Interview with Erika Barna, communications director of Kékpont

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I have met up with Era in a cosy café on a busy Tuesday morning. She was very helpful and kind to have agreed to meet me and give me a little interview, even though she must be one of the busiest women in Budapest. Our little talk was very interesting and eye-opening for me, and I am thankful that she gave me an hour of her day to me.

First of all, let me ask you that if there is someone who does not know what Kékpont is, what would you tell them about it?

The organisation is almost 20 years old, it was founded in 1997-8. It is mainly concerned with the drug phenomenon and use; not only with the illness itself but with prevention, too. What I mean is that our activity extends from prevention to reintegration or rehabilitation. This means that Kékpont is not an institution where inpatients lie but there are outpatients who come to our two polyclinics, one of them is in the III. and the other in the IX. district, and here can their drug use be stopped or reduced. Our mission is phrased like this: the reduction of the harmful effects of drug use with regards to the individual, the family and society.

Is it actually someone’s job to look for clients?

No. The organisation has a certain kind of past, it is available on a lot of platforms, for example on social media, like Facebook or the website, and this way it has become well-known, patients give each other the word. They telephone in or they come to one of our polyclinics personally but they have to make an appointment because there are really a lot of them. So no, we do not have to go after patients; what is more, sometimes there is client stop because my colleagues have so many patients that they can hardly bear it, we have capacity problems.

Do they really telephone in personally? Or is that done by a family member?

The answer is yes to both questions. By the way, it is a requirement that the person who needs to be treated must be willing to concede and he or she must be the one who makes an appointment. Even if a family member telephones and says that they seem to have a problem with someone in the family, we invite them to a so called consultation for relatives. If the actual person who has the addiction does not come, it is not a problem. In this case, the psychologist talks to the concerned relative, discusses their fears and concerns, helps them to deal with the situation and maybe it turns out that they have overreacted it. If the client decides to come to a consultation after all, they all get a kind of guide, a social worker, who will see them to the different specialists during their treatment. There is a health check at the beginning, a lot of things must be asked from the patient concerning medical, legal, social, cultural and family issues. And we have several experts, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, addictological consultants and lawyers working at the same place. This is a great advantage of us over hospitals because we have a complex team who can communicate easily and treat the patients accordingly. Of course, there is no denying, there are cases when a patient is assigned to us through a legal case and they must be dealt with. This is called diverting and it happens when a person who is obviously not an addict, for example a teenager who has been caught smoking weed, must come to us once every two weeks for half a year and this way he can avoid the court case. We do not really like this institution since we do not agree with the way it treats young people and furthermore, it takes the place from those who really need it, so what we do is to send them to other organisations who deal with diverting, luckily there are places like this, and this way we can treat those who need serious help.

Is it possible to become indifferent in this area of work?

 It might happen, of course, but I have never met anyone with this problem. What is more usual, I think, is the burnout, which is the consequence of the difficult circumstances and problems the civil sector has to deal with. People are badly paid and extremely overloaded. The other case is too much involvement, when the worker gets emotionally involved in a case and gets hurt. This is why supervision is very important; it prevents workers from getting too deep into their job.

How can they manage not to take home their job?

What I can see on those who have been doing this for a long time is that their whole system of values is re-evaluated; for them, success is not money or anything like that. They appreciate any small development because dealing with addicts is a very long process; drug addicts lose every connection with the outside world and even the tiniest recognition or movement towards a worker is a great progress. For example, it might not seem a development at all, but if they meet on Monday and the patient is told that he should come on Wednesday, too, because clothes will be distributed, and he comes because he remembered that it is winter and he needs warm clothes, is a huge step. They are afraid of going to the doctor’s or to the hospital for obvious reasons, and if they can find someone who is closer to them in age and social class and seems like a nice person who would like to help, then there is hope. Those who do this kind of work do not do it for the money or the social prestige but because they have some kind of internal incentive.

Do you deal with patients who do not have drug problems but have other kind of addiction?

Of course, though the two biggest areas are drug and alcohol. We deal with behavioural addictions and body image issues, too. Usually the problems are connected, so for example, an alcohol addict mostly has gambling problems, too, or the drug and alcohol addiction appear together.

You are going to schools to hold presentations, don’t you?

Yes; we had a sponsor for 3 years and with its financial help we could travel all over the country and visit schools, mainly high schools; schools unfortunately do not have the financial means to invite us, they like to keep it simple. But we do not really like those typical presentations which last 45 minutes and involve one person speaking; we find this boring and ineffective. What we do instead is interactive discussions and exercises outside school for half a day or so. This is more like an experience rather than a dull presentation, and students always seemed to enjoy it.

Do you have personal contact with actual addicts?

No. I am not ignorant about them, of course, but what really interests me is this bridge role. What I mean is that how I can communicate the rights and claims of an organisation with a good cause that is looked at with prejudices by the society and has little financial and social recognition. My past in the radio, I think, has a lot to do with it. Before Kékpont, I worked as radio editor at Petőfi Rádió for 16 years, which was a lot different back then, and contributed to several programmes, including Drogéria which dealt with drug use in Hungary. Before that, I went to ELTE BTK and studied Russian, Esperanto, Aesthetics but originally applied for Chinese Studies, which was announced for the first time that year. Basically I went there to gain some time, I did not know what I wanted to do with my life. Journalism interested me the most but back then you couldn’t study that at a university, only the MUOSZ (Society of Hungarian Journalists) offered trainings, so this is what I did. During all these years, I attended a lot of trainings and courses, which might seem a bit too much all at once but all of them was in connection with some kind of communication, and I found them interesting and exciting. For example, how civil servants, people from the civil sector and people from the business sector can communicate efficiently with each other.

Do you have a goal that you would like to achieve?

What I find important and interesting is this bridge role I have mentioned before. And what I would have liked to do with Kékpont was that to make its image less intimidating for patients; make it something that does not start with psych- or soc- and does not have the image of serious and frigid doctors running around in lab coats. Because the drug issue does not only have health or social aspects but it is more complex. And I think this has been achieved, of course not only thanks to me.

And finally, as a lighter topic, what do you do in your free time to get rid of all this stress?

I run. I started it 2 years ago, and I love it! I had hated it before, really, I was awful at it and did not understand what the big deal was about. But now I even founded a Facebook group for women who are just like me: very busy and have no time for scheduled sports, such as aerobic, but would like to do some sports. The only requirement is the desire to run. We do not meet up and run all at once because it would be impossible, the group having more than 300 members. Running is my newest passion and this Saturday I am planning to run my first half-marathon! I am really excited but at the same time anxious, too, because I linked it with a donation collection: I made a Facebook event, and those who join, agree to pay at least 1000 Ft for a charity issue I am working on, if I finish.

Well, good luck and thank you again for the interview!

For more information about Kékpont, visit: http://www.kekpont.hu/

  1. 11. 2014.

Sára Csanádi

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