Recovery Coach Training at Harmony Foundation

Recovery coaches can be important aides on anyone’s recovery journey. They may not offer primary treatment for addiction, do not diagnose, and are not associated with any particular recovery method. But they offer critical support and facilitate positive change—especially in early recovery. 

With the help of CCAR, Harmony has been providing recovery coach training for some time now. Tabitha Miller, Harmony’s director of alumni and recovery support services, recently became a recovery coach professional through CCAR, and she is now an official recovery coach training facilitator. 

The CCAR Recovery Coach Academy© is a 30 CEU four-day intensive training academy that provides individuals with the skills needed to guide, mentor, and support anyone who would like to enter into or sustain long-term recovery from an addiction to alcohol or other drugs. The CCAR Academy prepares participants by helping them to actively listen, ask really good questions, and discover and manage their own stuff.

According to addiction expert William White, recovery coaches provide emotional and informational support, assistance in task accomplishment, and companionship, that is, “helping people in early recovery feel connected and enjoy being with others, especially in recreational activities in alcohol- and drug-free environments.” 

All valuable skills for anybody connected to the recovery community—not just official recovery coaches. “We’re offering this training to all our staff at Harmony as well,” says Miller. “We have people in admissions and nurses that have gone through the training. We have somebody in finance who’s interested. And all the proceeds minus the event hosting expenses go to our alumni programming.” 

Many people can benefit from recovery coach training that offers interesting new perspectives on recovery. It may help them better understand the disease of addiction, even if they don’t intend to switch careers to make recovery coaching their full-time job. 

“Really, anyone can take this course and benefit,” says Miller. “Alumni who want to strengthen their own recovery journey or learn more about how to work better with others; people who would like to educate their technical staff about recovery; or people who do not themselves identify as being in recovery but would like to help people with addiction as allies—that includes their family members and friends.” 

Who can be a recovery coach?

  • Credentialed addiction professionals
  • Treatment center support staff, volunteers, and alumni
  • Staff from behavioral health and government agencies
  • Representatives from inpatient and outpatient centers and sober living homes
  • Individuals, family members, and advocates of recovery

If you are interested in helping people sustain their recovery from addiction, the next CCAR training academy program is scheduled to begin at Harmony’s Recovery Center in Fort Collins, CO on April 13.


A Family-Centered Approach to Treating Addiction

Addiction is a family disease. Few know that better than Michael Barnes, Ph.D., LAC, LPC. Throughout the past 35 years, Dr. Barnes has served as an addiction professional, program administrator, family therapist, and counselor educator. He has been the chief clinical officer at the Foundry Treatment Center in Steamboat Springs, Colorado for the last three years. Dr. Barnes speaks nationally on families, trauma, addiction, trauma-integrated addiction treatment, and compassion fatigue. His publications in books and scholarly journals have focused on secondary trauma and clinical work with traumatized family systems. Continue reading “A Family-Centered Approach to Treating Addiction”

Brainspotting for Recovery

There is a strong correlation between trauma and addiction. Trauma and other mental health conditions are frequently co-occurring with substance use disorder (SUD) because many people with addiction are primarily misusing substances to self-medicate emotional pain caused by trauma.

If trauma is an important driver of addiction, it follows that trauma should be addressed in addiction treatment. One available treatment modality is a new trauma therapy known as “Brainspotting.”

In a special two-hour webinar for Harmony Foundation, Joanne Baum, Ph.D., LCSW, CAS, explained the benefits of using Brainspotting therapeutically with people on their recovery journey. Dr. Baum believes that all people have the ability to heal from the inside out. She has been trained as a family mediator and divorce coach and is a certified Brainspotting therapist. 

Brainspotting was developed by David Grand, Ph.D. His clients include survivors of traumas such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and active combat, as well as professional performers, athletes, and business leaders. “Brainspotting is one of the increasing number of what are known as brain-based therapies, treatments that go beyond the mind to gain direct access to the brain,” he wrote in Brainspotting (2013). 

