Doctors, and Nurses, and Pilots, Oh My! Working with Impaired Professionals

*This presentation is no longer eligible for the 1 CE credit*

Some treatment centers claim to offer “Professionals’ Programs/Tracks” that focus on the high functioning professional who often have career licensing issues. In reality, what does it really mean to offer a Professionals Program? Elements of these programs can vary widely and understanding their purpose is equally important when referring or choosing a to participate in a Professional’s Program. This presentation will provide an overview of the traditional rationale for a dedicated addiction treatment program for professionals, the clinical design of a “true” professional program, and a solution-focused approach to common barriers that prevent professionals from seeking treatment. Continue reading “Doctors, and Nurses, and Pilots, Oh My! Working with Impaired Professionals”

COVID-19: Keep Connecting During The Pandemic

The current global coronavirus pandemic has presented serious challenges for people in recovery from addiction. Self-isolation, the threat of unemployment, no access to 12-Step meetings, and deep anxiety about an invisible disease spreading across the country—these are all possible relapse triggers.

While these risks should certainly not be underestimated, they could also be treated as an opportunity to strengthen recovery efforts.

“We are clearly facing a very difficult situation at the moment but just like everything else in life, this too shall pass,” says Michael Arnold, alumni community relations manager at Harmony. “I believe we now have a great opportunity to work on ourselves while also being of service and reaching out to help others.”

Connection is crucial for a sustained recovery and nothing disconnects like a lockdown in a pandemic—or does it? With stay-at-home orders across the US, meetings and counseling sessions for those who struggle with addiction have now largely moved online.

“With the help of modern technology, we have the chance to be more connected than ever before,” says Arnold. “The time COVID-19 is giving us at home is actually the greatest gift that our recovery can receive. If you are concerned about being isolated at home, pick up the phone, tablet, or use your computer to reach out to someone. When we choose to connect with people we are helping our own recovery just as much as we are helping the person on the other end of the link-up.”

These types of resources are incredibly valuable right now, say addiction professionals, mental health counselors, and individuals in recovery from substance use disorders. “The peer support group means so much to me,” says Harmony alumna, Spring B. “It’s essential for recovery especially in this period of time to stay connected. It’s super nice to see all the alumni. This group gives me an invisible link to people that understand and support me.”

If you are unsure how to proceed, Alcoholics Anonymous has provided a web page devoted to online options. Narcotics Anonymous offers similar information on its website.

“I don’t know what I would have done if I had been in this situation when we didn’t have access to virtual meetings,” a New Yorker who participates in Alcoholics Anonymous told CNBC. The 26-year-old woman from Brooklyn was 62 days sober at the time and planning to attend 90 meetings in her first 90 days of sobriety. She said a recent meeting she attended through video conferencing had over 1,000 participants.

“It’s so cool that technology enables us to attend meetings with friends in recovery that do not live anywhere close to us,” says Harmony’s Michael Arnold. “Even while we are physically isolated, we have the opportunity to be of great service to one another. When we come together, we can recover. I invite you to see this present moment of crisis as the best time to work on your recovery. Embrace this pause in life and fully engage in your journey of recovery.”

Harmony Foundation continues to serve clients during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak and is taking new precautions to ensure staff and client safety. These include strict hand-washing protocols, heightened and ongoing disinfection of all areas at facilities, as well as updated admission assessments to consider previous travel, potential exposure, and health status. All new admissions will have additional medical screening upon campus arrival.

The Prevalence of Substance Misuse and Addiction in Sports

Jessica Joiner, LCSW, LAC, has over a decade of experience working with those suffering from addiction, complex trauma, and co-occurring disorders. She uses her experience along with the extensive skills gained to address the many issues that arise for athletes.

In her workshop hosted by Harmony Foundation, Joiner discussed the prevalence of substance misuse among athletes, various ways of identifying “red flags,” and evidence-based interventions that can be helpful in combating the misuse of drugs and alcohol.

As Joiner explained, there are three main reasons athletes misuse substances: pain resulting from injuries, stress from incessant pressure to win, and the desire to enhance performance artificially. Over the years and decades, these reasons have stayed the same but the drugs involved are now more sophisticated than ever, with more options.

The statistics paint a grim picture. Substance misuse is prevalent in high school: approximately 19 percent of males and 14 percent of females binge drink in high school. 21 percent of teens use marijuana and up to 6.6 percent have used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

It gets worse in college where 42 percent of students admit to binge drinking, 28 percent use cannabis, and around 11,000 NCAA athletes admit to taking PEDs. There is a strong correlation between concussions and alcohol use. “Having a concussion is actually predictive for alcohol use,” said Joiner. “If a high school student is entering college with a history of concussion, and we know about the correlation, we could put some measure in place to intervene before things get out of control. We don’t want them to get overwhelmed by the pressure of performing and the grades required to continue.” It’s much better to support them on the front end before things get out of hand.

