Gina Thorne: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Harmony Foundation podcast series. I’m pleased today to be joined with Helene Simons, Dr. Helene Simons, with Helene Simons Therapy out of Denver, Colorado. Good to have you here.
Dr. Simons: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.
Gina Thorne: Yeah, we’re so glad that you took the time to come up and visit with us, especially, you know, on a non-snow day, here in Colorado because you never know what we’re going to have up here in Estes Park. It’s been great to have you here, and to learn a little bit more about your practice, and what you’re doing here. But before we get into the specific area of where you work in eating disorders, can you talk about how you got into the field, and what was it that sort of motivated you to say I really want to work with this type of population and this type of specialty?
Dr. Simons: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah, so I’ve been interested in psychology for a long time. I remember taking a psychology class in high school and just being intrigued with all of it and fascinated by the human mind. As far as the eating disorder aspect goes, you know, I grew up like a lot of people in America with a lot of pressure and ideas that are sort of pushed pretty strongly about society and what it means to look good, and how you have to kind of fit a very specific mold, and it frustrates me. It really, really aggravates me, and I really, really enjoy helping people realize that there is so much more to the world and to life than what you look like, and how you fit into somebody else’s idea of who you should be. And so, yeah, so that’s what really drove my passion for working with people with eating disorders.
Gina Thorne: I love that because I think that, you know, as a woman in this culture, I can completely relate to what you’re talking about because, as a young person, you know, it’s even more prevalent now, today, than it was when we were younger, as far as this pressure to conform, and to be a certain size, and to look a certain way, instead of just respecting everybody’s individuality, and being unique to who they are. So, I commend you on taking that path and, hopefully, making that change that’s so needed, so people aren’t struggling with that body identity issue that they so struggle with.
Dr. Simons: Right. Yeah. Absolutely, I mean, it’s even worse now than it was before with social media. There’s just so much pressure out there. And these issues affect everybody, you know? Women, men, all people of all shapes and sizes. You know, I just love doing whatever I can to really help that.
Gina Thorne: That’s great.
Dr. Simons: Yeah.
Gina Thorne: So, on your website, you talk about empowerment, that that’s an approach that you use in working with clients. Can you talk a little bit more about how you use the empowerment approach?
Dr. Simons: Yes, absolutely. You know, so, I believe that for people to come to therapy, or to make a change in your life, it really takes a lot of courage and a lot of dedication. It’s not easy to make changes. It’s really hard. Even after you’ve decided that you want to make a change, it can be hard to stick with it. So, my belief is that if you’re working with somebody who really believes in you, you feel more empowered to actually make those changes for yourself. So I use all strength-based techniques. I really help by meeting people where they are, at the level of motivation that they’re at, and help them find what’s already in them that they can utilize to make those changes. So, really helping people believe in themselves and notice the strengths that they’ve had all along.
Gina Thorne: Is it a positive psychology approach as well?
Dr. Simons: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Gina Thorne: Okay. Great.
Dr. Simons: Definitely a lot of positive psychology and really strength-based, yeah.
Gina Thorne: And that makes a big difference because people are focusing on the positive versus the negative. They’re more reinforced to continue moving forward.
Dr. Simons: Absolutely. You’re recognizing the potential that you already have within you, and you’re just building on that and really creating the self-esteem and confidence that you need to carry it into motion.
Gina Thorne: I think that’s why you see so many people who are successful because they’re not always looking at the setbacks. They’re looking at, “Okay, how can I tweak things to make it better the next time?”
Dr. Simons: Absolutely.
Gina Thorne: Versus looking at “I’m a failure, I’m a failure,” to “Okay, that didn’t work. What can I do differently?”
Dr. Simons: Right. There’s a big difference between this mindset of “I’m flawed, and I’m a failure, and I can’t move on,” as opposed to “I’m human, and I’m not perfect, and that means that I have strengths and I have weaknesses. And how do I use the strength to take the weaknesses and push them along?”
Gina Thorne: I love it. That’s fantastic.
Gina Thorne: How do you see, because I know that you do both, and we talked about this briefly at lunch today in regards to this idea of the addiction treatment world and the eating disorder world, and how they always felt like they played a separate role. There almost seems to be a level of fear on both sides on how to dive deep into the other.
Dr. Simons: Absolutely.
Gina Thorne: You have learned how to kind of co, or interplay the two in your practice. And so, what does that look like when we’re talking about the nature of addiction treatment with substances, which, of course, we know food can be a form of substance or a type of addiction for food is like a substance abuse issue, what would that look like for you in working with a client who’s struggling with both the addictions issue and the eating disorder issue?