“Signals sent from our eyes are deeply processed in the brain. The brain then reflexively and intuitively redirects where we look, moment to moment,” Grand wrote. “But trauma can overwhelm the brain’s processing capacity, leaving behind pieces of the trauma, frozen in an unprocessed state. Brainspotting uses our field of vision to find where we are holding these traumas in our brain.”

Grand’s method was developed to enable a person to have “new, thoughtful responses become automatic, rather than repeating their old trauma reactions in an involuntary, unhealthy pattern,” explained Dr. Baum in the webinar. 

Brainspotting is an attunement model with the therapist attuned to the client, the client attuned to the “brainspot” they have found, and to somatic cues in their body. “Maintaining an eye position—the brainspot—with those three attunements in place seems to down-regulate the person’s internal triggered reactions,” Baum said. 

Her two favorite things about Brainspotting: “It begins with the premise that your body knows how to heal yourself and sharing that belief with clients is empowering to them.”

“Brainspotting allows us to harness the brain’s natural ability for self-scanning,” wrote Dr. Grand, “so we can activate, locate, and process the sources of trauma and distress in the body.”

“Brainspotting heals on deep levels and can lead to lasting change,” explained Baum. In the context of addiction treatment that means “it enhances recovery and helps prevent relapse.”

Being in a traumatized state, “contributes immensely to a person using to deaden their pain,” Baum said. “It contributes greatly to relapse because the person is trying to relieve or escape pain which they find overwhelming. Experiencing their unresolved pain causes dysfunctional, automatic, emotionally painful reactions that alienate them from themselves and others. We enhance a person’s recovery and functioning by healing their trauma.”

Unresolved trauma can put the person into a permanent state of low self-esteem, inducing mood swings, rampant stress, uncontrollable anxiety, insomnia, and other signs and symptoms. Brainspotting can “down-regulate a person’s autonomic nervous systems,” explained Dr. Baum, “effectively turning off or reducing the emotional reactivity of an implicit memory while seemingly creating new neural pathways and healing that which used to trigger and no longer does. Healing from the trauma, the person is able to be fully conscious in the present moment and respond in a mindful, thoughtful way, rather than react involuntarily to past trauma.” 

Harmony Foundation has long utilized a holistic approach to healing trauma and addiction. All staff at Harmony have been trained in trauma-informed care. Realizing that addiction is a biopsychosocial and spiritual disease, Harmony’s treatment program promotes physical, emotional, and spiritual healing, empowering patients to embark upon a lifelong recovery journey.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction or have questions about our programs, call us today at (970) 432-8075 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Families, Trauma, and Addiction

*This presentation is no longer eligible for a CE credit

What would happen to our treatment outcomes if we were to treat addiction like the chronic disease we say it is? This presentation will apply lessons learned from how chronic disease is treated in integrated medical environments through the lens of medical family therapy and transgenerational and family system trauma theory. The goal will be for attendees to consider the need for a paradigm shift in how families are incorporated into the addiction treatment process. Attendees will learn about the phases of the chronic disease process and the developmental tasks for families in each phase. Dr. Barnes will discuss clinical implications and briefly introduce a family system, a family-centered clinical program for treating families struggling with addiction. The ultimate goal of this model will be to include the client in family services to create family healing and improve treatment outcomes.

Michael Barnes, Ph.D., MAC, LPC
Foundry Treatment Center & Michael Barnes Family Institute

Throughout the past 35 years, Dr. Michael Barnes has served as an addiction professional, program administrator, family therapist, and counselor educator. For the past three years, he has served as the Chief Clinical Officer at Foundry Treatment Center in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Before working at Foundry, Dr. Barnes was the Manager of Residential Services and Clinical Educator at the Center for Dependency, Addiction, and Rehabilitation (CeDAR) at the University of Colorado Hospital. Before that he was on the MA Program in Counseling faculty at the University of Colorado in Denver. Dr. Barnes earned his Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy at Florida State University, his M.Ed in Rehabilitation Counseling at the University of Pittsburgh, and his BA in Psychology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He is a Master Addiction Professional (NAADAC), Licensed Professional Counselor (Colorado), and Diplomate in the American Association of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Dr. Barnes speaks nationally on Families, Trauma, and Addiction, Trauma Integrated Addiction Treatment, and Compassion Fatigue. His publications in books and scholarly journals have focused on secondary trauma and clinical work with traumatized family systems.


