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2009 Behavioral Health Champion: George P. Joseph, LCDC

November 1, 2009
by Dennis Grantham, Senior Editor
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Position: CEO

Organization: The Right Step/Spirit Lodge

The Right Step:

Location: Houston, Texas (http://www.rightstep.com)

Locations: 22 in Texas and New Mexico serving the southwest U.S.

Services: Substance abuse, detox, inpatient, extended care, intensive outpatient, relapse prevention, residential, spiritual.

Staff: 175

Spirit Lodge:

Location: Austin, TX

Services: Substance abuse, co-occurring disorders, detox, holistic, inpatient, relapse prevention, spiritual.

Staff: 25

George Joseph's path to 28 years of sobriety and recognition as a 2009 Champion began on a dark day in 1981. Following a cocaine arrest, his attorney suggested he enter the Baton Rouge Chemical Dependency Unit, an adolescent inpatient program, and the Power House Extended Care program. At Power House, the counselors noticed Joseph's ability to confront peers in an impactful way and suggested he read a book on becoming a counselor.

“I remember thinking, ‘Man, they must really be hard up for help.’ I didn't realize it then, but a seed had been planted.” Two years later, as a college student, Joseph returned to Power House as a chemical dependency counselor technician. Later, he entered a new counselor training program in Houston, linked to the Parkside Lodge treatment center. He loved the work.

He later joined Parkside Lodge as a counselor and program coordinator for over five years until it closed. Joseph was recruited to The Right Step, a one-location treatment center in January 1994. There, he formed a team that found growth by understanding the needs of an important new payer: managed care. “People fought them, adapted to them, or opted out. We chose to adapt,” he explains, noting that managed care providers preferred treatment organizations with four ingredients: excellence, value, multiple levels of care, and multiple locations.

To these, Joseph added another vital ingredient: assurance. Noting that “the first year of recovery is very difficult,” The Right Step announced that any self-pay patient who relapsed after completing a 30-day inpatient program could return, as often as needed for one year, “to get back on their feet again.” This ingredient has helped sustain growth for The Right Step (now 20 locations) and spawned Spirit Lodge, which attracts patients seeking a more exclusive and personalized treatment experience.

Joseph says that all Right Step/Spirit Lodge patients can count on a large helping of respect. “Coming in, they're so ashamed. Or, they're in denial. So, you've got to build a relationship to get your point across-give them hope and build them up, or work hard at confronting them.” Put another way, “with some you're huggin', with others you're kickin' butt. The key to being a good counselor is to find out which is needed when.”

Beyond the joy of his own recovery-“I didn't know life could be so good!”-Joseph and his team are sustained by “people who call every year for 20 years to thank us for helping them get sober.” Of course, there are the other calls, too: “When we hear about those who don't make it, we remember that recovery is a difficult, sometimes dangerous thing.”

Behavioral Healthcare 2009 November-December;29(10):14