At SpringBoard, we pride ourselves in having a team that is truly passionate about helping others. In addition to the academic training needed to succeed in treating drug and alcohol addiction, we possess first-hand knowledge of recovery from substance abuse.
Our dedicated team is committed to helping you or your loved one navigate the road to life-long recovery. So we thought that you’d like to meet them! For the next in our series “Getting To Know Our SpringBoard Recovery Staff,” we talk with our Clinical Director – Jerry Ehmann.
Getting To Know Our Springboard Recovery Staff
Jerry Ehmann is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC), and our clinical director. We sat down with Jerry and asked him some important questions about his role at Springboard Recovery, and what his thoughts are on trauma therapy, addiction recovery, and its future.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities at Springboard Recovery?
Supervising interns and therapists in their functions, overseeing the clinical schedule and the program, supporting therapists in their roles, and conducting individual sessions and groups for the clients.
Do you administer medications? If so, which ones?
No, we do not administer any medications within our outpatient program; however, depending on the substance which has been abused, our trusted professional detox facilities may provide medication for the purpose of lessening withdrawal symptoms, making the detoxification process much safer.
What would you say that you bring to the table here?
I believe in a person-centered approach to counseling and managing people, and I must always ask myself: What does the person need and how can I best help them in any given situation?
“I am trauma-focused, and my experience has shown me that unless we take care of the underlying issues, we will return to the substance or the behavior that numbs the pain.” – Jerry Ehmann, LPC, LISAC, Springboard Recovery
How long have you been working in the addiction recovery industry, and what would you consider to be your top three accomplishments while working this field?
During my 4 years of working in the addiction recovery field, my main accomplishments would be:
- The continued development of my trauma therapy skills.
- Presenting at state conferences and to hospitals about addiction and trauma therapy.
- The attainment of current position and being allowed to supervise interns and new therapists.
In fact, I was working with SpringBoard for 2 years initially, and I returned 6 months ago.
What makes Springboard different from any other nearby facilities, traditional or otherwise?
That would be the people, certainly. Everyone is focused on the clients, and they share some bond to the challenge of addiction. The focus is always on the individual clients’ needs, and not just working from a standardized script that one-size-fits-all.
What is the treatment philosophy at Springboard?
To be person-centered and goal-oriented.
What is Trauma Therapy?
Around 70%* of all adults will have experienced a traumatic event during their lives, some as adults, and some as children or adolescents, according to the CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (where ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences) and further studies that followed this.
The original ACES study was considered groundbreaking, as it discovered the direct links between trauma experienced during childhood and the adult onset of chronic diseases, depression and other mental illness, a pattern of violence or being the victim of violence, as well as financial and social problems.
Depending on which ACES research is used, 65-95% percent of people in residential treatment for substance abuse report traumatic events, with 35% meeting the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.
*Of these 70%, around 20% of these adults will go on to develop a mental health disorder or a trauma-related response from this traumatic experience.
The event itself can lead to a number of impactful, debilitating emotions and memories, often the catalyst for substance or alcohol abuse and then addiction, or the symptoms of a mental health or behavioral disorder.
Fortunately, there are a range of therapies and modalities that can address and treat these often severe symptoms – one of these is trauma therapy. Trauma-focused therapy treats the emotional, mental health, and behavioral consequences of trauma. To look at the therapy in clinical terms, a traumatic event is described as:
- One in which their own life was threatened, or
- One in which another person’s life was threatened
It remains medically unclear how and why people, regardless of age, can react to any given trauma differently. It is believed that a combination of the following all play some part in an individual response:
- Temperament, and
- Repeated exposure to traumatic events, eg. living in a war zone
Trauma occurs when individuals have difficulty coping after the actual danger has passed. Women are more likely than men to experience difficulties after trauma, and more likely to display psychological wounds.