For more information about Foundry Treatment Center & Michael Barnes Family Institute, please visit:


Connecting Spirituality, Principles, and Recovery

Constructing meaning from life’s events is an essential human characteristic, “a critical element of psychological well-being, and one that can lead to physical and mental discomfort if blocked or unfulfilled,” wrote Laudet, Morgen, and White in 2006 in their study “The Role of Social Supports, Spirituality, Religiousness, Life Meaning and Affiliation with 12-Step Fellowships in Quality of Life Satisfaction Among Individuals in Recovery from Alcohol and Drug Problems.”

Scientific literature strongly supports the notion that spirituality can enhance health and quality of life. “In a review of 200 + studies, positive relationships were documented with physical and functional status, reduced psychopathology, greater emotional well-being, and improved coping,” wrote Laudet, Morgen, and White.

Understanding the core of belonging centers on the spiritual energy within. Substance misuse and disorder block that vital energy. In a recent webinar for Harmony Foundation, Annetta Sutton, MA, AAPC, discussed the critical role a spiritual outlook can have in recovery from addiction. Sutton is the author of Catholic Alcoholic: A Witness to Addiction and Redemption, an inspiring autobiographical work about how alcohol use disorder touched every area of her life as a family member, spouse, parent, and professional. She is also the founder and CEO of Five Point Consulting. With over 40 years of recovery experience, 12-Step spirituality, and transitions, Sutton’s greatest passion is helping the human spirit recover and transform trauma, grief, and addiction.

At the beginning of the webinar, Sutton identified spiritual blocks to recovery such as dishonesty, despair, grief, unwillingness, isolation, arrogance, shame, irresponsibility, shame, and anger. “We’re seeing those constantly in our society,” she said. “In fact, it’s been exacerbated in the last few years. In recovery, we ask ourselves, ‘How can this change?’ What I like about places like Harmony is the principle of the spiritual journey that they use.”

Spiritual blocks are countered by a value system of spiritual principles. These include honesty, compassion, hope, courage, integrity, humility, willingness, perseverance, and service. “Everybody has a value system,” Sutton said. “It comes from our parents, teacher, and coaches. Often, it takes only one person to give us a value system, but when we’re in the throes of the disease of addiction, it goes away because our attitude and our behavior change.”

Maintaining a functional value system is a process: we never arrive at a state of perfection where this spiritual endeavor would be finished. It requires work every day. “In recovery, our attitude changes again and we find back to our spiritual principles,” Sutton explained. People in recovery tend to look for things they are grateful for instead of focusing on things that make them angry.

The Role of Trauma and Grief

Sutton then explained two issues “that have surfaced the most” in her own work. The first one is trauma—especially childhood trauma and abuse. “When this happens to a child, they lose the spark. They lose their energy. To bring it back is a major accomplishment.” If you add drugs and alcohol into the mix, the impact gets even worse.

That explains how addiction has a high probability of perpetuating itself: a troubling 75 percent of adults in treatment grew up with addiction in their families, Lindsey Chadwick, manager of the children’s program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Center, explained in a Harmony webinar in 2021. Children living through abuse, violence, and other traumatic events, such as parental substance misuse, often suffer the ill effects of what is known as “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs) for the rest of their lives.

The second area is unprocessed grief resulting from traumatic experiences. “We sidestep this issue too often, but of all the spiritual blocks, it will control more of our lives if we don’t have the tools to work with it.”  Sutton cited the example of Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson who experienced multiple ACEs in his childhood that contributed to his subsequent substance use disorder because he didn’t have the means to process that traumatic grief.