Should players get drafted into the National Football League, the pain from injuries, the pressure to win, and the temptation to use PEDs get even worse. In the NFL, 51 percent of players use opioids and 71 percent of those athletes admit to misusing them. Many of the pills are not prescribed by medical doctors: 68 percent say they got them from other sources.

It takes only a few days to get addicted to opioids, Joiner warned, and professional athletes have easy access. Professional athletes tend to play through the pain and then “fix it” with opioids and other substances after the game, putting themselves at risk for greater injury and addiction.

Joiner then went over the possible consequences of such risky behavior, which include the impact on performance, health, relationships, and career—and in the worst-case scenario, death.

While substances were initially taken to enhance or maintain performance, escalating use will eventually compromise performance and wreak havoc with the athlete’s health. As is the case for all people with substance use disorder, addiction has “a definite negative impact on relationships.” If there is no intervention and treatment, players may end up with legal problems, a league suspension, or just get kicked off their team.

There are many examples of athletes falling into this trap. Former Boston Celtic Chris Herren struggled with substance misuse for much of his NBA career. While playing for the Celtics, Herren started to use opioid painkillers. In December 2007, he was charged with possession of heroin in Rhode Island and in the following June, Herren overdosed on heroin in Fall River, Massachusetts. According to the attending paramedics, he was clinically dead for 30 seconds.

Abby Wambach—widely considered the best female soccer player ever—was arrested for driving under the influence in 2016. Following the incident, Wambach published an autobiography revealing that she had misused prescription drugs and alcohol for many years.

After going into recovery, Herren started raising awareness of drug addiction and has now spoken to over one million students, athletes, and community members, promoting frank discussions about substance use disorder and wellness.

In the webinar, Joiner, too, stressed the importance of prevention and early intervention to attack this problem. Prevention should include educating everybody involved to raise awareness of mental health issues that often drive substance misuse, so parents, teachers, and coaches learn to recognize red flags. “From the outside, it often looks like they have everything”, explained Joiner. That’s why depression and anxiety disorders are often overlooked. Testing, screening and other interventions should be used in a supportive, not punitive way.

“We should stop just being reactive and be more proactive,” Joiner said. Coaches and trainers of athletes should not wait for a crisis to unfold and athletic programs should provide adequate mental health services for players (and other students). Treatment should not be perceived as punishment for bad behavior but as a concerted effort to heal psychological problems. “We need effective collaboration between therapists, doctors, school departments, and the community that facilitates integrated care,” Joiner said. Currently, too many people fall through the cracks because many athletic departments don’t provide nearly enough mental health professionals. Ultimately, a culture shift is required: our society’s approach to athletic injuries and mental illness needs to change significantly and we need more trauma-informed and stigma-free care—and not only for athletes.

Self Care is Preventative Care – Burnout Prevention Program

*This presentation is no longer eligible for the 1 CE credit*


We’ve all heard it, you’ve probably said it: You can’t pour from an empty cup, right? Is your cup empty? Is your cup full? Is your cup broken? As a professional, I know you are passionate about giving to others but there is only so much to give before burnout is a reality. In this training, you will be reminded how critical your self care is and most importantly how you can implement self care on a consistent basis in order to prevent burnout. Through quality and consistent self care, we can prevent things like stress and burnout and create more work/life balance which is essential for your overall wellness and the wellness of others. Becky Lauridsen, LPC and founder of IOME will give a presentation and hands on training for you to achieve Guilt Free Self Care. “You deserve the best because your loved ones deserve the best of you, not what’s left of you.” – Becky Lauridsen Continue reading “Self Care is Preventative Care – Burnout Prevention Program”

How a Virtual Reality Tool Helps People in Recovery

For more than 50 years, Harmony has been the foundation for sustained recovery from addiction for thousands of people. Treatment methods have evolved quite substantially during those decades and Harmony continues to embrace innovation and new strategies to treat addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions.

Harmony’s chief clinical officer Dr. Annie Peters has built a mental health team that works with clients to address trauma, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues that frequently drive SUD. Her team has recently started to use virtual reality technology to help patients in the detox phase of treatment. The VR technology enables patients to use mindfulness exercises in a calming, virtual environment while undergoing the fairly stressful detoxification process. “It’s helping clients calm down and feel more comfortable and that’s exactly what we want them to do in detox,” explains Peters.

“Emotional regulation and psychological grounding are crucial in early recovery,” says detox counselor Carla Felts, “especially when clients are going through withdrawal.” The VR allows them to experience a relaxing environment like a beach or a forest in which they do meditation exercises that can counter any anxiety they may experience.

VR Addiction Recovery

“Learning mindfulness in a group setting can be intimidating for some clients at first,” says Felts. “In the VR, they can try it out by themselves. If it works for them, it can definitely become a springboard for patients to engage in more mindfulness meditation throughout their recovery process.”