It is important to remember that the purpose of all trauma-focused therapy is to acknowledge and integrate the traumatic experience into your life, not to attempt to remove it or block it out in any way. There are a number of different effective trauma therapies that can help and treat patients:
- Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART)
An evidence-based protocol that uses bilateral stimulation to eliminate negative sensations and images related to the traumatic event:
- Produces improvements in 1-3 sessions
- Does not include much verbal recall of the event
- Reduces physical and emotional sensations
- Involves eye-movements to change images and “felt sense” of the event
- Exposure Therapy
This therapy (gradually faces one’s fears, eg. the memories of a traumatic event without the feared consequence occurring) results in the patient learning that the fear is unwarranted, which, in turn, allows the fear to decrease. There are various forms of exposure therapy:
- Imaginal exposure: The patient imagines the feared event as vividly as possible
- In vivo exposure: The exposure occurs in the therapy
- Systematic desensitization: The individual is exposed to successively more fear-inducing situations (this exposure is paired with relaxation)
- Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
The main elements of CBT trauma therapy include:
- Educating individuals on normal reactions to trauma
- Exposure therapy – the identification of beliefs that develop from the traumatic event
- Identifying negative, incorrect, and irrational thoughts, and then replacing them with more realistic and accurate, and less negative, thoughts
- Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR)
An EMDR session follows a preset sequence of 8 distinct steps or phases. Treatment involves the patient focusing on the traumatic experience, and using bilateral stimulation such as eye-movements to reduce sensations caused by the event. The treatment has been shown to be highly effective for both the alleviation and actual elimination of trauma-related symptoms.
What’s the best/most rewarding aspect of your job?
Being part of a team that shares the same passion to provide healing experiences, and to advance the treatment methods for better outcomes.
If possible, please briefly describe your own journey to recovery; for example, what was your drug of choice, and what motivated you to get help?
My recovery journey has two parts, one that lasted five years and today I am enjoying over 14 years of sobriety. I literally changed everything in my second attempt at recovery. My career, my friends, and my beliefs about God all had to change.
The intervening factor for my second attempt at sobriety came in the form of police cars and a judge. In fact, when I picked up my one year chip, I sent a “thank you” note to the judge who had ordered me for evaluation and treatment.
In your brief summary of how you came to find recovery yourself, you mention “police cars and a judge,” and then your “thank you note.” Do you think more should be done at this “arrest/court” stage to assist long-term substance addicts and alcoholics, such as evaluation and required treatment, as opposed to community service or jail time?
I think everyone gets here when they’re ready. The judge and police were instruments to get me started, but I needed to make that decision that I had enough.
Addiction: Legal Problems & Issues
The devastation caused by untreated substance addiction can be both deeply personal and highly expansive, with seemingly no boundaries to how far the addict can be pushed to pursue his or her quest for their drug of choice, or the possible consequences of that behavior.
In fact, DUIs (driving under the influence), other driving offences and other legal problems are often seen as an actual sign of substance abuse and dependency. However, as many studies into the relationship between drug and alcohol abuse and subsequent incarceration or legal issues have shown, the prospect of prison, fines, and a criminal record is not much of a deterrent.
The direct link between addiction and legal issues has been researched and documented for many years. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) published a research guide on criminal justice populations – a collection of various telling statistics from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. Some of these figures, at face value, are deeply concerning, and highlight the need for a far better approach to deal with this under-reported “substance addiction and criminality epidemic” in the U.S.
For example, in 2012, there were nearly 7 million Americans sentenced to correctional facilities, with nearly 4.8 million on probation or parole. Around 17.4% of federal prisoners and nearly 15% of state prisoners had reportedly received treatment for substance dependency; however, it is estimated that this is less than one-fifth of the total number of substance-dependent prisoners.
Assuming these figures are correct:
- At least 5 times as many prisoners should actually be in addiction treatment
- Amounting to 5.6 million prisoners and nearly 3.9 million individuals under parole and probation
- If you add those together, it indicates that around 40% of the estimated 23.5 million substance-dependent have encountered severe legal issues at one point or another, and
- This is only the ones caught and punished
Furthermore, in 2004, around 70% of state prisoners with mental health issues were reported to have been abusing drugs. However, of those without mental health disorder diagnoses, 56% still used addictive substances – well over half.
