Animal Assisted Therapy with Alyssa Overton

Think back in your mind to a moment when you had a genuine connection with an animal. What was it about that animal that you connected to? What kind of animal was it? Was it a pet of yours, someone else’s pet, or even a wild animal? Now consider what that animal did for you emotionally/internally. Maybe you cried over the animal, maybe you couldn’t stop smiling, or perhaps you were simply content to be in the presence of it. Whatever happened for you in that moment, you had a connection to that being that was powerful enough for it to make an imprint in your memory. It’s moments like these, of genuine bonding and connection with another being that are one of the greatest purposes and intentions of Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT).

AAT is essentially the utilization of the human-animal bond in the therapeutic relationship, which means that the therapist and animal (typically dogs or horses) are actually performing goal-oriented activities with the client. Some examples of this are as follows

o Asking the client to teach the therapy dog a new trick. This reveals inner beliefs about oneself and one’s ability, as well as, it teaches patience and delay of gratification for client and animal.
o Inviting the client to lead a horse around an arena obstacle course. This challenges oneself to step into a leadership role with confidence and become internally grounded and congruent   emotionally.
o Motivating clients to explore their boundaries with the therapy animal. This allows a client to explore their emotional/physical/energetic boundaries with another being who is safe and non-judgmental.

In treatment for individuals’ suffering from substance use disorders, these interventions and many others, offer experiential and alternative ways of exploring the 12-steps, boundaries, impulse control, healing from mental-health related issues, and so on. A 2016 study conducted by Helen Brooks validates that pets provide security and sense of order that can often lead to a sense of meaning in an individual’s life.

The beauty of AAT being practiced at Harmony is that this offering to our clients is highly unique. The opportunity for individuals’ in addiction treatment centers to be able to work with animals is up-and-coming, and not something that most facilities offer. Harmony is progressive in this way. As a Counselor and someone who also participates in the treatment of client’s at Harmony with mental health concerns, I encourage those of you reading this who are interested in AAT services to look into the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) for more detailed and research-oriented information. HABRI offers significant resources that support the use of therapy animals, and even pets in general, in the treatment of addiction and mental health. For more information on how to train your own therapy animal to work in settings such as Harmony, please visit Therapy Dogs International, the American Kennel Club, and Denver’s Animal-Assisted Social Work Master’s program. Furthermore, please do not hesitate to comment or request further information from me, I appreciate and welcome any inquiry!

Alyssa Overton
MA Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Certified Animal-Assisted Therapist

Listen to her podcast here:

Harmony Foundation Annual Gala & 48th Alumni Reunion


SEPTEMBER 22-23, 2017

It is an exciting year at Harmony and we want to celebrate with you!

We are proud to announce that Tara Conner, Miss USA 2006, will be our distinguished speaker at our Annual Gala. Tara will talk candidly about her struggles with addiction and her very public recovery. Joining us for a second year, Mackenzie Phillips will co-emcee our event with Kevin McKinnon.  Join us for dinner, fellowship, generosity and hope.

We will have a variety of amazing auction items awaiting your bid! All money raised will go directly to the Harmony Scholarship Fund to provide treatment to those without means.


Special Thank You to Our Generous Sponsors       










Harmony Foundation, Inc. Announces New Chief Executive Officer

Estes Park, CO – June 20, 2017 – Harmony Foundation, Inc. announced that James Geckler, Chief Operating Officer, has been selected by the Board of Directors to succeed Dot Dorman as the organization’s next chief executive officer, effective July 1, 2017.  Dorman and Geckler have worked side-by-side for over a year building a succession plan that would move Harmony Foundation to the next level.

Following thirty-two successful years with Harmony Foundation, nine most recently in her current role as CEO, Dorman made the personal decision to retire from the organization at the end of the fiscal year, allowing for a smooth and seamless leadership transition. She will remain involved as CEO Emerita through December 2017.

“Today, Harmony is a leader in the Colorado addiction treatment market with a strong foundation for continued growth in helping individuals recover from substance use disorders,” says Dorman.   With the introduction of new treatment programs into Colorado and the ever changing landscape of addiction treatment services, Jim is the right leader at the right time to grow and build on our success, enhancing the recovery experience for our clients, families, staff, alumni and donors.”