The novel approach to treating mental health issues was developed by the National Mental Health Innovation Center (NMHIC) at the University of Colorado and is now being used at Harmony. So far, the feedback from clients has been overwhelmingly positive, says Felts. “In detox, clients are not necessarily able to go to a therapy room to practice meditation. At the same time, the environment in the detox room can be loud and activating. The VR gives them an opportunity to create a space for themselves even in this busy place.” Most clients like it so much, they come back and ask whether they can use it again after they transitioned from detox to residential treatment.

Matt Vogl co-founded the Innovation Center to “test new ways to make mental health services of all kinds more accessible to everyone,” as he explains in the Ted Talk above. “Technology has long been viewed as the enemy of mental health, but what if that is wrong? What if it can be part of the solution?”

“The brain processes a virtual image much like a real image, the resulting sense of presence essentially tricks your brain into thinking you’re actually there. In VR, you can meditate anywhere you want to,” says Vogl who has bipolar disorder.

Dr. Peters shares Vogl’s assessment. “It’s much easier to visualize a calming scene when it’s right in front of your eyes. Major stress-reducing skills are about engaging your senses. The more you engage your senses and body functions like breathing, the more helpful it is for the client. When someone is distressed, we want them to be able to soothe themselves and we want them to distract from emotional pain.”

The VR can do just that for most people, but it’s obviously important to get feedback from clients to find out how it worked for them. Not all modalities are appropriate for all clients. The more the treatment approach hones in on individual needs, the more effective it becomes.

Wider Approach to Use Technological Innovation for Mental Health

In order to explore new ways to make mental health services of all kinds more accessible, the National Mental Health Innovation Center has built what they call the Tech Innovation Network (TIN). It is a partnership between the NMHIC and various community, clinical, and technology partners. Deputy director Mimi McFaul, senior project manager Sarah Beary, and program manager Gwen Gaumond coordinate the partnership with Harmony.

“Harmony Foundation has shown an unusual interest in new technology and is open to exploring new research, says McFaul. “Harmony is our superstar site in the addiction treatment sector.”

The NMHIC basically functions as a broker between two sectors: trusted tech partners developing software and treatment modalities on one side and clinical and community sites like Harmony at the other end. “There are now over 100 TIN sites and 5–7 trusted tech partners who produce excellent content, sometimes under our advisement,” explains Gwen Gaumond. “We pass that on to the community sites to explore cutting-edge treatment during pilot or research projects.”

Harmony is an excellent partner because they have a lot of experience with mindfulness in addiction treatment and the capacity to use technological innovation effectively. This makes Harmony a valuable TIN site because “other addiction treatment partners don’t have the same level of expertise,” says Gaumond.

The NMHIC is very interested in any feedback Harmony can provide so the technology can be steadily improved and adjusted. “With VR, in particular, it’s difficult to gauge how immersive it really is for particular individuals,” says Sarah Beary. “Even with something as uncomplicated as mindfulness, many TIN sites come back with different ideas on how to use it. Then we can adjust it for that particular program.”

Research shows that lack of access is one of the root causes of the mental health crisis in America—a crisis directly linked to the addiction crisis because substance misuse is strongly correlated to mental health problems. More access to a variety of treatment modalities is urgently required.

For Harmony, the VR project has been very positive and Dr. Peters is already thinking about expanding the use of VR at Harmony. Program leadership is discussing how this technology may be integrated throughout the treatment experience at the Estes Park campus as well as how it could contribute to recovery support at the new Fort Collins Recovery Center. “Harmony’s latest partnerships with the medical community and technology innovators continue to expand our ability to successfully bring people into recovery,” adds CEO James Geckler. “With every year, we work towards new ways to address issues to individualize care and are encouraged by the strong outcomes we’re seeing as a result.”

WestBridge Treatment Center

Welcome to the Harmony Foundation podcast series. I’m Gina Thorne and I’m really excited today to be joined with Barbara Ryan, who’s the outreach and provider specialist for WestBridge, out of Manchester, New Hampshire. Welcome.
Really happy to have you on campus today and I’m glad the weather turned out because we’ve had some sketchy weather lately, so it’s great to have you here visiting the Rockies. I don’t know, is this your first time at Harmony?

Continue reading “WestBridge Treatment Center”

The Evolution of Modern Medicine Has Made the Spiritual Foundation of 12-step Recovery Obsolete…Fact or Fiction?

*This presentation is no longer eligible for the 1 CE credit*

A cursory review of the disease model of addiction and the scientific basis of the disease of addiction and how it relates to the neurobiology of the frontal and prefrontal cortex and the meso-limbic system will be reviewed. There will be further information presented on the neurobiology of wisdom and how it relates to healthy prefrontal cortical activity along with some of the latest research on the positive benefits of spirituality and how this can be documented with technologies to document brain functionality and recovery. This leads to a direct correlation to the actual proven benefit of the spiritual foundation of 12 step recovery. Continue reading “The Evolution of Modern Medicine Has Made the Spiritual Foundation of 12-step Recovery Obsolete…Fact or Fiction?”

