More often than not when a teenager or young adult walks into Potomac Pathways for the first time they are doing so at the requirement of outside forces.
From a ‘stages of change’ perspective they are usually somewhere between pre-contemplation and contemplation. They feel like they have lost control over their lives. I frequently hear that pressure from parents, friends, social media, academics and the general competitive nature of living in the Washington D.C. metro area have them feeling pulled in too many directions at the same time. While healthy outlets like sports, community service, and exercise offer structure and help to manage stress, sometimes extracurricular activities end up adding even more pressure. The result is not always predictable, but we frequently see: emotional problems, anger, substance use, dishonesty, excessive screen-time, and other problematic behaviors. Parents also feel scared and like they’ve lost control. Some parents describe feeling like correctional officers in their own homes, trying to monitor every minute of their child’s life. Frequently, the family system is over stressed and parents are desperate for change. This can create reactive cycles which only add the problems at home for both parents and young people. The more parents try to control, the more out of control things can feel.
This is what Dr. Robert Schwebel calls the “mad rush to abstinence” when treating substance abuse, and a concept that I believe generalizes well to many other problematic behaviors. This is where well-intended people rush action before the issue has even been identified. Good parents and therapists make the mistake of focusing on boundaries or punishment/rewards too soon. The carrot and stick approach, while effective in shaping some behaviors, rarely addresses the underlying issues and lasting change. Contrived consequences don’t usually work. In D.C., for example, I immediately think of speed cameras on our streets. Everyone slows down…for the camera. Speeding persists where the cameras do not.
There are some things I do differently when working with a young person at an outpatient level of care. At my first meeting I usually find them cooperative but guarded; bright but unmotivated. Sometimes they look at me as if I’m some authority and they’re in trouble. It’s uncommon that I see the behaviors that are most upsetting to their parents. I speak to all young people as intelligent beings worthy of respect. I intentionally create a non-judgmental environment where they feel safe and where they won’t feel punished for being honest. By focusing on building rapport, acceptance and trust as a first step, I can begin to truly understand whatever their complex situation is. I wish I could get to full understanding in a first session, but building a trusting relationship takes some time. I recognize small successes in an outpatient setting, like the willingness to return for a second or third meeting or sincerely thanking them for their efforts if they show up 30 minutes late.
My approach is invitational, empathetic and very different from a traditional 12-step or the sometimes confrontational approach used in some interventions. An empathetic approach is one that I find young people early in a stage of change, are most likely to respond well to. By recognizing that they’re feeling out of control, stressed and uncomfortable on day one, I’m able to change their expectations and offer them help. Step 1, build trust, rapport and safety. Step 2, understand the things that are causing them the most pain/pressure. Step 3, consider appropriate clinical interventions to help them navigate life’s challenges. Step 3 is the step that may lead them to treatment or to community support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. And I do encourage this. But the timing needs to be right. If we rush this process and rush change, parents, educators, therapists and other influential people in these young people’s lives end up diminishing their significance and ability to support change. The mad rush to abstinence might actually be harming - more than helping - these young people we all care so much about.
Chris Peckham, M.Ed, LCPC, NCC has a Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Clemson University, and is a licensed clinical professional counselor in Maryland. He began working in wilderness therapy in 2006 when he joined the Aspen Education Group and began working as an instructor with Four Circles, a program for young adults in the Ashville, NC area. Most recently he provided family, group and individual therapy at a small therapeutic boarding school, the Cherokee Creek Boys' School. He has thru-hiked (that means he hiked the entirety of) both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. When he's not at Potomac Pathways, Chris can often be found hiking with his wife, his two youngsters, and a couple of dogs. Chris says, “Outdoor experience has the power to heal and enrich lives. With a little guidance, it can serve as a catalyst for change and the backdrop for extraordinary learning. I came to Potomac Pathways because I enjoy being a part of that change.”
Finally! It's here! Our new Recovery Residence for college-age guys opens November 5th! It's going to be pretty awesome! We've got round-the-clock live-in awesome staff! Our wellness coach, Taylor, is turning the garage into a full-on gym! Grant Gamble, most recently a counselor at Sober College, is the House Manager and contributes the "independent living skills" support. The residents will receive substance use treatment and clinical services from Potomac Pathways, right down the road. It's a comprehensive recovery program that includes academic coaching and support-- and it's appropriate for young men who have been struggling with substance use and moving forward with college- and other life-accomplishments. Reasonably priced, as compared with some of the other high-end programs, and insurance should mostly cover the treatment and therapeutic portion of the program. Call for more info!
Did you know? Potomac Pathways has earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for Behavioral Health Care Accreditation by demonstrating continuous compliance with its performance standards. The Gold Seal of Approval® is a symbol of quality that reflects an organization’s commitment to providing safe and effective care.