In therapy sessions, Sutton frequently starts by asking about a client’s grief.” It’s confusion, abandonment, and anxiety, she said. “Every person’s grief is very individual and very personal.”

For Sutton, the answer is the 12-Step way of life with the ultimate aim of a spiritual awakening (Step 12). Making a fearless moral inventory (Step 4), admitting our wrongs to ourselves (Step 5), being prepared to have God remove our character defects (Step 6), and humbly asking him to remove our shortcomings (Step 7) are important stages for Sutton on the 12-Step journey.

Finally, Sutton emphasized the importance of Step 11: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of

His will for us and the power to carry that out.”

“When you listen to yourself, and you quiet the mind—that’s what meditation is—when you live in the present moment and concentrate on your breathing and let go, you relieve all that tension and stress,” Sutton said. “How simple is that?”

Harmony Foundation has long utilized a holistic approach to healing trauma and addiction. All staff at Harmony have been trained in trauma-informed care. Realizing that addiction is a biopsychosocial and spiritual disease, Harmony’s treatment program promotes physical, emotional, and spiritual healing, empowering patients to embark upon a lifelong recovery journey.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs, call us today at (970) 432-8075 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

How Brainspotting Can Positively Impact a Person’s Recovery

This presentation is no longer eligible for a CEU.

In this special two-hour webinar, Dr. Joanne Baum will share the benefits of using Brainspotting therapeutically with people in their recovery journey. The idea that emotional pain from traumatic events and unresolved trauma often triggers a person to use or escalate their usage is widely accepted in our field. We often bemoan the idea that we don’t have enough tools to help us help others in their healing work, especially in their trauma healing work. The subcortical area of the brain is where “trauma capsules” are housed and where the amygdala often keeps you in flight, fight, or fear so you can’t think straight. Healing on that level allows people newfound freedom to heal old wounds and develop different, healthier ways of being. We are finding that Brainspotting works on the subcortical area of the brain, and it’s very effective in healing trauma, helping people break through “being stuck,” and changing automatic, unwanted reactions into thoughtful responses title. All of these processes enhance a person’s recovery and work to prevent relapse.

Presented By:
Joanne Baum, Ph.D., LCSW, CAS
Support 4 Families

Joanne Baum, Ph.D., LCSW, CAS, has been in private practice since 1981. She is licensed in Colorado, Florida, and Indiana as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Her Ph.D. is in Social Welfare, a multidisciplinary approach to Social Work. In addition to clinical work, Dr. Baum has taught at Central Michigan University and two community colleges in California. Joanne was a co-clinical director at the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic Detox Project from 1981 to 1983. Joanne has written four books on Cocaine, Marijuana and two Parenting books based on her theory, “Respectful Parenting.” Dr. Baum has spoken at conferences and done training for professionals and paraprofessionals throughout the country on various subjects. She believes that all people can heal from the inside out.

Dr. Baum has been trained as a Family Mediator, a Divorce Coach, and a Certified Brainspotting Therapist.

Dr. Baum has been doing Telehealth since 2014 and finds it’s very effective in allowing people to engage in therapy from the comfort of their homes or offices. She works with individuals and couples. During her 40+ years of working, Joanne, who likes variety and learning new things, has developed a range of specialties, including 1) all aspects of Alcohol and Substance Use Disorder, including Assessments/Evaluations, Outpatient Treatment, Aftercare/Continuing Care, and Codependency, 2) Healing Trauma, 3) Brainspotting, 4) Being “Stuck” in life, in relationships, and figuring out what’s next, 5) Stress and Anxiety, 6) Working with young adults who are having trouble making the transition into “adulting” while in college and beyond college, 7) Women’s issues, 8) Various life transition, 9) LGBTQIA+ issues, and 10) Divorce Coaching. Basically, Joanne likes to work with people who want to make meaningful changes in their lives.

