I’m excited today to be joined with Andrea Pitman, executive director and owner of the Nectar Group out of Denver, Colorado. Welcome Andrea. It’s really great to have you and your team here on campus. We’re excited to talk with you a little bit more about the Nectar Group. What I learned about Nectar, it’s a cognitive training and tutoring company. You work to overcome challenges with individuals in thinking and learning. And you have this concept around the four brain pillars. And so, I’m just curious to hear more about what that’s about, and you know, even your motivation as to what helped you prompt starting the Nectar Group.
So we work with all of our clients to help them really optimize their brain function through improving what we call the four pillars of brain health. That’s nutrition, stress reduction, physical exercise and mental exercise. At the Nectar Group, our specialty is really the mental exercise, which is … The actual therapy is called cognitive training. We find that when you can really optimize your brain health, it really helps you access more of life, and to live a more fulfilled life, reaching your potential. The inspiration for that is, I started out in education and in the classroom, I found people that really struggled to just learn. Students that, may be in eighth grade and still reading at a second grade level. And I found myself, maybe, like literally, the first week of being a teacher going, “I want to go figure out why some people’s brains work differently than others and how do we help improve cognitive function?”.
A lot of times we believe that, skills like memory or processing or logic, are things that you can’t improve, but the good news is, is we can. I left the classroom to go work in the field of neuroscience and from there I was able to start working with programs that were coming out of neuroscience labs and actually creating them into interventions that would actually help children and adults of all ages and different backgrounds and for whatever reason … for different reasons, had impact, in a negative way, to their brain.
It sounds like you’ve been able to really cultivate a niche very differently than what I’ve seen in the addiction treatment space. And knowing what we know about addiction and how it does compromise cognitive abilities, how have you been able to apply these principles to the work that you do with clients who have addiction issues?
What we find is that people with addiction issues tend to have a higher rate of brain injury, whether that is from injury done to the brain and cognitive function from substance abuse. We all know that a lot of times when people get sober, they start to realize like, “Okay, my brain isn’t functioning the way it was pre-use.”. We also see that a lot of people, unfortunately … one of the outcomes for a lot of people of have having a learning disability as a child is self-medication. And so, it can be sometimes the trigger or beginning of one of the factors to having addiction. And we also find that a lot of times people who have had addiction or substance abuse, have a more higher risk of brain injury, head injury, accidents. You know, you’re more prone when you’re under the influence to having injuries. What we see is that when … You can be in a great a rehab facility, you can be getting the best therapies. You might be participating in your 12 steps, having CBT, DBT, group therapy, whatever modalities that you’re utilizing in recovery. But if your brain is not functioning well at the foundational level, your memory isn’t working, you feel like you don’t process or you zone out, maybe it’s even hard to take notes in a group therapy session and track and keep up with everyone’s conversation.
It’s a lot harder to navigate you putting the tools that you’re learning in recovery into practice. And so our clients come into see us and we can do a really comprehensive assessment. We have a licensed school psychologist and a licensed clinical psychologist on staff. We can do really comprehensive assessment to pinpoint what damage has been done. And that’s usually a time that’s hard for people to come to terms with maybe seeing like, “Oh my memory is only in the 10th percentile, and I know it was good before.” But the great news and where the hope is, is that our memories, our logic, our brain function can improve. We really utilize neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change, to pinpoint where … We pinpoint first, where the root issues are, where are the deficits, and then create training programs to correct those. Our clients that are in recovery with addiction issues find that they are able to really restore a lot of what has been lost, which is so exciting.
To know that like, “Okay, this is not something that’s a permanent handicap for me. That it’s something that I can make significantly better.” It’s a pretty intensive therapy. Clients see us four times per week for 50 minutes of therapy each session. They work one-to-one with what’s called a certified cognitive coach, who actually is taking and working with them. Almost like working out with a personal trainer for your body, but it’s for your brain. They’re taking clients through a series of exercises. The duration of that therapy is anywhere from 10 weeks to maybe as much as eight months, just depending on the severity and the person’s goals, what they’re trying to accomplish from it.
Has there been any studies done with the work that you’re doing in addressing relapse?
There has not been studies that I know of. It’s an area that I would be super excited to have a study done in. But what we do see … I had a client graduate our therapy just two weeks ago, who had relapsed three times before this. And he was telling me that before, he’s like, “I had all this like toolbox of strategies and techniques and things to utilize to maintain my sobriety. But I was so foggy in my thinking that I wasn’t connecting consequences with behavior. I wasn’t even able to remember because my memory was so poor.” And he said, “Now, I’m actually having so many situations where I know I would have been at high-risk of relapsing. I’m not because my brain is working,” and he’s like, “It’s still hard, don’t get me wrong. It’s still really challenging, but I’m able to navigate through that and I can feel like the gears in my brain turning and engaging and able to access that.”
So I think that it is a really important step to regain that cognitive function and start … In terms of one additional tool to help with sober living on an ongoing basis.
