I Don’t Do College … or Do I?...

Aug 27, 2015

When people ask me what I do as a therapeutic educational consultant,  I explain that I help families find treatment programs when they are dealing with the chaos, anxiety and turmoil caused by having a teen or young adult who is experiencing emotional problems, behavioral issues and/or learning differences.  I then typically say “I don’t do college.” So, why did I just visit Texas Tech?  I went there on a tour of Texas programs that serve young adults who are seeking treatment for serious substance abuse addiction.  These are programs that help emerging adults get clean and sober.  What I saw at Texas Tech was an outstanding example of a growing national movement of college-based programs designed to help students stay clean and sober.   Supporting students who are continuing and completing their college studies, these program are referred to as CRPs (collegiate recovery programs) or CRCs (collegiate recovery centers.) For many families I’ve worked with who have oh-so patiently “hung in there” with their teen or young adult in the process of becoming sober, college can be a scary proposition.  Generally speaking, college has been seen as an “abstinence averse” environment. CRPs are out to change that! By way of background…over thirty years ago, Brown University and Rutgers created the first college-based recovery support programs.  In the late 80s and 90s, these two schools were joined by Texas Tech and Augsburg College.  Designed to support recovering students’ needs, these program generally offered sober housing, 12-step meetings, and a “recovery-friendly” space for students to create community.  Research has shown that becoming part of a sober peer group is especially important for emerging adults in maintaining sobriety. Since 2000, the number of CRPs around the country has grown dramatically.  Leadership at several of these programs came together and created a membership organization, ARHE, the Association of Recovery in Higher Education.  The last time I checked, collegiate membership was at 40….but growing every day!  Membership is open to schools as well as interested individuals, including students and faculty. In the past five years, the Stacie Mathewson Foundation, through its non-profit arm, Transforming Youth Recovery (TYR) has made numerous grants to colleges and universities interested in starting CRPs.  These $10,000 grants are often the way interested faculty at a college or university can get the ball rolling.  TYR also offers advice and counsel, based on their expertise in developing CRPs. There is no one model for CRPs.  Most require some period of sobriety between 3 months to a year.  Some offer housing, some just a safe place to hang out.  Almost all sponsor 12-step or other recovery support meetings.  Some offer counseling but more often than not, it’s the recovery-friendly space they offer and the community that gets built there that is their hallmark. An especially important aspect of CRPs is having staff that can translate a seemingly disastrous transcript (or often several transcripts) into a format that the more traditional admissions office can understand.  Often, these students have had failing grades,...

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When is a Young Adult an Adult?...

Jan 22, 2015

18 is the new 14, 24 is the new 18… Many of us first heard the phrase failure to launch in 2006 when Hollywood brought us movie with that title…telling the laughable story of a 30-something-year old man (Matthew McConaughey) still living with his parents. It’s no longer a laughing matter but a widespread phenomenon. Today’s story stars a pudgy, unfit and unkempt 22 year-old college drop-out living in Mom’s basement…immersed in World of Warcraft.  He prefers to eat frozen pizzas and hot pockets rather than take time away from gaming to eat with the family.  And a job would certainly interfere with his screen time!  This is a reality show…and it’s far from funny.  While this example is extreme…what has happened to the notion of becoming an adult at 18 or even 21? Jeffery Arnett, PhD, is a psychologist at Clark University who has done leading edge research for more than two decades on what he calls “emerging adulthood”… the life span between adolescence and full-fledged adulthood….ages 18 to 25 or even 30.  Arnett argues that this has become a legitimate developmental stage…akin to the emergence and recognition of adolescence about 100 years ago. I’m not going to be able to write all there is to be said about emerging adulthood in one blog…but I would like to attempt to define it and give you some ideas of what’s behind it.  Food for thought, if you will. In the early 1960s, the average 21 year old in this country was married and starting a family.  If schooling wasn’t finished, it soon would be…and John would be moving into his career and Jane either was or was about to be a full-time mother. Just fifty years later…things have really changed!  The typical 21 year old is 6 or more years away from parenthood…and may be considering marriage or at least a committed relationship…that 4 year undergrad degree may take 6 or more years to achieve and grad school may be on the horizon…job changes are frequent…and both men and woman want to be paid well in a job they like…and that is fulfilling. Arnett points to four major cultural changes that support this shift and that begin to explain how this new developmental period – emerging adulthood – has come  about.  He cites the Technology Revolution and the Sexual Revolution as well as the Women’s Movement and the Youth Movement as keys to this shift. The Technology Revolution changed us from a society that made things to a society that uses information; in other words, we’ve shifted from a manufacturing economy to a service economy…and this shift has made higher education a must for many.  The advent of the birth control pill created the Sexual Revolution…and allowed young people to be sexually active with far less concern about pregnancy…and that, in turn, has pushed marriage and parenthood farther down the road.  The Women’s Movement dramatically increased young women’s job options from secretary, nurse or teacher…and pretty well erased the notion of seeking...