As CEO, Dot delivered significant results for Harmony Foundation with growth in programming and campus expansion.  The acquisition of Kingstone, the launch of a new state-of-the-art Health Center and Dining Pavilion, allowed for increases in clinical programming that would assist in medical detox, transitional living offering clients a amplified recovery experience.

Geckler has served the recovery community in a professional capacity for over 15 years, as former COO for A-I-R, one of the country’s premier intervention and family consulting groups to most recently as a senior leader at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.  Jim joined the Harmony Foundation team in February 2016 as Chief Operating Officer providing leadership and support to members of the Nursing, Admissions, Development, Dietary, Housekeeping and Maintenance teams.

Harmony’s commitment to a healthy succession plan enabled the Board to evaluate the key leader who can take the organization to the next level.  The Board unanimously agreed that Geckler is the perfect leader for this role.

     “We are pleased to have an internal leader with Jim’s experience, national presence and commitment to recovery to chart next steps for Harmony that will increase access to treatment for consumers, continue to build an organizational culture that values our employees and offer recovery support services to alumni.” said Patricia Nielson, Board President,  Harmony’s Foundation. “Jim has been a substantial asset to the organization over the last year, building staff leadership; introducing operational changes that helped us remain relevant positioning us to be a national leader of addiction treatment services.”  The Board is confident he will guard the philosophy of Harmony and its legacy while imbedding new opportunities that will carry the mission of our organization to the next level.”  The Dorman era at Harmony,   will be long remembered for program and campus expansion, consistent leadership and three decades of commitment to recovery in the Rockies.” 

Beginning July 1st, Geckler will work collaboratively with senior leadership and members of the Harmony team to execute the recently Board approved strategic plan. Efforts will focus on an increase in technology resources, advances to clinical programming including trauma informed care and mental health services and philanthropic giving to provide greater access to addiction treatment services for clients at Harmony.

“I’m honored to be given the opportunity to lead this organization with such a powerful legacy, honorable and ethical reputation and incredible talent – a combination that I believe sets us apart in this field,” Geckler said. “Our success will be based upon “always doing the right thing” for our clients and families. Building upon the foundation Dot and many others within Harmony have established over the years, we will be focused on continuing to be the leader in the addiction treatment industry not just regionally but nationally.”

Barbara Jo Kammer to Release Debut CD

One song at a time. That’s how Colorado’s Barbara Jo Kammer approaches her passion as a music therapist, her life as a performer, and it’s how she navigated the challenging journey to recovery from decades of alcohol addiction. One Song at a Time also happens to be the fitting title of Kammer’s debut solo album.

Read More:

Clinical Boundaries

Ann_Matino_Executive_DirectorWorking within the field of addiction treatment provides unique challenges to professionals with respect to keeping boundaries while providing compassionate care. When individuals working in treatment centers are also in recovery—and both staff and clients are involved in community groups and fellowship—lines can blur with the best of intentions. The opportunities for all staff forming more of a friendly relationship and less of a professional one are also increased in residential settings. One common issue is “over sharing.” Sharing one’s story is an important piece of recovery. When, however, does staff sharing details of their story become more about the staff member than about the client? How much personal information should clients know about their treatment providers?  Another issue can be the “physical comfort” aspect of fellowship. Many women in treatment have experienced sexual abuse and physical trauma and may also have deep rooted sex/love/relationship issues or addiction.  How do staff manage this for themselves, in community meetings and in the milieu?

Setting and keeping good boundaries requires practice, effort and professional collaboration—regardless of the role of the provider in the treatment setting. In addition to boundary issues specific to the substance use disorder treatment field, all staff should be aware of general boundary guidelines and principles of ethics set forth by behavioral health licensing entities—even if they themselves are not licensed or credentialed. One way to increase awareness of boundary issues is to have a forum to discuss case examples—perhaps in a staff meeting or before or after a designated training day. Specific training on this subject would also be very valuable as most staff want to do the right thing but need guidance in understanding boundary issues.