You have 17 years of experience working with cognitive skill training with people. We talked a little bit about this in the beginning, as far as what inspired you to do it, but what inspired you to get into the field in general? Like, was there a personal experience or was it just the fascination with the neuroscience and the brain?
A lot of it was driven by … I don’t know, just my personality, I think, and my past and experience. I grew up in a family that does have a history of addiction and I didn’t see people have much success with that. I also saw people in my family, who had learning challenges, and not have great success in overcoming that. And so, the thing that’s probably always bothered me the most is when I see people not living to their full potential. That can sound very cliche about living at your full potential, but I actually found a journal a few years ago when I moved of me when I was 17. I said, “I think my calling on earth is to help people reach their full potential.” So I think there has been a drive for that. There wasn’t one person, but again, seeing family members struggle with both sides of that, really inspired me to look for actual solutions. In a lot of different capacities, the way we deal primarily with cognitive deficits is accommodations and modifications to compensate for those weaknesses. But the fact that we actually can treat the root issues and make significant measurable change and it’s permanent change. What we see in our clients is that we retest their cognitive function at one year post their therapy, and three years post, and we see even three years post their intervention, they have a 97% retention of the progress they made, with no further therapy.
See, now, that’s fantastic. Those are great numbers.
So exciting to see. I can invest this small amount of time or relatively small amount of time of a few months to literally change how my brain is functioning. When we do IQ testing, the average person’s IQ goes up 17 points or the average increase I should say, goes up 17 points. So that’s a pretty radical change. It’s so fun to see.
I did a little digging about your background and I noticed that in your bio that you’re a fan of cooking. Tell me what’s your most favorite dish and why do you like to cook?
Yeah, so I love cooking. Cooking is actually one of my just like, de-stress, you know, my stress reduction techniques I use for myself. And it’s a way to connect stress reduction and nutrition. It’s my learning hour, so I listen to podcasts while I cook. I have my whole list I rotate through, which is really fun. That’s a really hard one. I’ve lately been listening a lot to one called Hidden Brain. It is all about how the brain functions and how the psychology of decision making and how, what we think a lot of times that we assume is why we’re motivated to do something or not do something. Actually, when you look at the research it’s something different. It looks a lot about the different biases that we all carry and how that impacts our behavior So, it’s super fun. But in terms of picking a favorite dish, one that I thought about is … That I think about frequently that I recommend to a lot of our clients is … We actually have a nutritional chef at the Nectar Group who helps people with eating brain friendly foods that are also really yummy. And so there’s one that she actually taught me to make. I had her come over and cook for my birthday party a couple of years ago and it was … It’s a baked salmon, Asian Salmon en Papillote, with … You do a lot of ginger with it. And then the side dishes, actually the star, it’s called Emerald Sesame Greens, is that what she named it.
And it’s Swiss chard and garlic and ginger cooked in sesame oil and coconut oil. And then it’s topped with toasted cashews. And I love it because it’s so amazing. Oh, and it’s … The chard is cooked with shiitake mushrooms. I love it because it’s so delicious, but it also is really great for your brain. So it has lots of omega-3s, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, so-
GET THE RECIPE HERE!
If I were to throw out the word harmony … What do you think it means to live a life in harmony?
For me, when I think of harmony, the first word that comes to mind is balance, which I’m sure I’m not the first person who said that. Balance to me … I feel like my lifelong quest has been to find balance. I tend to be someone who’s a little bit more to the extremes. I’ll work too much or cook too much or play too much, but, you know, you got to that. And finding that happy balance where you feel grounded and at peace, I think is to me, living in harmony. The way that connects to the work I do is that, it’s really hard to be imbalanced when your brain is out of balance. And so, having that … where your brain is just not functioning at the level that you want it to, can limit your choices. It can limit your expectations for what you can accomplish. I think that when you get a chance to really improve and optimize your brain function, then you have a much better shot at being in harmony.
Wonderful. No, you’re absolutely right. And I love that definition that you’ve provided. My last question is, if someone wanted to access services at the Nectar Group, how could they get in touch with you?
Probably the easiest way is just to go to our website, which is just thenectargroup.com. There we have a contact button so you can fill that in. They’ll have a place you can put your information in and I’ll give you a call or it has our phone number, address. One of the neat things is that we are able to serve clients all over the country and internationally, because while we do have our learning center and clinic down in Greenwood Village in Colorado in the Denver Tech Center area, we also provide all of our services via telemedicine. So we can do all of our therapies and even our diagnostic testing and psychoeducational test batteries, et cetera. All of those can be done for clients via video conferencing. We have a client starting Friday from Ecuador. So we get to see people all over.
Technology is great. Doesn’t limit you does it?
It’s really nice. Yeah, it really allows us to see those clients, even while they’re in, maybe an inpatient setting and begin that, in-residential care and then it can carry out to wherever they live, you know, beyond that.
Well, Andrea, I will tell you that if I were to talk to your 17 self, I’d say you are absolutely helping people meet their potential. Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us. It means a great deal and keep doing what you’re doing because we all need as many resources in this field as possible to help people with their recovery. So thank you.