Women Face Gender-Specific Challenges in Recovery

When women battle with substance use disorder (SUD), they face relatively different challenges than men. Modern treatment programs are designed to help women meet those gender-specific challenges rather than treating female clients with the same approach they have traditionally utilized with males.

LaTisha L. Bader, Ph.D., LP, LAC, CMPC, has worked in the field of mental health and addiction for more than 18 years. Dr. Bader is a licensed psychologist and a licensed addiction counselor. She is the chief clinical officer at Women’s Recovery.

In a recent webinar for Harmony Foundation, Dr. Bader talked about the specific challenges women with addiction face in recovery. Bader noted gender differences such as using for shorter periods of time, SUDs progressing more quickly after the first use, and more intense withdrawal symptoms.

Gender-specific treatment has been associated with better outcomes and retention in treatment. Programs providing gender-specific treatment for women should include the following components:

  • Emotional and physical safety for female clients (many of whom were physically attacked and traumatized by men)
  • Services designed to increase women’s access to care, and engagement and retention of clients
  • Women-only therapy environments
  • Women-specific services needs and topic areas addressed in treatment and support services
  • Multiple modalities to meet the specific needs of women

Dr. Bader emphasizes the importance of trauma-informed care, as approximately 80 percent of women seeking SUD treatment report a lifetime history of sexual assault, physical assault, or both. Rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in this population range from 30–59 percent.

Despite the prevalence of trauma, women were traditionally not considered to be as much at risk for substance misuse because “nice women” don’t drink. “Alcoholism” used to be mostly a male thing, but things have changed quite a bit. “Between 1999 and 2008, the number of inebriated women who had to be hospitalized increased by 52 percent,” Bader said. “59 percent of new cannabis users are women.”

Typically, women are increasing heroin use at a faster rate than men but are decreasing nonmedical prescription opioid use at a slower rate than men. Women struggle for gender-specific reasons. “We’re fighting physical and mental exhaustion, we are trying to cope with pain, we self-treat mental health problems, and we are trying to control weight,” explained Bader.

Contrary to traditional notions, women are just as likely as men to develop a SUD. Among other things, “women are more susceptible to cravings and relapse, more likely to have panic attacks, anxiety, or depression, more likely to go to the emergency department or die from an overdose, and more sensitive to the effects of some drugs.”

Addiction professionals have long known that women tend to display a “telescoping” effect: they typically start with lower levels of substances but end up escalating use to a higher degree than men. Like men, many women suffer from mood disorders that are the driving force behind their substance misuse.

“The most important factor to consider in the treatment of addiction in women is unresolved trauma, though,” said Bader. “Activated trauma and shame can flood the whole body and take the individual offline. It’s a state not easily tolerated while sober. That’s why so many women misuse substances.”

Relationships often play a crucial role. A woman’s use is heavily influenced by her partner, and intimate partner violence is common in women with substance use issues. “Sexual trauma both prior to and during active use is also common,” Bader said.

Harmony Foundation has long utilized a holistic approach to healing trauma and addiction. All staff at Harmony have been trained in trauma-informed care. Realizing that addiction is a biopsychosocial and spiritual disease, Harmony’s treatment program promotes physical, emotional, and spiritual healing, empowering patients to embark upon a lifelong journey of recovery.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs and workshops, call us today at (970) 432-8075 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Why Men in Recovery Are Often Hampered by “Man Rules”

“Men are more likely than women to use almost all types of illicit drugs, and illicit drug use is more likely to result in emergency department visits or overdose deaths for men than for women,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “For most age groups, men have higher rates of use or dependence on illicit drugs and alcohol than do women.”

Men face different expectations than women in our society, and this can have an impact on their mental health and their substance use. Should men develop a substance use disorder (SUD), therapy must address all their psychological needs to be effective.

In a recent webinar for Harmony Foundation, experiential therapist Richard “D.J.” Bishop LPC, LAC, explored the paths to recovery for men. People identifying as male are often hampered by what Bishop called “man rules”—harmful socialized beliefs of masculinity, including “no crying, minimize feelings, don’t ask for help, be tough, work hard, must have control.”