The Rose House is a 16-bed, gender-specific, dual-diagnosis treatment center in Boulder County, Colorado.  For nearly 10 years, our three-month-plus program has been helping women heal through evidence-based addiction, mental health, and trauma treatment.

The Rose House: Women get better here.

Ann Matino, LCSW
Executive Director, The Rose House

Harmony CEO speaks out about GOP sponsored bill

dot-2016Yesterday, Congress voted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with a new GOP-sponsored bill, which will now go to the Senate for confirmation. While this bill passed by a very small margin (217 votes to 213) it did pass. From a treatment center perspective, I would like to share my opinion (keep in mind this is my opinion) on the current proposed plan, as it relates to treatment.

For decades, treatment providers worked hard, lobbied hard, and ultimately gained parity for mental health and substance use disorders—meaning that these conditions needed to be covered “as any other illness” in health insurance plans. It was a giant step in getting care for those individuals suffering from diagnosed mental health and substance use disorders. The next step was the inclusion in the Affordable Care Act of treatment for these illnesses as an “essential benefit.” This was, in the eyes of those of us working in this field, a triumphant victory! Millions of individuals who previously lacked coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment gained that coverage and were able to seek help.

The current plan would reverse the essential benefit provision at the federal level and place the decision of providing or not providing coverage for mental health and substance use disorders to each individual state. State legislators would decide whether or not to include treatment for mental health and substance abuse as required coverage within their state. We could see ourselves in a situation where families have to move state to state to purchase needed coverage, or where pre-existing conditions prevent addicts or alcoholics from obtaining coverage for treatment. This is not far-fetched. In my tenure at Harmony, I have seen insurance carriers refuse to pay for treatment under the pre-existing condition clause, just because an alcoholic went to AA before going to treatment.

I feel this bill is a giant step backward and very short-sighted. The potential impacts of individuals not getting appropriate treatment for these illnesses are numerous, frightening, and have been well documented.

Next steps? I am hopeful that the bill in its current form will not pass the Senate. I am hopeful that the changes made by the Senate (and there will be many) will re-establish essential benefits and protection for those with pre-existing conditions. I am hopeful that the Senate will not rush this bill through, as the House of Representatives did, and will carefully weigh the analysis of this bill by the OMB. The OMB’s report on the previous House bill estimated that over 20 million Americans would lose coverage. The House members did not bother to wait for a determination of this number for the new bill, and it could be higher.

Once modified by the Senate, the bill will return to the House of Representatives for another vote. I think it is critical—as concerned citizens with both personal and professional knowledge of substance use and mental health disorders—that we contact our congressional representatives and our Senators, and make our opinions known.

New Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

alcohol use disorder

This month we are talking about alcohol, because April is Alcohol Awareness Month. The annual occurrence involves a number of events taking place throughout the country, with the aim of increasing public awareness and understanding about the dangers of alcohol use. Alcohol Awareness Month is sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) – the leading advocacy organization in the world addressing alcoholism and drug dependence since 1942. This year’s Alcohol Awareness Month theme is: “Talk Early, Talk Often: Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Alcohol Use.”

Having an unhealthy relationship with alcohol during adolescence can lead to an alcohol use disorder as early as young adulthood. Parents who have open, honest conversations with their children drastically reduce the likelihood of their kids using drugs or alcohol. The more teenagers know about the dangers commonly associated with alcohol use, the greater the chance they will stay away from the insidious substance.

“Alcohol and drug use is a very risky business for young people,” says Andrew Pucher, President and Chief Executive Officer of NCADD, “and parents can make a difference. The longer children delay drinking and drug use, the less likely they are to develop any problems associated with it. That’s why it is so important to help your child make smart decisions about alcohol and drugs.”

Unfortunately, many young adults are already living with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), which is why researchers have a huge incentive to develop effective treatments. Residential treatment centers give people struggling with alcohol the best shot at recovery, but there are times when medications are used to help prevent relapse, such as:

  • Acamprosate
  • Naltrexone
  • Disulfiram

While some people recovering from alcoholism respond well to the aforementioned medications, others have not been so fortunate. Researchers from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation may have found a new treatment for AUD, and the beta blocker pindolol has already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Science Daily reports. The findings were published in Addiction Biology, the Journal of the Society for the Study of Addiction.

