We recently received a Facebook post regarding frustration over Harmony’s handling of payments made through insurance. I wanted to use this opportunity to discuss questions and concerns about our partnerships with insurance partners and how we believe it helps benefit access to treatment.
First and foremost, insurance companies make it easier for us to cover some of the cost of treatment, a service that many of us do not plan for when the time requires it. When we consider our personal relationships with insurance partners, how many of us would be able to have yearly physicals, emergency procedures, or access to treatment? As a provider, Harmony works with our insurance partners to provide the appropriate level of care for the appropriate period of time.
Harmony has a 49 year history of providing a residential level of care; this is the highest level of care for people suffering from substance use disorder. We have a responsibility to our clients to stabilize them medically, assess their conditions, provide them with a diagnosis, work with them to create a foundation for sustained recovery, and construct a comprehensive continuing care plan which will support their recovery. The relationships we have fostered with insurance partners has allowed us to work collaboratively to support access to care along the continuum. Under the umbrella of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), together, insurance companies and treatment providers alike are held to the highest standards of care for addiction treatment. This common language, reviewed in tandem with insurance providers determines what level of care an individual requires.
Sometimes there is disagreement. For example, when Harmony feels that a client would be better served by remaining at a residential level of care and an insurance provider feels they would be successful at the next level. Other times, a client would like to remain in treatment, however our expert clinical and medical staff believe they are ready to move toward self-management of their own recovery at a level of care which empowers them to practice the early skills of recovery they learned here. In most cases, to arrive at a decision to move a client to the next level of care, involves a conversation with our Medical Director and a physician reviewing the case for the insurance company. We work to keep people at the appropriate level of care indicated by our clinical staff recommendations based on the client’s progress.
Harmony has a dedicated utilization review team, clinical professionals who work with our insurance partners, staff, and clients to keep people at the level of care which will provide them the greatest opportunities for success. When it is determined that funding for residential care has ended, we work to inform the client as quickly as we are able. Unfortunately in this situation the determination for a shift in levels of care is immediate, funding ceases that day. In order to ease the transition for clients and families, Harmony is committed to absorbing the expense of an additional night’s stay for clients. This is not common practice and comes at a fair cost. For example, in the month of July, we provided $28,000 in housing and care at no additional expense to clients. We are able to continue to do this through the generosity of our donors. We recognize the challenge and frustration of learning at 4 pm that one no longer has financing for treatment, however we are dedicated to continue to support our clients during this transition period.
There is nothing magical about 28 days of treatment. We have heard the 28 day timeframe used for many years, growing in public awareness with the Sandra Bullock film. The reality is that proven success is driven by long term engagement in treatment within a full continuum of care, at multiple levels increasing the opportunity for self-management.
We will always remain committed to providing access to treatment whenever possible, using all means necessary to help individuals receive treatment that can build an early foundation of recovery. This could look like something as short as a few days or as long as 4 months. Either way, our partnerships with insurance and our recommendations for treatment will always be the focus in providing individualized care for clients.
Jim Geckler is the Chief Executive Officer for Harmony Foundation.
Gina Thorne: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Harmony Foundation podcast series. I’m please today to be joined with Scott Lister and Gene Shiling with Lotus Lodge out of Denver, Colorado. Welcome.
Scott Lister: Thank you.
Gene Shiling: Thanks for having us.
Scott Lister: Thanks for having us.
Gina Thorne: Really great to have you here on campus, and, fortunately, the weather was corporative. It was a little touch and go for some people driving up this morning with the snow, but it sounds like you guys were able to get through it okay.
Scott Lister: Yep. We made it.
Gina Thorne: That’s great. That’s great.
Well, we’re interested in hearing more about the Lotus Lodge. I’ll tell you I had a chance to go online, and see the pictures of this most beautiful place that I think a lot of people are going to be very curious about after we have a chance to chat. But before we do that I want to get to know a little bit about both of you, and kind of what got you into working in transitional living.
And so, first lets start with you Scott. Can you share a little bit about your background, and how you got into the field of addiction treatment?
Scott Lister: Yeah, absolutely. 10 years ago I was suffering from my own crisis in addiction, and entered the treatment world to get healthy. It certainly wasn’t my intention to give back to the community right away, but it’s kind of an organic process for me. Part of my own recovery process was being of service and helping addicts. So, it kind of happened organically.
Before I landed in treatment I was in business, and was invited to come back to the treatment center I went through to get healthy on my own, and started small doing some milli managements and counseling work. And a few years ago went to nursing school, and decided to run with it, and there just profession.
And then Gene and I collaborated recently on this idea of opening up a sober living home to extend our services to help as many people as we could.
Gina Thorne: That’s great. Great story.
And so, Gene the Lotus Lodge it works with women 23 and over-
Gene Shiling: That’s right.
Gina Thorne: It’s transitional living, or sober living. Can you share a little bit more about what a woman would experience when they come to Lotus Lodge?
Gene Shiling: Absolutely. So, I think the most important expectation for women and people in recovery, in general, is safety, and the sense of community, and the sense of belonging. So, those are expectations that are pretty standard. And women entering Lotus Lodge can definitely have that expectation that they will feel safe, we’ll definitely work with them on many different aspects of community service and giving back, and reintegrating back into society. We feel that it’s important for women …
This is kind of the last step after they’ve completed treatment episodes, and after they’ve done some extended care. This is the step down where women can expect assistance with reintegrating back into society, and finding work, and finding meaningful relationships, and we definitely help them foster that aspect of their lives.
It’s very critical for women to find spirituality, and it’s a really important aspect of what we do as well. Spirituality is a big part of what we offer at Lotus Lodge, and definitely something that women entering Lotus Lodge can expect as part of their recovery with us.
Gina Thorne: It’s interesting because I have the pleasure of helping open a women’s program, and when you go online and look at your website what you’ve all created, from a facility standpoint, it’s not just your traditional sober living for women. I mean, it really is, from a female perspective, I responded very strongly to it, because what it said to me was you are very mindful of self care, and the ability for women to feel worthy. And a lot of times when women are walking into a treatment program, or if they’re coming out of a treatment program they may struggle with this idea of do I have the right to be in a place that makes me feel worthy, and makes me feel like I can take care of myself. And when you look at your website you clearly have created a space for women to feel that way in addition to that feeling of safety. And that’s not common. I mean, we don’t see that very often. So, that’s great that you’ve created that.
Gene Shiling: Absolutely.
Gina Thorne: And with that, I guess, Gene why is it important to create this kind of transitional living experience do you think?
Gene Shiling: I think it’s important for this treatment modality to exist, because women coming out of treatment there needs to be this step down place for women to experience a community setting in a safe place where they can start kind of getting their feet wet, and relationship with family is important, and women are still very new in recovery. And some of the services that we provide are making sure … Not really making sure, but helping women with their medication management. We’re medication assisted treatment friendly. Scott and I are both nurses, and we sit down with the women, and we go through their medications, we collaborate with the physicians.
Gene Shiling: So, when they’re ready to enter the workforce, and when they’re ready to go back home, a lot of these women have families … So, it’s a really important piece of treatment that needs to exist to promote well being, and recovery, and just, in general, humanity for women.
Gina Thorne: That’s exactly what I sensed from it, and I know several of my colleagues have gone out to visit your place, and it does feel like its very much what you’re saying. Not just what you see online, but also what people have experienced when they come into your facility, which is great.
So, we always like to get to know the people behind the program. And so, Scott I’m going to ask you what purchases of less than a 100 dollars have you made recently that have most improved your life?
Scott Lister: I didn’t notice recently when I first read that, but-
Gina Thorne: It doesn’t have to be recent. It can be whenever.
Scott Lister: This is an easy for me, though. ‘Cause 10 years ago I rolled into treatment totally broke, and, man, so disconnected from humanity and my own soul. And 10 years ago I rolled into my first meeting, and brought in 10 dollars to purchase a big book of alcoholics anonymous, and I actually never even purchased it they guy ended up giving me the book. Ever since I cracked open that book the trajectory of my life has just been amazing, and, since then, so full of hope, and capacity for love, and fellowship, and understanding, and giving back to people.
Unfortunately, last time we moved I lost that old tattered written up book, so someone’s probably out there reading that book right now wondering-
Gina Thorne: I’m sure they are. I’m sure they are.
Scott Lister: But that really was a game changer for me, and showing me a life I never thought was possible. And because of that I’m able to give that back to people who are starting off-
Gina Thorne: That is so great
Scott Lister: Themselves.
Gina Thorne: That is so great. You’re right that message, and that gift that keeps on giving, right?
Scott Lister: Right.
Gina Thorne: So, that’s fantastic. Thank you for sharing that.
And Gene if I were to throw out the idea of the word harmony, what do you think it means to live a life in harmony?
Gene Shiling: For me living in harmony … Well, harmony and recovery, for me, is all about relationships. And I look at harmony as a relationship with myself, relationship with God of my understanding, relationship with community with society, and relationship with service. How am I being of service? How do I fit it into my immediate family? How do I fit it into my community and society in general?
So, living in harmony, for me, is all about those relationships. And the way that I see it is in order for me to be successful, and to be happy I need to have all four of those things in my life. I can’t exist in harmony if I don’t have a higher power in my life. I can’t exist in harmony if I’m not being of service to my community and society. There is no harmony if I’m not a part of my family. There’s no harmony if I beat myself up over little things, and if I don’t respect myself, if I can’t look in the mirror and see a person that I respect.
So, in general, harmony is all about relationships for me.
Gina Thorne: I like that answer. That’s a great answer.
And if someone wanted to access the recovery services that you all are offering at Lotus Lodge how can they get in touch with you Steve, Scott?
