In response to the opioid epidemic, Youth Services has added substance abuse treatment and counseling to its 19 other Windham County programs serving young people and families earlier this year, with appointments given at either its Bellows Falls or Brattleboro facility. Recognizing that substance use disorders can be chronic problems, with both common and unique challenges for each person, is key to the approach of Heather Smith, the agency’s new Director of Clinical Services.
“We focus on the belief that each individual is a person of worth and dignity and is capable of recovery,” Smith stated emphatically. “Realistic hope is central to our treatment philosophy. By increasing our client’s awareness of risks associated with substances we can support positive and sustainable change in their lives,” she explained.
Smith described some of the young people who come through Youth Services’ doors as knowing what it’s like to live in a family where a parent struggles with addiction. Or they know the peer pressure of friends experimenting with alcohol or prescription pills who ask them to join in. In other scenarios she’s seen in her career, individuals may be struggling with anxiety or depression and turn to various substances to self-medicate instead of seeking counseling and support. These individual are then at risk of development a substance use disorder in addition to the original anxiety or depression, she explained. “Regardless of where someone is on their journey, we can met them where they are and work with them to achieve their goals,” Smith said.
Nearly half of all Youth Services clients—whether they are in Youth Services’ court diversion, our shelter housing, or receiving services as they age out of the foster care system — have substance abuse issues to varying degrees, according to agency intake data. Most of the individuals Smith sees are referred internally by Youth Services case managers but that is expanding now to include referrals from community partners, such as West River Valley Thrives and Turning Point, Smith said, reflecting the shortage of out-patient substance abuse treatment options in the region.
Engaging youth out in the community rather than depending on them finding Smith, is also part of the programs’ strategy, according to Youth Services’ Executive Director, Russell Bradbury-Carlin.
He described Heather Smith’s hiring, made possible by a combination of grant funding and donations from concerned community members, as allowing Youth Services to provide consultation and clinical services designed to decrease hazardous use, promote abstinence, assist in recovery and problem resolution, improve functioning and help the young people they serve develop a healthier lifestyle overall.
“I can’t tell you how fortunate we are to attract such a skilled counselor with experience not only with the runaway and transitional youth populations we work but also with youth in the foster care and justice system!” Bradbury-Carlin stated. “Heather’s five years working in Corrections also gives her many insights she employs in her substance abuse treatment and counseling,” he noted.
In the AIR program (Assessment, Intervention, Recovery), one of the clinical programs offered, Smith works with clients who present a variety of struggles including: alcohol and other drug use, misuse, abuse, dependency, recovery, relapse or family/relationship/peer concerns. Other clients seeking services not related to substance use, misuse or abuse are seen as well.
Heather Smith is a licensed clinical mental health counselor with 10 years of experience working with young people in various settings including residential care, rehabilitation, corrections and college and community care. Most recently she was employed four years as a Behavioral Health Specialist for The Community Health Team. She also spent two years working as part of the HCRS Crisis Team. Prior to that Smith was a Substance Abuse Therapist for students at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA. Her Masters in Counseling Psychology, with a specialization in Substance Abuse is from Antioch New England Graduate School in Keene, NH.
To make a donation to Youth Services to stop the epidemic or for more information on substance abuse treatment and counseling, call Heather Smith (802) 257-0361.