Our Director of Community Relations, Laura Silverman, sat down with Drew Powers of Sandstone Care, fellow community provider, as a guest on Sandstone's videocast. Laura talked about First Step and DBT programs at Potomac Pathways; the importance of early interventions for teens and young adults; how an inviting and welcoming environment can allow for greater healing; the value of collaborating with providers in the community; and about using her own lived experience and story to connect with families, providers, young people, and the work itself.
To connect with our admissions team, call 301-987-PATH (7284).
To access our online application, click the button below.
Family therapy is a crucial component for young adults and teens as they move through the treatment process here at Potomac Pathways. Often times as one person in a family system makes changes there is a direct effect on the relationships and interactions within their living environment. Rebuilding trust and connection within a family is hard work and providing a safe environment to have these difficult conversations is key to learning the necessary skills to improve on those relationships.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a training with Alan Fruzzetti, Ph.D. specifically on using the DBT model to help families work together to achieve treatment goals. Throughout the training it was so clear to me how applicable DBT can be not only for our clients, but also for families. Alan discussed the importance of the transaction that takes place in relationships; and two major components that contribute to dysfunction within relationships are inaccurate expression and an invalidating response. It can be difficult at times to express what we think and how we feel when our emotions are intense and overpowering, and in these moments, it is hard to be attentive to the relationships we have with others. We each have the responsibility to work on being more accurate with our words and expressions; and it is also true that being validated in these difficult moments can help us along the way to accurate expression.
One of our main goals for treatment is centered around helping families learn specific DBT skills to manage intense emotions (by using distress tolerance and emotion regulation skills), to better articulate their thoughts and concerns in a non-judgmental way (by using mindfulness and interpersonal effectiveness skills) in order to improve communication while also teaching validation skills to maintain connection. Being able to utilize mindfulness when talking means being in a moment with someone else and focusing on both what they are saying and how we are sharing our own thoughts. By utilizing language to observe and describe our own experience, we are able to move ourselves away from our own judgments to a more objective perspective which ultimately helps us to become clearer in our expressions. When this occurs not only do we have an opportunity to feel more confident in our own expression, but we also have an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with others. When we are mindful in a moment, and truly hear what others are saying we have the ability to see the situation from their perspective, which allows us to be more understanding and validating. As clients and families commit to making changes, we as a treatment program work to provide you with skills that will make the journey worthwhile.
Erin Reddinger, LMSW has a Master's degree in Social Work from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She has worked with families and adolescents for several years, and has provided therapy in a variety of settings including in-home, residential, and day treatment programs. Prior to joining Potomac Pathways Erin worked in a residential setting for at-risk youth and their families utilizing DBT as the primary mode of treatment. Erin has training in Functional Family Therapy, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Erin is originally from Western New York and enjoys spending time visiting family and friends, exploring the DC area, walking her dog, reading, and traveling.
“I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
When thinking about admissions at Potomac Pathways, there are experiential aspects and logistical ones. I start with the experiential, as illustrated by my favorite Maya Angelou quote above, because of how unique it makes us in our service. Our priority, from the moment you reach out to us, is for you to feel heard, cared for, and for you to experience our mission in either guiding you through our admissions process or supporting you in finding the ‘right-fit’ for your loved one. You can expect us to attentively ask you about your family’s challenges, to thoroughly answer any questions you might have about our outpatient treatment programs, and to patiently understand how we might best support your adolescent/young adult in attaining a more balanced life.
Once we have spoken on the phone, you will be guided through the logistical aspects of our process and our online application. The online application gives us valuable and comprehensive information about your adolescent/young adult and allows us to think about which of our programs to consider. We will then schedule a one hour meeting to visit with your family in person and assess fit. In most cases, we can advise within 48 hours if Potomac Pathways is an appropriate program. We then follow up with arranging a 1-2 hour in-depth assessment for your adolescent/young adult followed by pretreatment sessions to get everyone oriented. From beginning to end, we understand your urgency and do our utmost to enroll clients within a week to ten days of the initial admissions interview.
In sum, we strive to make every experience the opposite of an assembly line perfunctory encounter, and it all starts with our compassionate, respectful, and thoughtful Potomac Pathways admissions process.
Ilene Marto Atiyah is currently finishing her MSW degree in Clinical Social Work at Columbia University with a focus on mental health. Recently, she spent a year interning at Potomac Pathways in the First Step IOP as part of her clinical training and loves working with adolescents, young adults, and their families. Ilene is married with two teens of her own and enjoys cooking, reading, and traveling near and far.