Scott Lister: And you call us at any time whether it’s to inquire about our services, or our program, or just chat about recovery, or if you need referrals, or resources to get the help you need. Gene and I are an open book. We’re open and willing to talk to anybody.
Gina Thorne: Outstanding. Well, thank you both for taking the time to visit with us. We’re excited about building that relationship with you all. And thank you for making women a priority in transitional living and sober living, ’cause there’s enough of it out there. It means a great deal.
Gina Thorne: Hi everyone. Welcome to the Harmony Foundation Podcast Series. And I’m pleased today to be joined with Austin Johnson and Caroline Bunn with SummitStone Health. Welcome.
Austin Johnson: Hi.
Caroline Bunn: Hi
Gina Thorne: Its good to have you both here. I’m really excited that you’re on campus today.
Austin Johnson: Great to be here.
Caroline Bunn: Thanks for having us.
Gina Thorne: Of course. And you know, on a beautiful day today, I mean, Sunday we had lots of snow and people still tried to brave the elements to come up. So, it’s nice that you guys did that, which is good.
Caroline Bunn: Yes. In my little Prius too.
Gina Thorne: That would have been fun. That would’ve been fun. You know, those car … they’re hearty cars, I mean, you probably could make it work.
Caroline Bunn: Yeah.
Gina Thorne: So, before we get into the specifics about SummitStone, we’d love to get a little background on both of you first, just talking a little bit about how you got into the field. And so, Austin, let’s start with you first.
Austin Johnson: Okay.
Gina Thorne: So, what kind of put you in the field of working with addiction?
Austin Johnson: So, I mean I have a long history of addiction within my family and then I struggled with addiction for a long time. So, in January, I’ll be celebrating my 9th year. And so-
Gina Thorne: Nice.
Caroline Bunn: Woo.
Gina Thorne: Good job.
Austin Johnson: Yeah so, when I initially got clean and sober I really wanted to work with people that struggled with some of the things that I struggled with, and in a field that I knew a lot about, but didn’t necessarily have the education. And then, I went back to school and got my bachelors in social work with a minor in criminology. So I, you know, this is a field that I hold near and dear to my heart because I truly believe that there is hope and there’s recovery. And that there’s different ways to establish that. So.
Gina Thorne: Nice. Thank you for sharing that.
Austin Johnson: Yeah.
Gina Thorne: And how about you Caroline?
Caroline Bunn: Yeah. I have a slightly different path. So, when I was in my bachelors, I really thought I was gonna be a teacher and then it turned out that I wasn’t all that great at classroom management. And so … But what I also realized is that, like I would see these kids within a class of 30 where there were, always, at least one or two, maybe three or four kids who really seemed to be struggling more than other kids in the classroom. And I felt really drawn to help those few children ’cause they very clearly were not getting what they needed in that larger environment. So, I really went to grad school thinking I was gonna be a school counselor, and then got pulled to the more community health end of things. So, my background is in working with kids recovering from trauma.
And then have done a number of other things, like working in hospital settings and schools, and then made the jump out of clinical work to do outreach for SummitStone about two months ago, and it’s been a really fun and really great fit.
Gina Thorne: Yeah. I mean I really see the work that you’re doing and what a lot of other people do as well, as far as being ambassadors and helping usher people to the right place, is vital.
Caroline Bunn: Yeah.
Gina Thorne: I mean, there’s a valuable role in everybody playing and working within the behavioral health space. And so … Well, thank you both for the work that you do I this field ’cause it’s not easy work.
Austin Johnson: Nope.
Gina Thorne: So, we appreciate that. So, let’s talk a little bit about SummitStone Health Partners, it’s got 50 years of service, almost similar to Harmony, we’re celebrating our 50 years.
Austin Johnson: Yes.
Gina Thorne: So, I think we’re almost, you know, I don’t know, when did you guys open, do you remember, specifically? I wonder who’s older.
Caroline Bunn: Yeah, we’ve … We’re older.
Gina Thorne: You’re older.
Austin Johnson: ‘Cause we just celebrated [crosstalk 00:03:17] years.
Caroline Bunn: We’re looking good, though.
Gina Thorne: Okay.
Austin Johnson: 60 years.
Caroline Bunn: We’re over 60 years. 60 years.
Gina Thorne: Over 60?
Caroline Bunn: Yeah.
Gina Thorne: Oh, okay.
Caroline Bunn: Yeah.
Gina Thorne: Over 60. Well then, you definitely are. I don’t know where I got the 50 from, but that’s great. Okay.
Caroline Bunn: I think it’s over 50 services. So, there are a number of different numbers we’ve got.
Gina Thorne: Oh, gotcha. Okay.
Caroline Bunn: All of our offices and then all of the … We’re in over 24 offices.
Austin Johnson: We did just celebrate our 60 year anniversary.
Caroline Bunn: Yeah.
Gina Thorne: So, 60 years with 50 services.
Caroline Bunn: Over 50 services. Yeah.
Gina Thorne: Yeah. And you treat people with substance use and mental health disorders.
Caroline Bunn: Yes.
Gina Thorne: You’re actually the largest behavioral health provider of Medicaid in Larimer County, which is really impressive. What do you think sets your program apart from other programs?
Austin Johnson: I mean, we really do provide, I wouldn’t say 50, I mean, I imagine there’s probably more services than 50. But, we just really try to fit the needs of the individual clients that walks in our door. From the moment that they come in for their intake, we are trying to fit their needs, whether they’re here for mental health services or there for substance use disorder, or both. So, we’re really trying to facilitate all the needs of this client, while … because their financial … I don’t know how to explain that, but. Oh shoot.
Caroline Bunn: Well, I’ll just in there. I mean, what I really love is that we treat people across the life span. So, we have a really robust, early childhood program here we go into daycare settings and support in that way. And then also offer parenting classes for parents with kids as young as a few months old, all the way up to older adults who are struggling with their … with whatever it is in their life that they’re struggling with. And then also, what I think is amazing is that, not only do we have our different offices throughout the county, but we’re in the jail, we’re in several different community health care clinics, we are in four different schools in the Thompson School District. I mean, we are really meeting people where they’re at, just across the county no matter where that is.
Gina Thorne: And it sounds like hitting every demographic as well.
Austin Johnson: Right.
Caroline Bunn: Yeah.
Austin Johnson: Yes.
Gina Thorne: Which is really not normal. Most people are very specific to one audience and it sounds like you all are really making yourselves available to everybody across the spectrum, which is terrific.
Gina Thorne: So, one thing, I feel I’d be remiss if we didn’t talk a little about your new position as MAT Administrator. Can you talk a little bit about what that means and what people would get from that if they were to come through your program?
Austin Johnson: Yeah. So, our program, we have a medication assisted therapy, which we treat opioid use disorder and alcohol use disorder with those medications. And we’ve been doing that for the past two years, is when we started our Suboxone program in Loveland. And then our Vivitrol programs are both in Fort Collins and Loveland. And so, really with this new position, the grant administrator, we’re looking to expand our services to our Fort Collins area. And also, we are expanding our services to a jail based pilot, so that when people come into the jail they are either be … you know, continue their MAT services or they are being induced within the walls. So, then they … When they leave, when they are released, they are connected with services, whether it’s with SummitStone or with other agencies, we’re making sure that they’re connected and hopefully reducing … definitely reducing overdoses and reducing recidivism.
Gina Thorne: That’s great.
Austin Johnson: So, it’s a big deal for us. And we’re really, really proud of the work that we’re doing right now with the MAT work.
Gina Thorne: Yeah, we’re really fortunate to have that grant, ’cause I think communities across the country need it. I mean, we’re all facing this opiate crisis and so it’s really important to have that.
Austin Johnson: Yes. Yes.
Caroline Bunn: Absolutely.
Gina Thorne: So, Caroline.
Caroline Bunn: Yes.
Gina Thorne: What purchase, of $100 or less, has most positively impacted your life in the last six months?
Caroline Bunn: I’m gonna go with my dog. And we actually got him for free ’cause he was abandoned with us.
Gina Thorne: That is a great price.
Caroline Bunn: Yes.
Gina Thorne: So, tell us about that, who’s your dog?
Caroline Bunn: Yeah. So, we … He came out of a tough situation. It was a couple that was divorcing and couple … Nobody could agree to keep the dog and so … Just it was actually at a dinner party my husband and I met him. And it’s funny, because I’m more the dog person in our dynamic and my husband, Ryan, walked in and saw this dog and I’m surprised that we didn’t leave with him that night. And so, now we have a 105-pound St. Bernard/German Short Hair Pointer mix who …
Gina Thorne: Oh my goodness. Oh, my gosh.
Caroline Bunn: And that’s why I’m covered in dog hair 99.9% of the time.
Austin Johnson: Me too ’cause I rode in your car.
Gina Thorne: That is a great … I mean, that’s a gift that keeps on giving.
Caroline Bunn: Yes. And Austin ’cause she was in my car. Yes, absolutely. So, that is the best, best purchase under $100 [inaudible 00:08:40], probably the best purchase, period. But, yeah.
Gina Thorne: That’s fantastic. Oh, nice. Yeah. That’s great. Well congratulations on being a pet owner.
Caroline Bunn: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you.
Gina Thorne: So … And then, for you, Austin, if I were to play off the idea of the world “Harmony”, what do you think it means to live a life in harmony?
Austin Johnson: I mean, that’s a large, that’s a very large question, I think. But, I think that being able to live in an environment where you have community support, and you have family support, and you just have this cohesive environment that supports a healthy living style. I don’t know, that’s … When I come up here I feel like this place is harmony to me. I mean, if I were to … you know, it’s a breath of fresh air and being able to just take in … I don’t know. Positivity. That’s a hard question.
