When Eric Flanagan counsels a patient with a substance abuse problem, he speaks from experience.Flanagan, a substance abuse associate counselor for INSynergy, overcame his own addition to drugs and now hopes his story will inspire others to do the same.
“My addiction began because I had the wrong idea of what a real man was,” Flanagan said. “I gave in to peer pressure and thought doing drugs would make me ‘cool.’ After years of negative consequences, I was able to overcome my addiction with the help of some wonderful substance abuse counselors and my family, who never gave up on me. It took a total lifestyle change to overcome my addiction. I had to change most of the people, places and things in my life.”
Flanagan completed his associate degree in human services from St. Louis Community College in December. He returned to school at age 50 after being laid off from Chrysler, taking advantage of a tuition assistance program offered by his former employer. A conversation with a St. Louis Community College enrollment representative helped steer him toward the field of human services.
“After working in the auto industry my whole adult life, it was quite a challenge for me to go back to school,” Flanagan said. “There were many times I wanted to give up on my education, but the students, instructors and my family motivated and urged me to continue.”
The employment opportunity at INSynergy also came about by a chance encounter. A conversation with classmate Teresa Taca led to an interview for a practicum experience with Taca’s brother, Dr. Arturo Taca, who is the founder and medical director of INSynergy. After a second practicum there, Dr. Taca offered Flanagan a job.
“I was very fortunate to be able to do my practicums at INSynergy,” Flanagan said. “My human services instructor (Jan Osler) always told us that you never know who you will meet who might advance your career. She was so right.”
Personal experiences, plus skills and strategies gained in the classroom, have served Flanagan well in his present job.
“Understanding the physiology, effects and reasons behind addiction really has prepared me for my job,” Flanagan said. “My instructors also emphasized communication skills because without them, you can’t effectively counsel a client.”
Flanagan plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in social work at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and then hopes to complete a master’s degree.
“I feel fortunate to be employed at INSynergy at this time,” he said. “I believe I am getting in on the ground floor before the business grows, which will afford me opportunities to advance my career.”