner and service.

Effective youth AOD practitioners position themselves alongside young people and through dialogue and first-hand experience hope to understand better the complexity of their experiences and their specific needs. This requires young people and those close to them to let AOD practitioners, who will always be outsiders, into their world. This can only be achieved when youth AOD practitioners demonstrate respect and an openness to working from where a young person is at. In this sense practitioners become “inside outsiders” (Ungar, 2005).

Positive personal attachments are included along with tasks and goals as the elements of a therapeutic alliance (Horvath and Luborsky, 1993). The quality of the therapeutic alliance between practitioner and client is directly linked to improved outcomes. When clients believe that practitioners and services are competent and reliable greater hope and expectation is engendered. This leads to better outcomes for clients. For this reason practitioners are advised to convey ‘realistic optimism’ (Bruun, 2006), intentionally demonstrating confidence that they can help without making light of the issues that are distressing.

It is incumbent on organisations operating youth AOD services to create the conditions that support practitioners and staff services more broadly to cultivate the a sense of ‘realistic optimism’. The energy and motivation of practitioners is a vital resource that can be protected and nurtured but can also be diminished, for example, by constant exposure to the distressing circumstances of clients and a sense that available responses are inadequate in meeting their needs (see Worker Self Care for information on practitioner burnout).  This highlights the need for suitable supervision, guidance and a consistent organisational approach to management and service planning that recognises the human needs of workers and the realities of they encounter in practice (see Supervision).

Young people and families are most likely to engage with practitioners who:

  • Are dependable and trustworthy (those who follow through on commitments and don’t make promises that can’t be kept);
  • Are truthful, respectful and genuinely interested in helping;
  • Are able to tune into how others see the world, and to have insight into their own limitations and biases;
  • Have a sense of humour and take the time to listen and respond;
  • Are adaptable and prepared to engage with young people in different environments and over different timeframes.
  • Are creative and energetic but prepared to be responsible and accountable

Together with these personal traits, it is also crucial that practitioners or services consider the impression that their appearance leaves on young people, families and others who might have a significant influence in the lives of clients.  For example, professional practitioners will dress appropriately for court and take care to observe any conventions in the interests of helping a client get the best result. At other times, a practitioner might seek to reassure parents by dressing to convey professionalism.