Caroline Bunn: Well, I think it’s being at peace. Like, being at peace with yourself.
Austin Johnson: Right.
Caroline Bunn: Being at peace with the world around you.
Austin Johnson: Right.
Caroline Bunn: And, yeah, ’cause I mean, we live in a really chaotic world and not being pulled into that chaos and being able to be. Just have some calm somewhere.
Austin Johnson: Right.
Gina Thorne: Great answer.
Austin Johnson: The calm within the storm.
Gina Thorne: Yes.
Caroline Bunn: Yes.
Austin Johnson: I think that’s a hard place to be at a lot of times, especially with working all the time, our families, and just being able to just be, just be. And so, I think that’s my idea of harmony.
Gina Thorne: Right.
Caroline Bunn: Yeah.
Gina Thorne: That’s a good answer. Thank you for that.
Caroline Bunn: I remember one time when I was working with kid, I said to this seven year old, “How do you know when you’re gonna be done with therapy? How will you know when we’re done?” And she’s like, “When I don’t have problems anymore.” And I’m like, “Well, that sounds great, but that’s not gonna happen.” And so, I think what harmony, where harmony comes in, is like being able to whether those storms ’cause we’re not gonna stop having problems, we’re not gonna stop having whatever comes up. And being able to be at peace or being able to have some sort of …
Gina Thorne: Yeah.
Austin Johnson: Yeah. And move through that with grace [crosstalk 00:10:54].
Caroline Bunn: Yes. Yes.
Gina Thorne: Wonderful. Thank you for that. And so, Caroline, if someone wanted to access services at SummitStone, how could they get in touch with you?
Caroline Bunn: There are a lot of different ways for people to access services. So, the best, first step is to call our primarily line, and that is 970-494-4200. That’s gonna be a great number to get connected with services. It’s also the number to reach for crisis services. So, we also house the Larimer County … or the crisis center or Larimer County and that’s at 1217 Riverside Avenue in Fort Collins. And anybody can walk-in there, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to get support with a mental health or substance use crisis. But they can also call the 970-494-4200 number to get connected with somebody there, as well. And then, we also have walk-in services Monday through Thursday at our Bristlecone and Wilson offices. So, that’s in Fort Collins and Loveland.
Gina Thorne: Great. So, you’re making it very accessible for folks, which is what they need.
Caroline Bunn: Absolutely.
Austin Johnson: Yes.
Gina Thorne: Really appreciate it. Well, both of you, thank you so much for taking the time to come up for the day. It’s a real pleasure to meet both of you and we look forward to sharing SummitStone’s work with the word and looking forward to continued partnership. Thank you.
Gina: Hi everyone, welcome to the Harmony Foundation podcast series. I’m pleased today to be joined with Lauren Cabaldon, Clinical Director, and Brogan Rossi, Outreach Specialist for Akua Treatment Services, excuse me, in Newport Beach, California. Welcome.
Lauren: Thank you. Thanks for having us.
Gina: So great to have you guys here and visiting us here at Harmony. You came on a great day. Never know with mountain weather.
Lauren: We did.
Gina: Whether or not we’re gonna get tons of snow or not. You guys were very fortunate. We’re really excited to learn more about Akua. I know that here at Harmony we were very interested and I first met you Brogan, it was one of those things where you all have some very specific lines of service that are in deep demand. We’re gonna talk for a few minutes about some of those. Before we get into the specifics around your programming, I’d like to just ask you both individually what got you into the field of addiction treatment. Let’s start with you first Lauren.
Lauren: Absolutely. I am a therapist. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist. When I first started as a trainee, I stumbled across an adolescent facility called the bridge in Orange County and working with high school teenagers that were struggling with dabbling in drugs, but they were being ostracized, stigmatized, and of course they would come into my office. They first thing I would say is, not what’s your problem, why are you doing this? I’d like to turn to the parents and the teachers and everyone around them. So the elders. I am a researcher of sacred rights of passage. I started to realize that we were missing rights of passage in contemporary western society. Particularly from the ages 14 to 18, when most of our adult clients now in treatment will say, I got stuck there or something was missing in my identity formation. For me, that’s where the journey started.
Then of course when any clinician that’s working with adolescents, it’s challenging. You have to work with the adults that are in charge of them more to get good results. That’s why I started transitioning to the adults and then I’ve been with Akua for four years now. That’s been my journey.
Gina: That’s a great story. Thank you for sharing that.
Lauren: Of course.
Gina: How about you Brogan?
Brogan: I’ve always worked in mental health. I think for me mental health is one of those things that I want to education and advocate for a population that has so long been forgotten and stigmatized. I’ve always been really drawn to that. I actually come from a background of eating disorders and moved my way into substance use. I come from a family of substance use. That, I was going to avoid it like the plague. Then stumbled upon Akua actually. I used to work at children’s hospital and it just felt like a really good fit philosophy wise and a lot of different types of treatment modalities. Since then I’ve been with them for four months. It’s still new and I’m learning so much, but I’m loving it.
Lauren: She’s killing it. She’s so kind.
Brogan: I’m loving it.
Gina: I love having you in the Colorado community.
Brogan: Oh good.
Gina: We definitely fit right in. That goes without saying. It’s been great having you a part of our community.
Brogan: Thank you.
Lauren: Thank you.
Gina: Let’s talk a little bit about Akua. It brings east and west together to address addiction treatment. You alluded to that a little bit in your previous question. Can you talk to us a little bit more about the philosophy of Akua and how you created that program?
Lauren: Absolutely. Akua, the word itself is actually a Hawaiian word. It means the Polynesian God’s of the ocean. Also means higher power, spiritual recovery. If you ever go to a Hawaiian wedding, they’ll say may the Akua watch over you. I think a lot of times especially in the treatment community, personally I’ve seen a lot of just resistance to the 12 steps for AA. A lot of our clients, alcoholics, addicts, the addict brain, it’s very stubborn, very resistant. I think bringing in a lot of different tools from other modalities is something that opens the mind up to another way of doing things. If you say the 12 steps is the only way, sometimes we lose a lot of our audience. For me it was the east meets west, it’s like okay. Maybe you don’t have to do this talk therapy thing. Sit in this harp therapy group or try the sound bath Tibetan singing bowls, try acupuncture. You don’t have to do much to sit there.
It’s not necessarily the passive modalities, but it’s the modalities that notice and use more mindfulness. Our goal is to really get the brain as a neuro feedback specialist, my goal is also to get the brain into more of an Alpha state. Which is the state, it’s the brain wave that we’re more suggestible like hypnosis. When a lot of our clients come into treatment, they are not suggestible. They know they can’t keep living their lives the way they were before, but they don’t want to do it our way either. It’s that third way. That’s a very eastern approach. It’s a very Buddhist approach. It’s a very being an empty vessel, a Taoist approach. Don’t feel up your cup with alcohol, for lack of better words. Be empty and receiving. That’s really what we’re about. That’s where the east meets the west. Of course we have psychiatrists, we have talk therapy, we use CBT and DBT as a daily structure of our programming. The eastern approach, sometimes I have clients say, man I had a huge breakthrough in harp therapy.
Just listening to her play a Nirvana song on the harp. It reminded me of being a teenager and then this and that. That’s where the breakthrough sometimes happen, not when we’re talking about it. As a western therapist, I have to really let my ego go in that regard. That’s where east comes in.
Gina: What’s great about that is most of our clients who come into treatment have an issue with learning how to feel again because they’ve been so numb for so long.
Gina: When you bring in the eastern way of thinking, it’s very, very different. It’s taking away the threatening feeling of I’ve got to feel again, what does that look like? Do I have to burden myself to the entire group in a small group setting where it feels very unsafe? Where if you do it in more of an eastern way of doing it, people feel less threatened by it.
Gina: That’s great that you’ve incorporated that in there. You also have your program is gender responsive. Your women’s program is called Lani.
Gina: Lani. What’s the meaning behind that? I’m assuming it’s Hawaiian.
Lauren: It is Lalani is actually a popular female name. It’s funny to say. It is gender responsive. With that as even just talking to your CEO about the LGBTQ affirming and how we do that the right way and as a [inaudible 00:05:42] therapist, I believe in more the anima, the animus, the masculine, and the feminine energy. What’s interesting is I traditionally actually see a lot of women coming into treatment learning how to reclaim their masculine energy. Sometimes men coming into treatment reclaiming their feminine. Getting in touch with their emotions. Whereas women are actually getting in touch with not being the victim and having a voice. We really want to honor that. As our women’s facility, Lani means heavenly women. Divine heavenly women, which I love because it really connects them to the spirit, connects them to the stars above. It connects them to the female energy that they might’ve been shamed for, what was taboo. Historically, the woman being crazy, being on their menstrual cycle and being psychotic. That crazy stigma is so much even worse for most women that are using or drinking or can’t fulfill their obligations as a wife or mother or daughter.
There’s a lot of those pressures on women these days. Men still a whole other beast to deal with. With women, we see a lot of that. I’m coming and reclaiming their voice. Really tapping into that powerful female energy. That it’s not something to hide or to be the quiet women, to be the subdued women. To have a voice, to yell, to scream, to express themselves. That’s really what Lani is all about.
Gina: That’s fantastic and it’s so true because so much of our women come in with so much shame. You sound like you’re creating more of a positive and affirming culture there for women so they feel like this is the place where they feel safe enough to get the treatment that they need.
Gina: Which I think a lot of facilities forget to do that.
Lauren: They do.
Gina: It’s all very traditionally focused.