Join us and special guest Kedar Brown for a four-day healing retreat from June 28 - July 1, 2018. Over the last 32 years, Kedar has developed an effective and unique approach to emotional and spiritual healing by braiding together his depth of clinical knowledge of experiential psychotherapies with more nature based, indigenous wisdom teachings and healing methods from around the world. Potomac Pathways is happy to offer this experience to both current clients and alumni. The experience will include camping, drumming, story telling, psycho-drama and a sweat lodge. The cost will be $200 per participant.
Kedar is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist, Nationally Certified Counselor, and Certified Hakomi, Body-Centered Psychotherapist (Hakomi Institute). Kedar’s healing retreats and professional training programs are offered both nationally and internationally, Kedar lives in beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, North Carolina.
Outdoor experiences allow teens to unplug from the complex world that we live in and reconnect with nature. Once we are able to reconnect, we can take a step back and examine our lives in a different way. Taking our groups on outdoor adventure experiences allows our young people to return home with a different perspective on how to face challenges in their lives.
Last month, the First Step group participated in a camping and outdoor adventure, co-hosted by Jason Drevenak, director of the North American Bushcraft School. Jason, who recently starred in the Nat Geo Channel's Mygrations series, has been a long-time friend of Potomac Pathways, hosting our groups a couple of times a year over the past decade.
"What is Bushcraft? There are so many terms in use for what we mean by bushcraft. Re-wilding is one of our favorites, but also survival, homesteading, and sustainable living. We think of it as a journey towards a life of sustainability We should know how to make and find food; we should be able to find water and shelter anywhere we go; we should be able to make the things we need even if we don’t always do it. These skills help us to understand the impact of our lives on others."- Jason Drevenak, Director of the North American Bushcraft School
During the week leading up to the camping trip the group discussed the importance of preparation in everyday life. Anxiety and stress are areas that some young people struggle with, and the group discussed how stress can decrease once they’re prepared for challenges that may arise in their lives. Our camping trip out to Jason’s proved to be a great metaphor for the need for planning and preparation. The group learned the importance of staying warm by packing the right gear and layering since the temperature dropped very low in the evening. Everyone packed accordingly and was prepared so that they could continue to be comfortable regardless of the weather. In addition, gathering around the campfire allowed the group members to open up more to one another, view and discuss their treatment goals in different ways, and allows the staff (i.e. therapists) the opportunity to intervene in real-time with our teenage and young adult clients.
This trip helped the group build off of their successes in treatment by immersing ourselves in nature for two days. When we do these excursions, we are typically taking the group into a completely new environment that they have never experienced. This can sometimes be challenging for young people new to outdoor adventure.
With every outdoor adventure that we go on, we have a starting group session where everyone checks in on how they’re doing, address any issues that are concerning for them, and then each group member - including staff - set positive intentions for the experience. We set our intentions and then we practice becoming mindful of how we are doing accomplishing our intentions, individually, and collectively.
On the morning of our first full day, the group packed up our gear and carried it on a long day hike to the Devil’s Nose Mtn., near Hedgesville, WV.. We packed and brought most of our gear on the day hike as a way for our clients to practice preparedness. As a group, we recognized that we needed to be prepared in case one might need to be able to survive a night away from our campsite. Most hiking accidents happen to day hikers since they typically do not take the necessary precautions, such as letting others know where they’re going and when they expect to come back, packing enough water, and having extra food and first aid. At the top of Devil’s Nose, we held a group session.
Taking the lessons home
Jason taught our young people how to make fire by using both bow and hand drills. These activities may not seem applicable to everyday life, but have you ever seen the face of a young man when he’s able to make a fire with a stick? It’s pretty incredible. Having that sense of personal achievement opens up possibilities, including the possibility of becoming successful through one's own efforts, with the help and support of the adults in their life.
We learned how to make shelters in case of an emergency with heavy duty trash bags -- again, a skill that one does not really need living in the DC Metro area, but knowing how to survive and build your own shelter opens up a different world. Some of the group built and slept in a group shelter for the second evening. This experience helped participants work together to plan, problem solve, and execute the plan-- but this time, with a minimum of coaching by the staff.
Nathan Luongo, LCSW-C holds a Master's degree in Clinical Social Work from Columbia University in New York, NY and a Bachelor's degree in Social Work from Catholic University in Washington, DC. Prior to joining Potomac Pathways, he worked with at-risk families in Brooklyn, NY providing an array of evidenced-based interventions for adolescents and adults with substance use, PTSD, and mental health disorders. Nate has worked with a chronically mentally ill population in a number of community settings, addressing substance use and symptom management. After his playing career was cut short due to an injury, Nate served as an assistant football coach at Catholic University. Outside of work, Nate enjoys spending time with family, going to the beach, and playing sports.