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HAPPINESS IS THE TRUTH …

Sep 10, 2014

In the fall of 2103, Pharrell Williams released Happy…which has become one of the hottest-selling singles world-wide.  So, what is all this fascination with happy? For years, psychologists were focused on correcting problems like depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder…in a sense, studying how to fix ailments that made people sad.  About 25 years ago, Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist who wrote Learned Optimism, had an epiphany…and began studying what makes people happy. Seligman’s epiphany has since interested literally thousands of researchers in taking serious look at the essence of happiness… studying what we now call Positive Psychology. Positive psychology is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives…it’s what Aristotle, in ancient Greece, referred to as the good life…a life well-lived and happy.  And, it’s what Bobby McFerrin said more recently – 1988 to be exact  – don’t worry, be happy. So, why be happy?  Well, there are actually a number of reasons to work toward living a meaningful and fulfilled life. Research tells us that it isn’t just about “feeling good” but rather, that happy people are more social and energetic…more charitable and cooperative.  They are more able to overcome fear, anxiety, stress and depression. Turns out, happy people tend to take better care of their bodies and they are active and exercise more.  A recent study showed that people being treated with anti-depressants can often lower the dosage – if not totally eliminate – their medications by adding a regular exercise program to their weekly schedule. Being happy leads, not only to better mental health, but also to better physical health… fewer cardiac problems, less risk of cancer, a stronger immune system, and even and better surgical outcomes. Being happy leads to more creativity, better relationships and increased productivity. A number of studies have determined that happiness is 50% hard-wired…that 10% is related to life circumstances…leaving 40%…the part you can control through your attitude. So…how can Debbie Downer develop a positive attitude?  Well, whether you read Seligman’s work, or that of Dr. Sonya Lyubomirsky or Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar – they all agree that cultivating gratitude is the single most important element in developing and sustaining a positive attitude. While acts of kindness boost happiness levels, and giving a positive shout-out to someone every day and mindfulness are all important…gratitude is more so. So, what is gratitude? Well, it is many things to many people… it’s wonder, it’s appreciation, it’s looking at the bright side of a setback, it’s fathoming abundance, it’s thanking someone in your life, it’s counting your blessings. Some of the more heady research reports that the expression of gratitude is a meta-strategy for achieving happiness.  Simply put, developing an attitude of gratitude will serve you well. So, pay attention, Debbie Downer…developing that attitude of gratitude involves a focus on the present moment, on appreciating your life as it is today…and on recognizing what has made it so. Like many things in life, we need to practice feeling grateful in order...

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Finding the Road to Recovery in the Woods...

Mar 9, 2014

Recently, the parents of a young adult client with a serious opiate addiction asked me to explain why wilderness.  They wanted to know why I see wilderness programs as a viable alternative, and in some respects, preferable for young adults than the more traditional 30-day (even 60 or 90 day) primary treatment programs…especially if the young adult is taking his or her first steps on the road to recovery. A cautionary note from Dr. Judi…whether the first step on the road to recovery starts in the woods or in a treatment center…please know both represent just that…the first step.  Research tells us these young adults need between 12 and 18 months of treatment to be successful in their recovery. As a result of their question, I spent some time over the past several weeks talking to colleagues in the addictions treatment world.  Here’s some of what we discussed… There are some obvious differences between wilderness and more traditional substance abuse treatment programs.  There’s a big difference between being a dozen miles or more from nowhere versus living in a community setting.  In a wilderness program, there’s no access to phones, computers, I-Pads, TV, or movies.  Living for 6 to 8 weeks in the serene out-of-doors in the healing arms of Mother Nature…well, there’s a healing that comes with being immersed in nature that just doesn’t happen in a building…both for body and for soul. There’s also often a difference in terms of cost…wilderness runs about $350 – $400 per day…with more traditional programs running 3 to 4 times that amount…and some programs…even more! The experiential component of wilderness is integral to its success.  Carl Rogers, the famous psychologist and, along with Maslow, the co-founder of the humanistic psychology movement, wrote, Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person’s ideas, and none of my own ideas, are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming me.  On Becoming a Person, 1961. While more traditional programs offer therapy and help develop new life skills and sober leisure-time interests, that experiential piece is seldom there…certainly not to the degree that it is in wilderness. For addicts to have any hope of letting go of substances that they have come to believe are working for them – either to produce good feelings or offer relief from negative feelings – they must find alternative activities and behaviors that do what the drugs have done in the past.  The outdoor model aims to change a person’s experience of themselves and of the world around them to prepare them to tackle the questions what’s next and how do I maintain this good feeling. Nearly every one I talked with mentioned the importance of learning new ways to cope with stress.  Living sober long-term requires a high degree of stress tolerance. Wilderness unburdens one...

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