Lauren: We separate the genders, we don’t really do different treatment for them. Our women’s director Shannon, she’s been with me from the beginning with Akua. She is fabulous because she recognizes her role as mother or sister and how other women might project their insecurities onto her to. She’s a tall, beautiful, blonde, strong, therapist. We’ll talk about that in the room and what that’s like. That’s real powerful because she’s real self aware. I love that in her too.
Gina: Right. Having the right people make all the difference, doesn’t it?
Lauren: Oh, huge. Huge.
Gina: Let’s talk about your mental health program, which of course really peaked our interest when I first met with Brogan. You have this really unique health residential component, which a lot of facilities at least I know in the state of Colorado really are hungry for that kind of resource. There’s not a lot out there that’s specifically for primary mental health. Can you tell me number one why you opted to move in that direction? Two, what is somebody going to expect if they were to come into that mental health program?
Lauren: Absolutely. I said this too earlier, but I’ll say it again. We’re not really treating the disorders. We’re treating the trauma that led to it. Meaning eating disorder, personality disorder, attachment disorder, substance use disorder. We believe that everything starts with an attachment, an unhealthy attachment, an insecure attachment. The mental health piece, we’re already treating these patients within our walls. It really is just driven by what insurance will authorize as well. We understand that. We did have those clients already within our walls. We started to notice that as more of a psycho dynamic facility, we are well poised to treat mental health in a really safe and loving way. I think a lot of, I won’t really say this in blanket statement. But a lot of substance abuse treatment facilities just use the 12 steps as their modality or use CBT or DBT. It’s all well and good but it kind of misses a lot of the clients that maybe don’t feel like they have an addiction. I’ve seen a lot of clients that come in that they were just using that to be okay in their environment.
I always say, a lot of times when people start using, it’s actually a healthy response to an unhealthy environment. A 14 year old will put a needle in his arm because mom and dad are fighting and he’s being triangulated in it. He can’t feel safe in that home. In that moment he puts the opiates in his veins. He feels calm, safe. He’s treating himself. Substances aside, we’re looking at the depression, the anxiety, and I’m not trying to get rid of the bipolar symptoms, the depression symptoms, even the personality disorders. I want to listen first and foremost to what those symptoms are saying. There’s a reason they’re there. When we work with our psychiatrist and do a lot of different modalities, we are I think poised as that psychodynamic facility and we are doing it really well I think already in substance abuse before we had our mental health licensee a year ago to inclusively and safely treat those traumas. I think it just became a natural order for us. We just needed to get the licensing to really do it and take the primary. In our area in Orange County and California, there’s a lot of hospitals around us.
We do get a lot of clients coming off 51 50s very depressed, very suicidal. Our approach of unconditional positive regard and compassion tends to do really well with that stigmatized population. It just really fit for us already. We were already treating it without having the license.
Gina: That’s great and it’s such a need.
Lauren: It really is.
Gina: Such a huge need.
Lauren: It really is.
Gina: Brogan, you’ve been sitting there very quietly. We’d like to get to know the people behind the program. I’m gonna ask you, what books have you gifted the most to other people?
Lauren: I love that question.
Brogan: Two very different books. Recently I’ve been gifting the neuro science of Buddha’s brain.
Lauren: I am actually reading that.
Brogan: Oh my gosh I love it.
Gina: Yes, I am. [crosstalk 00:10:51]
Lauren: It is great. I come from a neuro science background so that’s a really cool way to bring together mindfulness and neuro science. Then on the other end Harry Potter. I’m the biggest Harry Potter fan. I’ve read it four times.
Gina: Have you really?
Brogan: I have.
Gina: All of them?
Brogan: All of them.
Gina: Four times?
Gina: That’s impressive. Did you talk to Alyssa our case manager?
Brogan: No. No.
Gina: She’s a huge Harry Potter fan.
Brogan: We’ll have to just nerd out and talk about it.
Gina: You totally will.
Brogan: I gift it to everyone who’s like, I haven’t read it. I’m like, well you need all seven so here you go. You need to read them.
Gina: That’s great that you do that.
Brogan: Very different.
Gina: Out of curiosity, why Harry Potter? What is it about Harry Potter that compels you so much?
Brogan: I think starting it as a child and then reading it in different phases of my life, it’s this way to escape to this really cool, I don’t know, magical thing that you can immerse yourself in. You become involved. Then to read it at different phases of my life has been really cool to see how I’m taking it all in. I just love the characters to be honest.
Gina: You fall in love with them.
Brogan: That definitely is gifted all the time.
Gina: What’s his name? Radcliffe?
Brogan: Daniel Radcliffe.
Gina: Daniel Radcliffe, he’s in recovery.
Lauren: Is he really?
Gina: Yes he is.
Lauren: I had no idea.
Brogan: I had no idea and I’m a huge … wow.
Brogan: I have to read more about that.
Gina: That’s really another cool thing about it.
Brogan: More to read.
Gina: Lauren, if I’m gonna play off the idea of the word harmony, what do you think it means when I say to live a life in harmony?
Lauren: Wow. A lot of different things come up for me. I’ve been doing a lot of this internal work on myself. I’m noticing that internally personally on a personal level, I’ve achieved a state of balance, but then I step out into the world and oh look at all that. Look at all that. That guy cuts me off on the freeway. The guy at the post office is taking too long and everyone just wants to … looks like the world is conspiring to trigger me and irritate me. It’s funny, I experienced that with a lot of my clients. Everything is okay or can be okay. Then I experience the outside world and it’s so terrible and traumatic. Balance to me is that maintaining that healthy ecosystem of not isolating because we were not built and we were not born to be isolating. I truly don’t believe we are and I love that TED Talk. I forget who did it about addiction and how the antidote to addiction is connection. That sometimes the last thing that a depressed or anxious human wants to do is connect. That’s the biggest threat to their individuality. It’s the one thing that can help us really individuate. That’s the great paradox of being alive and existing.
For me, true harmony is not just being on this lotus flower levitating in the middle of a lake and being alone. Oh my god, as an introvert, that’s where I’d want to be. Then there’s this super loneliness to it. I’m not balanced. I’m not sharing what I have here with others. True harmony is really figuring out how to step into that space to me and be with others and still be in the calm of that storm, but also letting each individual teach us how to grow. Dr. Rachel Carlson wrote this book Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff. He says in that book, it’s really just about just staying true to yourself and all the small stuff will just come and irritate you and bother you. Imagine everybody else is enlightened except for you. That was one of my favorite chapters. It’s like, wait a second. No. I’m enlightened. I’m doing this work. I’m this enlightened, spiritual being. When you look at it that way, everyone that pisses you off, you’re a really co dependent mother, that your boyfriend that’s telling you you’re not good enough or this or that, they’re all here to teach you something.
Gina: They sure are.
Lauren: If you can flip it that way, make your problems into gifts, then harmony really can happen in no matter what environment you’re in, no matter what relationship you’re involved in.
Gina: That’s a very beautiful response. I guess my last question is, if someone were listening to this today and they wanted to access treatment services at Akua, how could they get in contact with you?
Lauren: I would say one of two ways. You can either call the admissions line directly. The phone number is 833-258-2669 or go to our website and check us out there. It’s akuamindbody.com. Akua is spelt A-K-U-A. Then mindbody.com.
Gina: Awesome. Lauren and Brogan, thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us.
Lauren: Thanks for having us.
Brogan: Thank you.
Gina: I’m really excited about sharing Akua with the rest of the world.
Gina T. Hello everyone, welcome to the Harmony Foundation podcast series, and it’s my pleasure to be joined with the team, Strength In Motion counseling out of Boulder Colorado. We have Adriana Balentine, who is the owner/founder, correct? Yeah.
Adriana B.: Correct.
Gina T. We have Deb Silver, Becky Howie, Jeanette Nicastri, great.
Becky Howie: It’s Becky Howie.
Gina T. Becky Howie, thank you, and we’re really excited to have everybody here. You had hopefully a great morning and an opportunity to learn a little bit about Harmony, but we also had an opportunity to learn about your practice. We want to use this opportunity to share with others what you all do, and who you are, so that if people are accessing services, they’ll know a little bit more about you. With that, I’m going to actually turn to you first Adriana.
Gina T. Strength In Motion is a mind, body, and soul practice, and it addresses areas of life that can be a barrier to thriving and success. Can you describe the services at Strength In Motion? How do individuals who come to your program get met with the needs that you will provide, all the services that you provide?
Adriana B.: Sure, I’d be happy to. Strength In Motion is a holistic wellness center with a clinical focus. What that means, is we have a combination of different services. We can be really a one-stop shop for different needs and addressing each person really individually. We have a team of nine psychotherapists, and we all have a gamut of different specialties. We start working with tween’s on up, so we see tween’s, teens, young adults, and adults.
We do individual therapy, we do group therapy, couples therapy, and family therapy, and also offer a number of workshops and groups. One of the pieces, the motion piece, the strength in motion piece that’s really important to us is movement. Movement can look a lot of different ways, but the ways in which we play around with it, are walk and talk therapy, hikes, dance movement therapy.
We have a lot of trauma informed yoga practices, and a lot of ways for folks to come together in community to heal. That might be looking and searching for a community and a place to belong, and that also could be in families doing their healing work with us. Oh, go ahead.
Gina T. Well, I was going to say that you’ve started this whole concept, that you’re the owner/founder, so what was it that preempted you to say? “I want to start this kind of practice.”
Adriana B.: Sure, so part of it was a passion in the clinical work, and knowing when I was just in private practice that, to me, it didn’t feel like I was able to serve the community at large that I wanted to serve, and also be a part of. A big part is being part of the wider community, and another part of it is really offering these collaborative approaches that I see as sometimes people look at them as nontraditional approaches.