“Drugs currently used for AUDs (alcohol use disorders) — acamprosate, naltrexone and disulfiram — have limited success — so this is a ground-breaking development with enormous potential,” said Professor Bartlett who is based at the Translational Research Institute. “In an internationally-significant breakthrough, our study showed pindolol was able to reduce ethanol/alcohol consumption, particularly in relation to binge drinking, a key behaviour observed in human alcohol dependence.”

Alcohol Use Disorder Screening

alcohol use disorder

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects millions of Americans, a disorder which can have serious impact on one’s health and can be fatal. Without effective, evidence-based treatments, the chances of recovery are slim. Sadly, many young adults have an AUD which usually arose in their teenage years. Preventing teenage alcohol misuse and abuse is crucial, and doctors can play a huge role in intervening early on.

New research has found that physicians who ask teens just one question about drinking frequency in the past year can help them determine who is at risk for developing an AUD down the road, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) press release. The study involved almost 1,200 young people ages 12 to 20. The findings were published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

“Primary care physicians are encouraged to screen adolescents for alcohol problems, yet many do not, citing time constraints and other issues,” NIAAA Director George Koob, PhD said in a news release. “This study demonstrates that simple screening tools such as those in NIAAA’s Youth Guide are efficient and effective.” 

Using a computer-based questionnaire at a primary care clinic, the teens involved in the study were asked about how much alcohol they use and were screened for an AUD, the press release reports. The researchers found that 10 percent of those over age 14 met the diagnostic criteria for an AUD. The NIAAA funded study found that 44 percent of teens between 12 and 17 years old who had at least one drink on three or more days in the past year met the criteria for AUD. But everyone who drank that much was at risk for alcohol problems. Thirty-one percent of 18-20 year olds who reported 12 or more drinking days in the last year were found to have an AUD.

“This finding confirms that a single question can be an effective screen for AUD,” said lead researcher Duncan B. Clark, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. 

If you are a young adult and believe that you have a problem with alcohol, please contact Harmony Foundation. Our Young Adult Recovery Track (YART) is specifically tailored for treating young adults with substance use disorders, let us help you begin the journey of recovery.

Nonviolent Drug Offenders See Light Again

Addiction is not a crime! It isn’t a moral failing or a lack of constitution. Addiction is a disease of the mind that requires treatment and a program of maintenance, if recovery is to be possible. For decades, the United States government’s solution to addiction was locking up “offenders” and essentially throwing away the key. Even if a non-violent drug offender was released, the likelihood of recidivism was staggering.

Handcuffs and cell bars do not treat addiction, they only serve to put a scientifically accepted mental illness on the back burner; the disorder simmers until the day of release, at which time it comes forward and is brought to a rolling boil. Without the tools and resources necessary to remain abstinent, the vast majority will find themselves behind bars again. It is a vicious cycle that has been the status quo for too long.

Over the last decade, lawmakers have slowly come to terms with the fact that they can no longer treat addiction, and those who suffer from the disease, the way they have in the past; fear of punishment does little to detract addicts from continuing to use. Politicians from both sides of the aisle have begun to push for changes with regard to mandatory minimum sentences, rules that take sentencing out of the hands of judges. Right now, as these words are written, thousands of people are sitting behind bars for anywhere from 20 years to life – the result of nonviolent drug offenses.

Fortunately, we may be able to learn from the mistakes of our past, doing away with draconian mandatory minimum sentences and releasing those who are serving unjust terms for the crime of addiction. President Obama has done a lot in his tenure to undo some of our mistakes, granting clemency to hundreds of nonviolent drug offenders. In fact, the President has commuted the sentences of 248 prisoners thus far, more prisoners than the last six presidents put together, The New York Time reports. On Wednesday, the President commuted 61 sentences, more than one third of which were serving life sentences.

“Most of them are low-level drug offenders whose sentences would have been shorter if they were convicted under today’s laws,” President Obama said on his Facebook page. “I believe America is a nation of second chances, and with hard work, responsibility, and better choices, people can change their lives and contribute to our society.”