Dr. Simons: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, so, like you said, I have experience. My background is in both eating disorders and addiction. I’ve previously worked in a number of different programs doing both, and you’re right. A lot of the care that we have right now, people are specialized in this field. Right? So you’re specialized in one thing. We don’t have a lot of overlap to see both. What we notice in both is that there’s a high comorbidity. There’s a high correlation of having both an addiction and an eating disorder at the same time. And so, that means that you really have to be able to address both of those, and what we find is that if you go to treatment for one, you’re not getting support for the other. Right? They’re both ways that you’re coping with distressing situations, and if we take away your substances, we take away that ability to cope with some of the underlying issues, that eating disorder is going to come up. You’re going to rely on it more as a coping skill because your other substance coping skill is out the window. And vice versa. We see that happening. If we start to work on the eating disorder, that substance use will come up.
Dr. Simons: And so, I feel that one of the strong benefits that I’ve been able, you know, to use with my clients is to be able to address both of those. Is how do we come up with a foundational set of coping skills and look at the factors that are underlying both of these issues so that we can work at them at the same time? And not, you know, get a handle on one, and see the other one pop up.
Gina Thorne: Makes sense. So, it’s really looking globally at what are the most appropriate coping skills so that they’re not substituting one poor decision or one bad addiction for another, I guess.
Dr. Simons: Absolutely. You know, so instead of triaging an issue, dealing with one and then the other, that doesn’t work. Right? Instead, it’s looking at the whole person. Right? So, we’re really looking at everything that’s going on and trying to help in the best way that we can, rather than just doing one thing at a time because it’s not always effective.
Gina Thorne: You’re right. And we actually see some of that happening here in residential. When you take away the most common form of coping for them, which in many cases is use and abuse of drugs and alcohol, then they start to substitute it with other things. Whether that’s relationship issues or even smoking or eating or anything to stuff because they don’t have to address the emotions that are starting to percolate because they’ve been so numb for so long, and now, they’re starting to feel again. It’s good to have someone like you who’s had the exposure of working with both so that it’s not an either-or scenario.
Dr. Simons: Exactly.
Gina Thorne: But it has to go in tandem together.
Dr. Simons: Exactly. We don’t want to get a handle on one issue and then bring up a whole new issue that we have to deal with later. Let’s deal with both things at the same time, and really get back into life in the best way possible.
Gina Thorne: That’s great. Well, we need more people like you in the field-
Dr. Simons: Thank you.
Gina Thorne: … that’s building the bridge because I think we’re still a little far behind on that. I think we have some work to do there.
Gina Thorne: So, we like to get to know the person behind the program.
Dr. Simons: Sure.
Gina Thorne: And so, I’m going to ask you a couple personal questions.
Dr. Simons: Okay.
Gina Thorne: If you had a giant billboard and you could put any phrase or saying on it that could be advertised to the world, what would that be?
Dr. Simons: That’s an amazing question. I would say, “It’s good to be weird.”
Gina Thorne: I like that.
Dr. Simons: I do. I think that that’s true. I think we, again, kind of going back to the beginning of how I got started in this, is we live in a society that comes up with some pretty straight-edge, very, very challenging expectations of what it means to be a good person, what it means to be attractive, what it means to be smart, what it means to be any kind of person in America or in the world. I think it does it a disservice because, you know, it leaves everybody, everybody struggles with insecurities in their lives, different parts of themselves, whether it’s your inner-self our your outer-self. And I think that if we can say, you know, forget that. Like, let’s embrace what makes us weird. Let’s embrace what makes us unique and really put that forward. And when you can do that, when you can stop pushing against the things that you’re coming up against, stop pushing up against what makes you insecure and embrace it as the unique pieces of your personality, you can really have the confidence that you need to go through your life.
Gina Thorne: I love it. I hope we can get that billboard up soon because that would be terrific.
Dr. Simons: It’d be amazing, wouldn’t it?
Gina Thorne: It would be so great. Yeah. I love it.
Gina Thorne: And if somebody were to ask you, like me, if you could play off the idea of the word harmony, what do you think it means to live a life in harmony?
Dr. Simons: I think that’s a great question, too. You know, I think it means being at peace, and being in the moment. Again, we live in a world where we’re always thinking about what we could be doing or what we should have been doing. We’re either upset or disappointed about the past, or we’re anxious and nervous about the future. I think that when we’re in harmony, we’re really able to be present and in the moment, and be intentional, and grateful for what we have around us. It doesn’t mean that everything’s perfect all the time, but it means we’re okay with it, and we can take it in for what it is.
Gina Thorne: Nice. I love that, too. Thank you.
Dr. Simons: Yeah.
Gina Thorne: As we wrap up, today, if somebody was listening to the podcast and wanted to learn more about your services, how could they get in touch with you?
Dr. Simons: Yeah. You can go to my website, www.simonstherapy.com. You can also call me, 720-772-6915. My office is in Cherry Creek in Denver, but I also do telehealth video appointments for all around Colorado. So, please, feel free to reach out.
Gina Thorne: Awesome. Thank you, Dr. Simons. So nice to meet you.
Dr. Simons: Thank you so much for having me.