The Prevalence of Substance Abuse and Addiction in Sports: What Do We Do About It?

*This presentation is no longer eligible for the 1 CE credit*

This workshop will discuss the prevalence of the use of substances among all levels of athletes and the risk factors associated with using. We will discuss various ways to identify ‘red flags’ of abusing substances, as well as evidenced based interventions that can be helpful in combating the misuse of drugs and alcohol among athletes. We will show how addressing substance abuse problems in conjunction with the underlying issues that may be contributing to their use (i.e., mental health, pressure, identity, etc.) is imperative to their overall health and well-being, and it is an important component of having an integrated health approach. Continue reading “The Prevalence of Substance Abuse and Addiction in Sports: What Do We Do About It?”

Harmony Teams Up With Rocky Vista University to Improve Addiction Training

Rocky Vista Logo

In his groundbreaking report on addiction in America, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy suggested “a comprehensive approach” to address the substance misuse crisis in the United States including “improved access to evidence-based treatment services, integrated with mainstream healthcare, for those at risk for or affected by substance use disorders.“

Better integration with mainstream healthcare requires better addiction training for medical professionals—among other things. In a new partnership with Rocky Vista University, Harmony Foundation is now providing just that.

RVU was established in 2006 as the nation’s first private, for-profit health sciences university to offer a professional medical degree since 1910. RVU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine grants the degree of Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) and admitted its inaugural class of medical students at the Parker, Colorado campus in 2008.

Recently, RVU added a physician assistant program. The goal of the PA program is to support the development of “clinically competent, collaborative, and compassionate” physician assistants. One of the first students in that program is Adrianne Bryant who recently also benefitted from the trailblazing partnership with Harmony. She was able to learn quite a lot about the treatment of substance use disorder (SUD) during her rotation at Harmony.

Supervised by Harmony’s medical director, Christopher Reveley, MD, Bryant got a “well-rounded look at addiction treatment and what recovery is like,” as she puts it. “I had the opportunity to talk with the psychologist and multiple counselors. I was able to take part in group therapy and learned about managing meds and the detox process. I’m getting a really good overview of the whole program.”

It’s a modest but important beginning. Harmony aims to become an incubator for teaching and learning around the medical side of addiction. Dr. Reveley considers Harmony an ideal place for that kind of training. For many medical professionals, this “may very well be their only experience in addiction medicine before launching into their careers, regardless of whether they become MDs, DOs, or PAs,” he says. “Here at Harmony, we can offer a full spectrum of inpatient treatment. We’re treating all kinds of addiction problems, with all kinds of substances, and we have a fully qualified mental health staff.”

This kind of first-hand experience is often lacking in the medical field. Not many medical schools require or even offer it, despite the current addiction crisis in America. Dr. Reveley can speak from experience. Years ago, when he went to medical school himself, he didn’t have any addiction training at all. Then, when he became interested in recovery and the treatment of addiction after years as an anesthesiologist, he started to look for an addiction medicine fellowship. There were fewer than 50 on offer in the entire United States—in 2015!

“It’s really admirable that RVU has acknowledged the importance of addiction treatment,” says Reveley. “Primary care doctors, in particular, are in the front lines of recognizing addiction in patients and getting them into treatment. So it’s so important for someone like Adrianne Bryant, who might be working in a primary care clinic to know what addiction looks like.”

Bryant agrees: “I don’t think people have a real good sense what drug-seeking behavior looks like, so we may not recognize it all the time,” she says. “This rotation is helping me in that regard because I see people in recovery who genuinely try to get better. Sitting in on counseling sessions, witnessing patients taking an honest look at their lives, I get a better sense of what people struggling with addiction are like, what they were like in active addiction, and what recovery looks like.”

Dr. Reveley hopes that collaborations like the RVU-Harmony partnership will get more medical professionals interested in addiction treatment. Thanks to her Harmony rotation, Ms. Bryant will certainly be in a better position to recognize SUD in her patients and suggest evidence-based therapy for them. That’s a big step forward. “A lot of substance misuse doesn’t result in treatment because doctors simply don’t ask about it,” says Reveley.

Addiction is a complex biopsychosocial disease requiring comprehensive treatment in an integrated care environment. Many agencies can help make that treatment a reality. In the case of the new partnership, Rocky Vista was also aided by the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) which helped with the placement of students. The AHEC Program works with regional offices to build state-wide network capacity in Colorado, strengthening academic-community linkages in four core mission areas: health careers and workforce diversity, health professions student education, health professions continuing education and public health and community education.