Pressure on young boys and men to prove their masculinity to their peers in our culture can cause stereotypical expectations of masculinity in them with far-reaching consequences. One of those “man rules” is to be able to “hold your liquor like a man,” creating social pressure to drink alcohol in order to avoid the appearance of weakness.

“By helping men dismantle the ‘man rules,’ we can enable them to practice the principles of recovery,” said Bishop. Those principles are the polar opposites of toxic masculinity, and they include asking for help, connection, vulnerability, humility, gratitude, and spiritual support.

Treatment for men with SUD involves building a bridge from toxic man rules (isolation, competition, fear) to the principles of recovery on the other side (connection, compassion, courage). On this journey of self-discovery (Who am I?), clients need to reconnect with true values.

Bishop likes to do specific exercises to achieve that. In one exercise, he asked clients to identify a strong connection from life before addiction to introduce a version of the client before he became addicted. In another, Bishop asks clients to create a trauma timeline since trauma is frequently an underlying driver of addiction. Another recovery task may be to create a “social atom”: The client draws a shape that represents himself. He then uses different shapes to represent different relationships in his life.

Clients also explore sexual intimacy (safety, trust, honesty, and caring) and what it isn’t, namely mechanical sex to numb emotional pain.

Finally, clients also explore their spirituality. “Spirituality has been defined as an expression of the transcendent ways in which to fulfill human potential,” Sebastian Salicru recently wrote in Psychology Today. “Spirituality is a recognized psychological construct that is different from religiosity and has transcultural applicability.” For Bishop, it’s about stepping outside the self to embrace intuitive understanding and unconditional love.

Spirituality is about investigating how we are connected to lives and powers beyond ourselves. It’s about understanding our rightful place in the world—a strong aspect of true recovery.

Harmony Foundation is one of the longest-running and most successful addiction treatment centers in the world. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs, call us today at (866) 686-7867 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Relationally-Informed Clinical Interventions in Addiction Treatment

The motto “the opposite of addiction is connection” has been popular in the recovery community for years, but why are social connections so important in the recovery from addiction, and how do they play out on a neurological level?

In a recent webinar for Harmony Foundation, marriage and family therapist Gabrielle Wynschenk, LMFT, LAC, explored the neuropeptide oxytocin’s important role in maintaining healthy relationships and how to integrate relationally-informed clinical interventions that improve treatment outcomes.

Wynschenk works at the Mountainside Treatment Center as a family wellness clinician. At Mountainside, she facilitates various psychoeducational group offerings for individuals in residential treatment, facilitates psychoeducational group offerings for family members of Mountainside clients, maintains a caseload in which she conducts individual and family therapy sessions, and creates group curricula on family dynamics. Wynschenk facilitates webinars and other educational offerings for community providers. She also writes articles for the Mountainside blog.

Neurological research has been looking at the human brain and its potentially overlapping mechanisms between addiction and connection for some time. “Oxytocin is an emerging area of interest” in this regard, Wynschenk told her webinar audience.

“The release of oxytocin is triggered by various external cues,” explained Wynschenk. “These include stimulation of the nipples and genital areas, during orgasm and in response to prosocial stimuli such as close physical proximity to someone of connection in a safe environment, as well as exposure to infants.”

The functions of oxytocin include bonding, increasing interpersonal trust, reducing anxiety, reducing stress response, reducing immune and inflammatory responses, altering memory and information processing, and reducing the sensation of pain.

Genetics and life experiences both have an impact on the development of a person’s oxytocin system, and any changes in that system have an impact on its sensitivity and the synthesis of the neuropeptide, which in turn can inform differences in relationships and lead to a propensity to addiction.

