Airline pilots, just like everyone else, need a safe space to ask questions about recovery—but, because of their profession, it’s not always easy. The current framework of the Federal Aviation Administration makes it difficult for pilots to seek help, since pilots know that if they go to a psychologist or psychiatrist that they will have to disclose that information. Because of the way the organization works, what’s said in confidence to a doctor could be demanded by the FAA.
Questions and concerns will come up over the course of anyone’s life. Pilots, too, sometimes need assistance to understand their feelings and if they need additional support.
I’ve had a career as an airline pilot and I now work in mental health. Since I’m not a licensed therapist, pilots who speak to me about potential problems do not need to disclose our conversations to the FAA. (And I’ve been through the full gauntlet of speaking to the FAA about my addiction, so I understand how difficult that process can be.)
When I was flying, I sometimes longed to speak to someone confidentially about problems that I was having—but I kept those problems to myself out of fear of what talking to a doctor could do about my career. Today, though, I answer many calls from pilots, and I’ve helped many pilots look at stress, relationships, and concerns about alcohol use or abuse. Most pilots just want to ask a trained professional a few questions about managing their emotions: “Is this normal?” or “How do I navigate this situation?” Sometimes just a few sessions of talking about a particular issue with someone who has experienced it can be extremely useful.
I can also help pilots evaluate drinking and drug use. Pilots know that coming forward to a doctor with these concerns can cause a cascade of unpleasant events, so in some cases an evaluation—before seeking medical attention—can be helpful. (Is this problem drinking, or is this a normal level of drinking?) Unfortunately, there’s no way to speak to a therapist or doctor without triggering a mandatory disclosure to the FAA.
When I work with pilots, we can openly discuss what the right course of action may be. Some pilots do need to enter the HIMS Program—an occupational substance abuse treatment program—and others just need help determining if they have a problem and how severe that problem is. By talking to someone that has been through the process before and works in addiction today, pilots can gain insight into their situation and get help making a plan moving forward.
When I was struggling, I decided to go it alone—and it was a much harder way to go. Today, I’m here to listen to pilots and help them figure out what is right for them. Despite the restrictions of the system, I advocate for pilots to get help, ask questions, and seek answers.
Adam Banks is a certified recovery coach and interventionist at Suntra Modern Recovery. He received an MBA from the University of Chicago and built a company which United Health Care acquired. He learned his rigor and attention to detail from his career as an airline pilot, holding an ATP, the FAA’s highest license.
Suntra Modern Recovery provides medical treatment for alcohol and opiate addictions via video visit with medical doctors. Suntra’s alcohol and drug intervention services are available in New York, Long Island, and the Hamptons. Treatment for opiate and heroin addiction, including Suboxone treatment, can start today.