I actually see them as key components towards healing. Getting familiar and comfortable in our bodies, being able to move them, and also being able to work with stillness. We play with mindful-based practices, which don’t have to be sitting and breathing, and really can be, and can give a foundation around supporting people’s nervous systems.
Gina T. That’s wonderful, and I mean obviously there’s a lot of people that struggle with feeling in general. Here at Harmony, we struggle with getting clients to understand that it’s okay to be in your body, and to know what it feels like to feel, but then to use movement as part of that is just as important.
Adriana B.: Yeah.
Gina T. I wanted to shift gears a little bit and talk to you Deb, so you do a lot of the movement pieces I guess at Strength In Motion, or at least some of it. Can you talk a little bit about what that looks like if somebody were to come to you as a clinician and work with you? What would you use from a movement perspective to help them?
Deb Silver: Yeah, so my background is in somatic counseling and dance movement therapy. It can really look a lot of different ways. Like Adriana was saying that ultimately the underlying piece, the simplistic way of approaching it, is I’m really just supporting folks in getting comfortable in their own skin. The reasons why people feel unsafe in their bodies, is a wide gamut of why that might be showing up, from trauma, to just societal messages of it’s not okay.
Supporting folks bottom line in terms of why they’re showing up, and where we can start approaching bringing the body in, what the body has to say in terms of gesture simply. You’re talking about say your mother, and your shoulder keeps popping up towards your ear, and I might notice that, and be like, “Hey, so what’s that about?” Just bringing awareness to it, so that we can actually work with it.
Literally work with what the body is saying with what my words are saying. Then on the totally other end of the range would be actually getting into the movement studio that we have in Strength In Motion, and working with actual large movement, and maybe dance, but it’s really not … I’m not working to make people dancers, like that’s not what this is about.
Becky Howie: It’s not Dirty Dancing.
Deb Silver: [crosstalk 00:04:50] Hey, I mean, honestly, if that’s what you want, I can do that, and that’s not what I’m trying to do. It’s really just supporting somebody where they are, and looking at it from a very … Again, this is a very simplistic way of explaining it, but somebody comes in, and maybe one of their goals is taking up more space, right? That might be taking up space with their voice, like I want to speak my truth more, what does that look like?
Literally, what does that look like? How can I literally take up more space with my body, so that what’s happening in my body can match with what I’m trying to practice with my voice. Those are some ways that it could look, or be in terms of bringing movement and somatic and feeling and emotion, you were speaking to that.
Gina T. Which is so scary for people.
Deb Silver: Yeah.
Gina T. I mean, that can be a very frightening experience.
Deb Silver: Yeah.
Gina T. Especially if they’ve lived in a place where they’ve been told not to, and not to be present, or not to show themselves, and then to set them out of that could be really frightening.
Deb Silver: Yes, which is literally what society says, right? We’re pushing against the norm and the dominant by saying, “It’s okay to feel, it’s okay to talk about it, and it’s okay to literally feel it in your body.” It’s not just about what’s from the neck up, and it is really scary.
Gina T. That’s great that you have that service available there, and that I’m sure you’ve been able to make some great strides with a lot of people. I may be giving you a call, because I want to be a dancer.
Deb Silver: We can go that route.
Gina T. [crosstalk 00:06:20] Becky, you like to read.
Becky Howie: I do.
Gina T. I mean, first, let’s just talk a little bit about your background. You’re trained as a clinician in wilderness therapy.
Becky Howie: Wilderness therapy.
Gina T. I enjoyed speaking with you at lunch today about your background, and it was great, you’re not from the Colorado area.
Becky Howie: No.
Gina T. You’ve become an adopted member of Colorado, which is really great.
Becky Howie: Yes.
Gina T. You’ve got a Subaru, the dogs, and now you’re a rock climber, so it’s official, which is great. We like to get to know the people behind the practice, and so just out of curiosity, when you think about books that you’ve gifted to other people, what are some of the books that you’ve gifted to people, and why?
Becky Howie: There’s a whole lot of books that I would recommend out to clients and family members and friends alike, but there’s a handful that I’d say come up more often than other ones. Most recently I’ve actually been gifting or recommending to people the book by Elaine Aron called, The Highly Sensitive Person. It talks a lot about the trait of high sensitivity, and how we as a society, Western society in America don’t value that, and it often gets looked at as somebody’s who’s broken, or they need to toughen up, or some other thing.
Those messages over time build up, and people that have this trait of high sensitivity start to think that there is all of these things wrong with them, and they’re more likely to end up with anxiety, depression, and substance use, these other kinds of struggles. What’s a 1 on somebody else’s scale, feels like it’s dialed up to a 10 for them. I help people recognize a lot of the gifts of that trait.
That’s one of the books that I really gift to people, and be like, “You need to read this, so that you know that this is a normal, natural thing, not just in humans, but in dogs, cats, horses, mice.” Evolution deems this as appropriate and helpful, and you are not broken, right? I think that, that’s a really big one for me, is just that message of the gifts that it brings, and that you are not broken.
Gina T. It’s interesting you say that, because a friend of mine learned recently, she’s an HSP, and she said it gave her peace of mind for the first time in her life, because she always thought that she was broken.
Becky Howie: That she was doing something wrong.
Gina T. Yeah, she was just like, “I felt like I was always emotional, and that people didn’t understand me,” and then she learned about being an HSP, and it just gave her peace of mind that she never had before, so that’s a great book to give.
Becky Howie: You get this sense sometimes that you are, “Crazy,” right? In a way that it’s traditionally used, because we’re picking up. I say we, because I’m an HSP as well, but we pick up on a lot of these subtle cues that the rest of the world doesn’t. We’re like, “Hey, did you notice that …” “Oh, no, no, no, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Then you get these messages that aren’t congruent with your experience, and it’s very confusing.
How do you filter out all of the … It’s like listening to three or four different radio stations at the same time, and you can’t hear the song that’s playing from anyone of them, so how do you filter out the noise and work with that? That’s part of why I love doing stuff in nature, because it just helps naturally settle a lot of those different radio stations so to speak.
Gina T. It sure does, doesn’t it? Yeah, especially when you’re in a place with no Wi-Fi.
Becky Howie: Yeah, so that’s one of my favorite [crosstalk 00:09:26] Here actually, I have no service here, this is wonderful.
Gina T. No, you don’t. That’s not intentional, but it is [crosstalk 00:09:34] Jeanette, also a member of the team, and I haven’t had a chance to get into too much detail around your background, so I’m certainly curious to hear more about how did you get into the field? What is some of the specifics of what you do at Strength in Motion?
Jeanette N.: Yes, absolutely, this is the perfect segue, because I am an HSP. I was told at a very early age that it wasn’t okay, and I was too sensitive. I got depressed, and into substances, and have fully come out of all of that. I just was sitting here listening to Becky, and wished that she was my parent, because she’s 20 years younger than me. I wish she was my parent, because that’s exactly what I needed, but I was told was wrong.
I was literally told in a negative way, you’ll probably be a therapist someday, and here I am. I absolutely love it, and just like Becky saying, I help other people that have these sensitivities, or whatever is going on with them. I have a knack for it, because I really can get it, and see it. Even in session, I can feel anxiety when a person is so scared to tell me something, and then they tell me. Then I can normalize it for them, and feel it and tell them they’re okay.
All feelings are … I say I’m an emotional expert, and that I love emotions, all of them. Some eyes widen when I say that, but I really believe it.
Gina T. It sounds like you create a great container of safety for people in a place where often times they don’t feel safe, so that’s great, wonderful. Well, thank you for that, so Adriana, if we were to play off the idea of the word harmony, what do you think it means to live a life in harmony?
Adriana B.: To live a life in harmony sounds like navigating the dance of all of the complexities that we all live by, whatever our stuff is, right? Constantly having a relationship to that dance, right? We think of balance, and people I think are always seeking balance. I think harmony is interchangeable in that capacity, right? It’s actually an ongoing evolution, and so when I look at harmony, I think of peace and I think a balance, but I also think of really being willing to be with our tough stuff, or sit in the darkness to be able to grow.
One of the things that’s really important to all of us, is being able to hold a container, and to be a space where there’s permission given.
Gina T. Yeah, yeah, great, nice answer, I like that, thank you. Very nice, and if someone were trying to seek services at Strength In Motion, how could they get in touch with you?
Adriana B.: Sure, so they can look on our website, which is in the process of getting rebuilt, but it’s live and they can access what we are and who we are. That is simcounseling.com, S-I-M counseling just spelled out all one word. They can call 303-817-9072, and they will just essentially … Somebody will call and ask what they’re inquiring about, or somebody will answer and ask what they’re inquiring about, whether it’s a group, a workshop, individual therapy, they will get connected with the right person.
They’ll have a free consultation, so a 30 minute over the phone consultation. Then we can talk a little bit more about who might be the best fit. If we’re not the best fit, we’ll certainly be a support resourcing out to find who is.
Gina T. Wonderful, wonderful.
Adriana B.: Yeah.
Gina T. Someone said to me earlier today as you all were passing that, that’s the power team walking up, and they were not kidding.
Adriana B.: We’ll take it.
Gina T. It was true a pleasure to have the opportunity to talk with all of you, and for you to take the time to come up and visit us. We look forward to doing more work with Strength In Motion, so thanks again, it’s good to have you [crosstalk 00:13:32]
Gina Thorne: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Harmony Foundation podcast series. I’m Gina Thorne. I’m pleased today to be joined with Dominique Condevaux, with PAX Counseling Center out of Denver.
Dominique C.: Correct. Actually, it’s Aurora.
Gina Thorne: Aurora.
Dominique C.: Yes.
Gina Thorne: Which is a suburb of Denver?