In your opinion, what’s the most important aspect to achieving addiction recovery?
Surrendering self-will. We have to let go and follow the path in front of us. It is scary at times to leave the future up to the unknown, but it is definitely more exciting.
Tackling addiction is possibly only one component of recovery. How important is it to treat any co-occurring disorders that may exist?
I am trauma-focused, and my experience has shown me that unless we take care of the underlying issues, we will return to the substance or the behavior that numbs the pain.
What are the most common barriers/objections to getting treatment?
In a word – money.
Our country is currently under a lot of stress right now – from the coronavirus pandemic to the unforeseen economic crisis that has come with it. How does all this affect addiction rates?
People are dealing with greater anxiety and depression, and now have far fewer resources with which to cope. A lack of exercise venues, socialization, counselors, and quarantine have influenced the current mental health in our communities. As we continue to address the basic needs for health and safety, I think there needs to be more in place to help with the mental health and addiction issues that are rising.
What would you personally say to someone with a drug or alcohol problem (or has a loved one with a problem) who is considering getting help?
Decide if you (or the other person) has had enough. Nobody gets to decide the bottom of another. Normal people will stop drinking and driving with just a threat of a DUI, but for others, it may take several actual arrests and even prison time.
For family members, I encourage them to first acquire some support or help for themselves to cope with the other’s addiction. It is something that they cannot control. For the addict, I validate the difficulty of the journey and, if appropriate, I may share a portion of my own story.
When you tell someone you just met that you are in the addiction treatment industry, what are the three most common questions you get asked?
- Is there a rise in addiction with the COVID pandemic?
- What do you think of the opioid epidemic?
- Why do you think more is not done about the number of overdose deaths in our country?
How do you respond to people who say that “treatment doesn’t work”?
There has to be a commitment to continued maintenance. If I send somebody to a fitness bootcamp for a month, they will likely see good gains in strength and conditioning, appearance, confidence, and health. However, if the person does not continue the diet and exercise regimen, they are likely to gain weight and lose the improvements they made. So, did the fitness bootcamp fail?
What do you do to unwind and relax after a hard day at the office, and did any of this stem from your own addiction recovery, eg. yoga, mindfulness, etc?
Exercise, hike, watch TV, ride bikes, and talk with other trauma therapists.
Addiction & Loved Ones: Tips For Cohabiting With an Addict
If one of your family members, a partner, or a friend is an addict, it’s important to remember that you didn’t cause the addiction, and you certainly can’t “fix” or “cure” it. Even more so is this simple idea – you need to ensure your own safety and protect your own well-being.
If you’re living with a loved one who has an addiction, please consider the following tips:
- Keep yourself and your family safe: If you live with a family member who is vulnerable, you need to keep them, as well as yourself, safe from potential harm – this includes children, elderly relatives, and even pets. If safety does become an issue, because of the addict’s behavior or their addiction, you may need to ask them to leave the home, albeit on a temporary basis.
- Set clear boundaries: You need to decide what is acceptable and what is not. Decide on specific rules and expectations – make a list if you need to. Secondly, decide what the clear-cut consequences will be if your addicted loved one breaks any of these boundaries.
- Prepare an emergency plan: If matters become unmanageable, or puts someone else in the home at risk, you need an emergency plan. This should contact numbers for other friends, family, therapists, and, in extreme cases, the police.
- Encourage treatment: Talk to the addict about seeking help from an addiction treatment program. Advise that you accompany them to a doctor’s appointment, so someone outside the home can discuss the physical and mental damage that addiction causes.
Join a support group for people like you: Never think you are alone. In 2016, more than 20 million people aged 12 years or older had a diagnosed substance use disorder (SUD) in the U.S. Support groups are now widely available online (and in person, if coronavirus restrictions allow) that can address the needs of those who live with an addict.
Lastly, what’s it like working at Springboard Recovery?
Exciting and fast-paced, with people who are excited about the work they do.
– With thanks to Jerry Ehmann for his informative and open responses to our questions.