“Recent studies have shown that higher oxytocin levels are correlated with reports of higher relationship satisfaction,” said Wynschenk. “Healthy relationships have also been linked to optimal health across research. It’s been postulated that oxytocin plays a role in that, as it also has physiological functions such as mitigating the stress response and reducing inflammation.”

Since addiction is frequently driven by extreme stress and trauma, the anxiety- and stress-reducing effects of healthy relationships can help counteract addiction. “In rodents, oxytocin was shown to lessen obsessive and repetitive behaviors in subjects addicted to cocaine,” reported Wynschenk in the webinar. “Similarly, in animal studies, rodents stopped self-administering both cocaine and opiates when receiving high levels of oxytocin.”

Research is now looking at oxytocin as a protective factor for addiction. Since oxytocin reduces anxiety and stress which also builds resilience around triggers, it can help reduce the occurrence of relapse. “Human studies showed that oxytocin reduced cravings and reduced withdrawal symptoms for people detoxing from alcohol and cocaine,” said Wynschenk.

Managing Deficient Executive Functioning Skills

Executive functions are a set of processes that all involve managing oneself and one’s resources to achieve a goal. They serve a command and control function and can be viewed as a kind of conductor of all cognitive skills.

Andrea Pitman is the executive director and founder of The Nectar Group. She has over 18 years of experience working with children, adults, and families through cognitive skills training, consulting, and teaching. In a recent webinar for Harmony Foundation, Pittman discussed the importance of executive functioning skills for human behavior and mental health.

Executive functioning (EF) comprises skills such as response inhibition, emotional control, sustained attention, goal-directed persistence, task initiation, time management, toleration of stress, and more. It’s a kind of “air traffic control” of the brain, Pittman explained, enabling people to focus, hold and work with information in the mind and filter distractions.

Furthermore, executive function skills make it possible to mentally play with ideas, think before acting, meet novel, unanticipated challenges, resist temptations, stay focused to complete tasks, and override the brain’s autopilot.

This means that executive functioning is essential for mental and physical health, success in school, work, and life, as well as cognitive, social, and psychological development.

“Lapses in executive functioning are common,” Pittman told the webinar participants. “Their seriousness and frequency can reflect individual strengths and weaknesses when it comes to executive functioning.”

Strong executive function skills develop through healthy relationships (caregivers provide a consistent, reliable presence and support children’s efforts); activities (caregivers help children learn how to cope and foster open-ended, creative play); places (environments that feel safe); and development (accountability and independence are encouraged).

The development of EF skills can be impaired by cognitive skill deficits (genetic or external trauma), poor content knowledge, lack of healthy relationships, unstable environments, trauma, and a lack of opportunity to develop independence and problem-solving skills.

EF weaknesses occur on a spectrum: they can be mild, mild-moderate, moderate, moderate-severe, and severe. Effective treatment moves the patient to the less severe end of the spectrum and in some cases, off the spectrum if diagnostic criteria are no longer met. There are two treatment approaches: compensation through accommodation or overcoming through treatment intervention that addresses the root causes. “Compensatory measures focus on coping with the disability and symptom management,” said Pittman. “Intervention focuses on overcoming the disability by treating the root cause.”

Various strategies can be employed to address EF weaknesses, such as lessening multitasking, providing a quiet work and study space, reducing distractions, modify or limiting task length and demand. To strengthen emotional control, triggers may be reduced or eliminated, and coping mechanisms explored and rehearsed.

To improve organizational skills, the structure of the environment could be improved and rooms decluttered. Goal-oriented persistence can be achieved by setting SMART (specific, meaningful, adaptive, realistic, and time-framed) goals.

And don’t forget to take regular breaks!

After a thorough cognitive assessment, a therapist can provide intensive coaching to achieve improvements in executive functioning. Coaching works by stressing a weak area through mental exercise, encouraging the brain to build new neural networks. Executive function and study skills coaching may improve skills such as self-advocacy, study skills, time management, and organization.

Harmony Foundation is one of the longest-running and most successful addiction treatment centers in the world. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs, call us today at (866) 686-7867 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.