Dominique C.: Correct.
Gina Thorne: Great. Well, it is such a pleasure to have you up here at Harmony. Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us. Before we get into some of the specifics about the practice, we always like to learn a little bit more about the person behind the practice. Let’s talk first about you and how you got into the field.
Dominique C.: I’m a licensed addiction counselor, licensed professional counselor, from the great state of Colorado, like we just said. How did I come into the field of clinical mental health and addiction was years ago I came from a trauma background myself, and I’ve always been curious to figure out how I could go ahead and move forward. This is my kind of third career, and I did the corporate world before, so stocks and bonds and the communication world. One thing that I noticed that I was gravitating towards was kind of an offshoot of counseling. I was always working with my peers in quality control, basically teaching them how to say please and thank you. That helping service in there kind of led to move forward into my practice today.
I’d say about 15 to 20 years ago, I was working with some school kids and some teachers had asked me to come in and say, “Hey, could you work with these children?” And it got to the point where I needed to have a little bit more some tools in my toolbox, so I decided to go back to school. I really had to figure out what I wanted to do with the next portion of my life.
In that reflection, I noticed that since I was really young, I’d always been in that helping. So yes, I was a Candy Striper. I swam competitively, but I taught handicapped children how to go ahead and swim. Children are much easier to teach than adults.
Gina Thorne: That’s true.
Dominique C.: FYI there. Yeah. That ribbon through my life of working with people. I found that I had a knack for that. Just that ease that I was able to go ahead and move them in a positive direction.
I took that opportunity, and I went back to school and I got my Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree. During that time, going back to school and having that excitement of that, I also did my addiction studies. I’m a master addiction counselor at that time. Then I thought, “Gosh, I need to throw in something else on there,” and I spent four years at St. John Vianney, so the Catholic biblical seminary down in Denver. Again, and you can tell by my name and probably my voice that I am female that I didn’t play with the boys in black. That’s what everybody said. No. This is the lay portion of the school.
With those three, that integration of those three, I said, “I’m going to build my practice, because I want to go ahead and work with people and serve with people.” So that’s the beginning of Pax Counseling and Consulting.
Gina Thorne: Well, that’s a great segue into the next question, which is on your website you talk about finding and developing peace within one’s life is an ongoing and proactive journey that often requires the support of others. I know that that’s probably part of the foundation of what you’ve creating with Pax Counseling. Can you explain to us a little bit more about why that work is important?
Dominique C.: First of all, Pax means peace. It’s Latin for peace. We as humans are constantly growing. We’re constantly moving. We’re also constantly moving forward. We can go ahead and be overwhelmed with our addictions or overwhelmed with some mental health challenges that are coming into our world. The communication part starts is that I do intra and inter-personal communications. Intra meaning internal, and then inter meaning between people. Sometimes it’s really hard, because people don’t understand what’s going on in their head. Part of that is that it’s my opportunity for them to go ahead and take what’s in their head and put it out on the table. Go ahead and tell me in a safe space that we can go ahead and look at that and really tear it apart. That’s communication. That means that I am supporting you. Again, I recognize that anything that we do we cannot do in a vacuum, because it’s just not functional for us.
I was trying to think of an example, but like looking outside and there’s a road going to the beautiful park that’s next to you. One man did not go ahead and build that. That took many people to go ahead and work with that. That was everything from the construction crew, the laborers actually doing the hard work, the … What do you call that? The tractors coming in. Then it was the people that had to travel on that road that were supplying services to those people, because they had to be fed and there had to be sanitation for them. Again, just using that example of a built road is that there’s so many parts that go in there.
Our lives are like that, too. That’s why it’s so important so we can learn how to talk to ourselves so then we can go ahead and talk to somebody else.
Gina Thorne: Because we’re in a community.
Dominique C.: Absolutely.
Gina Thorne: Yeah, the community.
Dominique C.: That’s the most thing is to go ahead and build that community to move forward.
Gina Thorne: Great. Great answer. Pax Counseling and Consulting was born from this idea of communication. Why do you feel it’s necessary to focus your practice on this premise?
Dominique C.: Kind of reflecting back on my previous answer is that communication, the community, interacting with each other. We need to have that for us to go ahead and move forward. Maslow’s hierarchy. Again, it’s a triangle, and the very bottom level we have food, shelter, clothing, but we also need social interaction. Humans are … We’re kind of like pack … We’re closely related to the dogs. I know it sounds like kind of a weird example. I love dogs. I’ve got three of my own. But we are very social people. We can see that when you withhold that human touch, that human communication, that the person withers and dies.
We see that. Unfortunately we have seen it in the past with Romanian and Russian orphanages. That those were a lot of people, a lot of children that had challenges because they weren’t attended to socially and physically. That’s really important for me to go ahead … That’s the focus. That’s the foundation. If I can go ahead and guide, walk, and work with someone to say, “How can I be more confident in myself,” then these coping, these distorted coping mechanisms, such as the alcohol or the drugs or the process addictions that we are using to keep us balanced that we can go ahead with the help of others to move past that.
Gina Thorne: Great. I love it. That’s great. Let’s switch gears for a few minutes and talk a little bit about your philosophies on a few things. I’m going to ask you an interesting question. Just curious about what advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the real world? What advice should they ignore?
Dominique C.: Okay. I’m going to start with the advice that they should ignore first. The reason is that because I’m not in conversation with them, each student, each person is individual, so I would have to go ahead and say, “With this person I would advise you. I would work with you not to go down that path.” Every path is different for every different person. Let’s move that aside.
What would I, the advice I would give to everybody and anybody that would ask me that is to remember to build face-to-face communication. This is how we build community. We need that touch. I need to be able to look in your eyes. That’s how we bond. People are saying, “Wow. I can do that over texting.” No, no, because that’s a screen. “I can do that over video chat.” I really can’t. There’s a connection, a bonding connection when I’m looking in your eyes. Right now I’m looking at your very beautiful eyes. That connection that we build that. That is how mothers bond with their children. That’s how fathers bond with their children, with the people around them. It’s how we bond with each other. For conflict resolution, we go ahead. When we are able to look in them, we have more empathy. Not sympathy, but we have more empathy. We are able to go ahead and be proactive, because the person is sitting right in front of us.
I know in this 21st century we have a whole new generation. Whether you want to call them generation Z or iGen, that their mode of communication is by text, is by Snapchat, is by FaceTime or Skype. Even in my field of counseling, that is a tool that we use, but it cannot be the main one. So if I could go ahead and give that one piece of advice is please go ahead and remember that face-to-face communication. Take time for yourself to go ahead and build that. Be that person that reaches out first. A lot of times people are like, “I’m angry and I’m not going to talk to them.” Be that person that reaches out, because you will benefit in the long run.
Gina Thorne: And create a ripple effect, hopefully.
Dominique C.: Absolutely, because again, when I’m with you, I am modeling to you. You are modeling right back to me. I’m getting this calmness. With the screen, we don’t have that. If it’s all how we communicate, that those the isolation, there’s nothing to bounce off of.
Gina Thorne: [inaudible 00:11:14] finite.
Dominique C.: Yes, absolutely. And then that’s where a lot of the ruminating, distorted thoughts, the isolation, because behind a screen is a form of isolation. I don’t need to see anybody.
Gina Thorne: Thank you for that. That’s a great piece of advice. If I were to ask you to play off the idea of the word harmony, what do you think it means to live a life in harmony?
Dominique C.: Well, harmony is actually a synonym of peace or peace is a synonym of harmony. Harmony means agreement or concord. This really spoke to me when I was thinking about this question. What it means to live in a life of harmony and peace and agreement is that not only is it agreement with the people that are surrounding, but it’s the agreement that’s inside of you, that homeostasis, that we are okay and that we are not bound to something outside of us. We are set within ourselves. I can walk down this road and I don’t need a pack of cigarettes. I don’t need alcohol or drugs. I don’t need this repetitive action to go ahead and keep me, that I can walk down that road. I can go ahead and meet off with people. It’s that peace and that contentment.
One real quick thing is that a lot of people say, “I want to be happy.” Wow, okay. I don’t want to be … In this world, we deal with such highs and lows. Everything is manic or depressive down here, and we don’t really have that neutral where we really need to be. We really need to have that center line. We need to have some sadness to experience joy. We need to have some conflict to understand resolution, but it doesn’t need to be at the opposite ends.
When I work with people and we are trying to come off these highs and these lows, because again, we know with alcoholism and mental health that there is. There’s extremes there. How can we go ahead and remember that there needs to be some tension in our world? That’s how we function. We need some stress. If everything was so good, we’d get bored and we would go ahead and wither and die.
Gina Thorne: Right, right.
Dominique C.: Right. What I do is I go ahead and I say, “You’re touching neutral. We’re looking for contentment.” Because content means that I can go ahead and be okay with having those real life sadnesses. My grandmother passed away. I’m going to feel sad for that. I’m not going to go ahead and be totally on the floor depressed for years and years, but I need to recognize that and say, “Yeah, that’s okay emotion.” I can go ahead and be angry, and I don’t want to have it be rageful. Anger is … All these emotions are very constructive. There’s this beautiful spectrum of emotion that we have, and we should be able to feel them all fully but not to go ahead and go off the-
Gina Thorne: Extremes.
Dominique C.: Yeah. Up and down. Did that make sense to you?
Gina Thorne: That’s great. Yeah. The whole idea around harmony is perfect. Find that middle ground.
Dominique C.: Absolutely.
Gina Thorne: Great.
Dominique C.: It’s outside, working harmony within your community of people, your support people, work mates, the world, but also it’s the interior.
Gina Thorne: Inside.
Dominique C.: It’s the interior harmony.
