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Building behavioral healthcare bridges: Start by reaching out

January 27, 2011
by Douglas Braun-Harvey
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When I was invited to contribute to the conversations, observations and dialogues found within Behavioral Healthcare, I wondered what voice I could bring. Would it be the voice of a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist? A Certified Group Psychotherapist? A Certified Sex Therapist (I treat men with out of control sexual behavior)? An author (I have published two books on sexual health approaches to drug and alcohol treatment)? A trainer (who trains others about sex/drug-linked patterns of addiction)?

I am an integrationist at heart. I find my most inspired ideas by listening to the dilemmas of an impassioned professional and considering with whom they may want to talk or what information they may want to learn to better understand their situation. I usually suggest a person, book or research from a field not often investigated within the help-seekers sphere. With clients I often have to interrupt their wish for "one stop-shopping." The client (often to avoid the discomfort of going outside their familiar cocoon) wants me, their therapist, to be the Walmart of mental health. They want me to have the answer for almost anything they need.

The last nine years of my work integrating sexual health with drug and alcohol treatment evolved from a brief conversation with Cheryl Houk, the executive director of a San Diego drug and alcohol treatment center, Stepping Stone. Cheryl described her staff being overwhelmed by the sexual behavioral problems among the rapidly expanding number of crystal-methamphetamine-addicted residents. Cheryl was "sick of people dying" after being administratively discharged from the Stepping Stone residential program (which for some meant instant homelessness) not from drinking or using but because the client had broken a sexual behavior program rule. My expertise in treating former Stepping Stone residents with out of control sexual behavior led to the cross disciplinary moment of inquiry, connection and collaborative problem solving. She said, "I need your help."

Conceptualizing, developing, and implementing sexual health groups for drug and alcohol treatment has strengthened by belief that we are not so often stuck with intractable problems in treating the myriad complexities of addiction, but rather limited by our tendency to stay within our own community to answer even the most vexing situations. Risking professional discomfort and exposing a clinical failing is central to both our resistance and resolution for creating treatment improvements not just in drug and alcohol treatment, but also in many of our most perplexing health care issues.

I hope to have not only sexual health conversations but many more not yet imagined integrative discussions about the world of behavioral health. So, I'm reaching out to you, and I want to know: Who are you? What is your voice? What bridge is still under construction in your life? Where will the simple act of reaching out lead us?




Doug: From the moment that I attended your NCAD seminar last year, I was interested in your perspectives on sexual health in addiction treatment and so I thought it was wise for Behavioral Healthcare to explore this issue in our Januarly 2011 cover story:

It struck me as a real problem that people with a deadly serious addiction could be excluded or ostracized during treatment because those treating them, while highly trained to be non-judgmental about the circumstances and issues of substance abuse, didn't have the ability or imagination to understand that some consumers might develop incomplete or unhealthy approaches to sex and relationships as well.

Dennis, I appreciate your observing this contradiction between non-judgmental professional training and treatment about substance abuse central to drug and alcohol treatment providers and programs and the glaring gap in both conceptualizing and implementing similar skills and principles about sex/drug-linked behavior commonly found among many men and women in recovery. I hope to hear from professionals in the field who are feeling a bit alone in their own observations of this discrepancy.

Douglas Braun-Harvey

Sexual health author, trainer and psychotherapist

Douglas Braun-Harvey

Douglas Braun-Harvey, MFT, CGP, is a psychotherapist and certified sex therapist based on San...

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