Gina Thorne: Thank you for sharing that.
Dominique C.: You’re welcome.
Gina Thorne: That’s so true. If someone were wanting to access your services at Pax Counseling and Consulting, how could they get in touch with you?
Dominique C.: I have a website. It’s www.paxcounsel.com, and that’s P-A-X-C-O-U-N-S-E-L dot com. You can also reach me by phone. (303) 819-7788. I’m also listed in Psychology Today. My name … It’s by my first name, not Pax Counseling and Consulting. I actually should check that, but my name is spelled Dominique, D-O-M-I-N-I-Q-U-E. My last name is Condevaux, C-O-N-D-E-V, as in Victor, A-U-X, as in x-ray.
Gina Thorne: Outstanding. You have a beautiful French name.
Dominique C.: Thank you.
Gina Thorne: I had a wonderful time visiting with you today. Thank you so much for taking the time to visit us at Harmony. We look forward to working with you.
Dominique C.: Well, thank you. I really appreciate the invitation. It is a beautiful location. I look forward to going ahead and working with you and your team.
Gina Thorne: Hi, everyone. Welcome to The Harmony Foundation podcast series, and I’m pleased today to be joined by Kathy Hawkins, Kathy Hawkins Counseling, out of Denver, Colorado. Nice to meet you Kathy.
Kathy Hawkins: Nice to be here. Thank you for having me.
Gina Thorne: We’re really happy that you took the time to come up and visit us here at Harmony, and we want to learn more about your counseling practice and the work that you do with clients who might be struggling with issues around behavioral health. You’ve got a pretty diverse and varied background. I’d love to hear more about how sort of your trajectory got you from, I think, originally working in the restaurant business, and then now working with people with trauma and other types of mental health issues, so can you share a little bit more about your background and how you got to where you are today?
Kathy Hawkins: Yes. The original career was restaurant business, and I did everything in the front of the house, bartending, waiting tables, sommelier, management, and I even opened my own place, and one of the big things that I really enjoyed about the restaurant business was people contact, connecting with people, and helping people, being of service. It was just in a different way, and I did that for a really long time, and I wanted something more. And through some twists and turns, I ended up going and getting my Master’s at The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology and got into counseling, and when I was in the restaurant business, there was a lot of addiction issues, a lot of substance use issues.
And so, one of my specialties in my practice is working with people who are in the hospitality industry because there’s a big need definitely, so I am a Licensed Professional Counselor. I’m a Licensed Addictions Counselor. I’m a Reiki Master, and I do AcuDetox which is auricular or ear acupuncture, and that works with cravings and also just works to sort of settle the nervous system and calm people and it’s really stress reduction.
Gina Thorne: That’s great.
Kathy Hawkins: Yeah.
Gina Thorne: Great. Well, you on your website, you talk about how you focus on trauma and stress management. Can you talk about the specific modalities that you use to address those issues when they come into your practice?
Kathy Hawkins: The foundation of my practice is from a mindfulness place, and it’s working with people to try and keep them in the present moment. I draw from Buddhist psychology. I draw from Stoic philosophy trying to keep people in the present moment. I also use somatic experiencing, Hakomi, EMDR. Again, I sometimes use Reiki with acupuncture. I use narrative therapy, writing. I like to meet people where they’re at, see what works for them and what they’re excited about or willing to try, get a good feel for that and go with that.
Gina Thorne: And so, it’s individualized?
Kathy Hawkins: Yes.
Gina Thorne: It’s very highly individualized, it sounds like.
Kathy Hawkins: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. That was one of the reasons I didn’t get into psychology a long time ago is because I had this idea that it was putting people in boxes, and I can’t do that, and I don’t want to be limited either. And then when I sort of discovered later on that there’s a bigger world out there, and people are doing different things and it’s okay, I grabbed on.
Gina Thorne: Oh, great.
Kathy Hawkins: Yeah. Yeah.
Gina Thorne: Great. And then, we like to get to know the person behind the practice. If I were to ask you what is the book or books that you’ve most given as a gift to others, what would that be?
Kathy Hawkins: I was thinking about this, and Pema Chodron, there’s two books particularly. One is “Beautifully Living with Uncertainty,” and then the other one is “When Things Fall Apart,” and those are things … people don’t like to live in uncertainty, and this is a great way to deal with it, or a great perspective, I guess, and then also “When Things Fall Apart,” so that’s the Buddhist component. And then the other book that I like to give is “The Daily Stoic,” and it’s 365 thoughts in Stoic philosophy. And again, it’s very pragmatic which Buddhism is as well, and it’s just about being in the present moment instead of getting anxious thinking about the future or worrying about the past. If we can spend more time in the present moment, we’re happier, and I like to give those books.
Gina Thorne: That’s great. Great book ideas.
Kathy Hawkins: Yeah. Yeah.
Gina Thorne: I’m interested in getting them myself now-
Kathy Hawkins: Yeah, they’re good.
Gina Thorne: … because they sound really interesting. If I were to play off the idea of the word harmony, what do you think it means to live a life in harmony?
Kathy Hawkins: Harmony to me, and that’s interesting because I was a sommelier, and I dealt with wine, and a good wine was in balance. Everything was in balance, and I think harmony is part of balance. Harmony is the balance working together. Getting people balanced in their lives in all areas is going to make a harmonious life. That’s the way I look at it.
Gina Thorne: That’s a great answer. Thank you for that. And if someone were listening today, and they wanted to access services at your practice, how could they get in touch with you?
A Retrospective Look at the Importance of Business Development by Gina de Peralta Thorne, MS
If you had asked me 20 years ago if I would be working in the field of addiction treatment I would have looked at you funny. The idea of working with recovering addicts and alcoholics was never intended to be a part of my world. I had family who suffered from addiction, but I didn’t know them and I never had any personal issues with alcohol or drugs. My only exposure to AA was hearing about Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA’s) Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA’s) from a mother who self- identified as an ACOA.
So how did I end up being such a strong ambassador for recovery and wellness? I tell people, that I didn’t choose this career path, rather, it chose me. My first time exposure to working with people in recovery was 10 years ago as Director of Business Development for a treatment program in Virginia. I was so nervous, unsure how I could contribute to helping people live a life in sobriety? I remember the first time an alumnus asked me if I was in recovery, I was uncomfortable to share that I wasn’t. He stood for moment, looked at me and said, “That’s okay, and you’ll do.” At the time, his response didn’t give me any tangible reassurance, but today, I understand.
With over a decade of ushering individuals and families into treatment, I know that it wasn’t pivotal for me to be in recovery to do this work. I have been awed and inspired by what I have learned from working side by side with those in recovery. I have learned how to recognize my own character defects, practice the discipline of restitution, (making amends for my mistakes), find gratitude daily for all things in my life and recognize, “this too shall pass”. I believe my role in this field has helped people find the connections and resources necessary to make their lives that much better and what an honor it is to be given this responsibility.
Today, the landscape of business development and marketing is challenging. There are some big shifts in perception regarding our work. Referrals are skeptical of our intentions, trust is questioned and our efforts to work collaboratively can be tested. But I believe “doing the right thing” will win out every time. We are “Ambassadors for Recovery” charged with the responsibility to help mentor and coach those new to the field, teaching the ethical, transparent and collaborative approach to helping people get well.
We are not about “heads in beds”, or labeling our clients as insurance contracts. Our purpose is much greater. We are the frontline of recovery for many of the families and individuals suffering. Our role is vital and compelling. Never sell yourself short as being “just a marketer”. We are the connectors, the bridge to hope and opportunity and “we’ll do”!
Gina de Peralta Thorne, MS – Chief Marketing Officer with Harmony Foundation is a graduate from Florida State University with a degree in Health Education and Masters from University of West Florida in Health Education and Management. She has over two decades of experience working in the field of prevention, intervention, addiction treatment and recovery. Her background in health communications and health promotions has evolved in both the public and private sectors working in local, regional and national organizations, hospitals, and institutions of higher learning in Florida, New York, Ohio and Virginia. She has worked in marketing and business development for residential treatment programs in Virginia and Florida. A recent transplant to Colorado, Gina was Vice President of Marketing for Lakeview Health providing leadership and oversight to brand management, digital marketing communications, outreach support and alumni services. She is an industry leader speaking about Ethics, Recovery Oriented Systems of Care and Marketing and Business Development best practices. She is a member of the Treatment Professionals Alumni Services (TPAS) Board and an active member of the Addiction Treatment Marketing Organization (ATMO). Gina philosophically believes that change happens when others stretch across the divide and work together.
Gina: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Harmony Foundation Podcast Series, and it’s my pleasure today to be joined with Brice Hancock and Allison Hardon with Mile High Sober Living. Welcome.
Brice: Thank you, Gina.
Gina: It’s good to have you both here. I’m really excited to talk with you about Mile High. But before we do that, let’s talk about you first. So Brice, you are the founder/owner of Mile High. Is that correct?
Gina: And you’re also a guitarist, former real estate agent, and now Executive Director for Mile High Sober Living. So how did all of those other variations of your career prepare you for the work that you’re doing today?
Brice: Well, being a guitarist led into a career as a booking agent, which led into a career as a nightclub bar owner. And in the main way that that plays in now is promotion, even online promotion, or just meeting people or connecting with people, because being a promoter, that’s your job. A bar owner, that’s your job. And I’m actually still a realtor, and that helped as far as sober housing, with housing laws and knowing which neighborhoods would work, and all that kind of stuff.
Gina: And so what prompted you to say, “Yeah, I think I want to open up Sober Living now?”
Brice: So two years sober. I’ll try to keep it brief, but at two years sober, I was depressed and I had zero purpose in my life. I was sober. I wasn’t drinking. And so I started to become obsessed with emotional sobriety and finding my purpose, now that I’m sober. And just through a series of events, I organically fell into sober housing and a friend of mine, one of my best friends I’ve known for 30 years, his sponsee is Chris of St. Paul Sober Living, and he said, “You gotta come up here and go to Sober House school.” So I went up to St. Paul. He showed me the rules, the vibe, the houses, the way the whole thing works and the way it should feel when you’re living in a sober house as a client. And I came back down to Denver. I somehow convinced my father to help me buy a house. We bought a house and opened up Mile High Sober Living. I got one of my best friends, Michael [Hornbuckle 00:02:11], who’s been a sober house manager in California for a couple years. He became the house manager and I recreated what I had learned in St. Paul in Denver, four blocks from York Street, with the intention that it’s the hot part of town. We got parks. We got public transportation, coffee shops, restaurants, art culture. 12 Step meetings, they can walk to them and they can just find their own magic. And God forbid I relapse, I want to go to a house like this, where I can cool my jets and rework the steps.
Gina: Well, all of that sounds really great, but I have to tell you, I’m fixated on one thing you said.
Gina: Chris said, “Come out to Sober Living school.”
Brice: He was kidding me.
Gina: Okay. I was like, “There’s really a school?”
Brice: No, it’s just he had access to this guy who runs just an amazing sober living and St. Paul has a great recovery community. And the AA thing, he’s got help, right? And so they helped me.
Gina: So it was like a crash course and working with all the people that manage it.
Brice: It was a crash course. It was like, “You’re gonna hang out with me for a few days and I’m gonna show you what I’ve created.” And he’s got 12, 13 sober houses, from Colorado to St. Paul to Minneapolis. Everything from gender-specific men’s houses to gender-specific women’s houses, LGBT house.
Gina: It’s so great to be able to work with people that understand the nature of what sober living is really supposed to be about and to introduce that into Colorado the right way is always so important. And you mentioned something about 12 Step. So it’s important that you created a safe community of sobriety with strong 12 Step. Why was that important for you to embed into the design of the program?
Brice: Because I’m in recovery. I was a late-stage alcoholic. I was dying from the disease, and I tried everything to get sober. Everything. And a 12 Step program, it literally saved my life. And the whole community around 12 Step, getting plugged in, finding your tribe, finding friends. And besides just the actual 12 Step work, just being part of a large community like that, it’s super important and in early sobriety, especially, I believe that it really helps people get through. Because you know, it sucks being in early sobriety. It’s hard. And if you have all that support, it will get you right through it.
Gina: Yeah, that fellowship is vital for long-term sobriety.
Brice: Yeah, the fellowship is vital.
Gina: So, Allison, you have been with Mile High for a little while, in working with them. And I understand, now that they’re moving towards a continuing care IOP program, can you tell us a little bit more about that and when it looks to open up?
Allison: Yeah. First off, our location is right by our sober living home, so over time, I think Brice has seen some of his clients get to sober living, start out doing really well, and then there’s a point where they really could benefit from some more treatment services. So he’s been watching the need in the community, and with 52 beds now, six houses, three women’s and three men’s, there’s a few people that could benefit from some outpatient services. So we have contracted Matthew Jarvis as the clinical director. He’s a licensed addiction counselor. And also works with EMDR, so we can start also addressing some of the trauma, when appropriate. We’re using a 12 Step facilitation model, so they’ll get skills and education around different components of the 12 Steps to again, support that part of the journey. And we’ll have a family component, so again, there’s been times when we’ve wanted to be able to support family members of people that are at the sober living home, and we haven’t had that within our program. So I see it as just a evolution of what Brice has created at Mile High Sober Living. There’s a community now, and the community needs more support services, so there will be mid management available there. We’re MAT-friendly, Medication-Assisted Therapy friendly. We do allow people to be on different types of medications that support them on their recovery at our houses, so we’ll have that extra care provided at the outpatient clinic. So we’re gonna start with IOP the middle of September, and then, I think, plans to open PHP and other outpatient services as we flesh out the model.
Gina: That’s great. It’s nice to have that full continuum of care. Really important. So let’s shift gears for a minute and talk about the people behind the program. And so we learned a little bit about you, Brice, in regards to some of your previous careers that got you to where you are today, but let’s talk first about, what’s a failure or an apparent failure that set you up for later success? And then do you have a favorite failure of yours?
Brice: Well, so I used to own a bar, which is a really bad job for an alcoholic, right? And it failed. The bar failed miserably. But what I learned is that my job, it’s not initially to take care of the clients. My job is to take care of the people who take care of the clients. I have 10 staff. The house managers are the ones who are really doing the work. You know, they’re really doing the work, and they’re all at least a year clean and sober. They’ve all done all 12 steps. Most of them are recovery coach-trained and QMAP-certified. And they’re literally bad asses and they’re just awesome, cool people, and they make recovery look fun, and I think that they instill a vibe and a culture in the house. And I’ve learned that, believe it or not, owning a bar, nobody ever left me because of money. They always left because they felt disrespected. So what I learned is take care of the people that take care of the people. You know what I mean?
Gina: Yeah. Definitely a theme. It’s that concept of servant leadership. If you take care of the people that are doing the work, they’ll take care of the people just fine.
Gina: I think that’s smart. Great. And so Alison, if we were to play off the word “harmony”, what do you think it means to live a life in harmony?
Allison: Oh, that’s such a good question. As you guys know, I’ve been here many times over the years, up here at Harmony. And today, I’m gonna tell you that living a life of harmony, to me, feels to be true to yourself, to be honest. The 12 Step program that I have grown to love over the years has taught me that when I get that intuitive nudge about a decision and I know what I want to do but I kind of second guess it, time and time again, I always learn that I should just go with that gut response, my intuition. If I can just pause to be in harmony with that and I find a lot of my daily life now gets anchored with a morning meditation practice. Helps me slow the mind down and get in touch with who I am today and also just this morning, thinking about, “You know, this is a precious day that’s never gonna come again. And how do I want to live it?” And I wanted to be in harmony, knowing I was coming up to Harmony this place that has such a special place in my heart. I mean, just outside your door, that photo of Howie Madigan that exuded everything about recovery for this state. And a lot of people nationally knew him, and now I’m sitting in a building that’s named after him, and he’s shining his light down on us today. I really wanted to cherish the day, the drive, the beauty, the nature. The people up here are so special. And so living a life of harmony is really being true to myself, but also not missing the gifts along the way.
Gina: I like that. Thank you for sharing that. That’s great. Thank you. And if someone were wanting to access services at Mile High Sober Living, how could they get in touch with you, Brice?
Brice: I’m gonna give you my cell phone number. How about that?
Gina: Great. Well, thank you both for taking the time to come up, It was really nice to visit with you and we’re strong proponents of Mile High Sober Living and we look forward to continued partnerships with you all.
It’s that time of year again, the time where people like to highlight the good, the cheer, and the happiness of the holiday season. But what if holidays bring on a sense of dread? What if you have to navigate the heavy drinking of your family members? Or be in the same room with a person who hurt you in the past? What if holidays create loneliness, risk of relapse, or critical self-reflection as the year comes to a close? For many people, these worries are just the beginning of what they may navigate from November to the New Year. So how can we each feel supported through the stressors of the season?
One important element of being successful in our functioning around family is boundaries. Boundaries can be defined as physical or emotional in the way they are implemented to allow feelings of safety. Here are some examples of boundaries to consider with family to support feelings of safety and security during the holiday season:
Allowing someone’s refusal of a hug from a family member they barely know
Supporting comfortable distance between individuals throughout holiday activity
Encouraging space when close proximity is triggering such as a walk or errand
Listening for verbal cues about safe and unsafe topics during meals
Honoring a person’s decision to decline an activity due to risk of relapse
In other words, identifying ideas of how to support each family member’s needs can encourage enjoyment in all holiday festivities without judgement or conflict. This mindfulness of self and others can entice individuals to fully participate and engage in positive experiences as a family.
Mindfulness can support positive experience through coping with triggers in the holiday environment. Supporting each family member’s self-awareness of triggers can be a first step in determining adjustments to allow full participation in festivities. In the hope of healthy family connection, below are some examples of triggers that may arise:
Interacting with a family member that was formerly abusive
Talking of trauma topics that create conflict such as the time they had a drinking problem, eating disorder, or abusive partner
Engaging in traditions that encourage relapse including spectator sports
Recognizing people or places that are connected to trauma memories such as the holiday party where they experienced sexual assault
Feeling peer pressure to engage in activities that feel unsafe including binge drinking
Having the perception of criticism or judgement by their family, coworkers, or friends
Remembering trauma anniversaries that overlap with the holidays including death and breakups
Experiencing sights, smells, and other sensory information that connect to trauma such as cologne/perfume, alcohol, or ice and snow
With all of the potential triggers at play during the holidays, it becomes crucial that we feel a connection to one another in our efforts to contain the stress. Reaching out to trusted family and friends or seeking the help of a professional can support a person in navigating the holiday demands. Balancing out stress with positive connection can make a significant difference in our ability to participate in holiday traditions and create new, positive memories where trauma memories formerly dictated our experience. By connecting with people who can relate, we may also learn new skills of how to remain fully present in the holiday experience and find joy in the family and traditions we’ve come to value.
“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Khara Croswaite Brindle, MA, LPC, ACS, is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Lowry Neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. She received her Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver with a focus on community based mental health. Khara has experience working with at-risk youth and families, including collaboration with detention, probation, and the Department of Human Services. Khara enjoys working with young adults experiencing anxiety, depression, trauma, relational conflict, self-esteem challenges, and life transitions.
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