What Do Expanded Telehealth Services Mean for the Mental Healthcare Industry Beyond COVID-19?

To limit the spread of COVID-19, The Council on Recovery has joined numerous behavioral health organizations across the world in adopting telehealth into our services, which means we treat people remotely for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. While telehealth has its drawbacks, expanded telehealth services across the globe is a significant step forward for mental healthcare, during the pandemic and beyond.

Here’s the problem – one in five adults in the United States live with a mental illness, but only half of them seek treatment. On top of this dismaying statistic is another reality – trauma and isolation from the global Coronavirus pandemic will undoubtedly trigger a mental health crisis in the United States. Unlike hurricanes and wildfires, which are localized, the virus brings devastation to all communities, and intensifies the need for mental health services in our country where million people are estimated to live in regions without direct access to mental health professionals.

Telehealth

Here’s another problem – despite major strides toward a better understanding and awareness of the importance of mental health, having any sort of mental illness, from anxiety to substance use disorder, is still highly stigmatized around the world and across cultures. People living with a mental illness may experience prejudice and discrimination, especially if they live in communities which downplay the importance of mental health.

The mental healthcare system going virtual breaks down barriers for many of those who need it.

Right now, telehealth is bringing needed services to individuals while still allowing them to stay inside and distance from people. Beyond, it means essential treatment is now accessible for people who aren’t mobile due to financial or health reasons, or those 111 million people who live in areas that lack mental health services.

The expansion of telehealth services also means that those who come from backgrounds in which mental illness is highly stigmatized can get treatment without drawing too much attention to themselves from their family or community members. They can also skip that scary first step of physically going to a treatment center.

Telehealth isn’t the ultimate answer to the mental health crisis America is about to face, especially since there are still technologically-poor populations who need our help. However, it is a big step forward in terms of accessibility, and The Council will continue to take whatever actions necessary to serve people struggling with substance use.

We’re seeing telehealth’s positive impact right here at The Council.

“Telehealth services have provided a unique opportunity for social interaction and normalcy during an otherwise traumatic, solitary collective experience,” says Jaimee Martinez, case manager for the Cradles program at The Council. “The feedback I had previously gotten from clients regarding in-person classes was that they enjoyed the secondary benefits of having some time to themselves to grow, learn and take a breather. I am finding this to be true with virtual classes as well.”

If you or a loved one need help with substance use or a co-occurring mental health disorder, contact us here or call us at 713.914.0556. Click here to learn more about our telehealth services.

Sober Living in the Pandemic

Guest Blog contributed by Rick Renaudin, member of the Board of Trustees for The Council on Recovery

Like many of you, I am a creature of habit. I’ve got my set routine which includes family, work, exercise, playing with our puppy, etc.

Sobriety begs for a good routine.

Roughly 7 or 8 weeks ago, it became apparent that my life was going to change due to the “shelter in place” recommendations that arose from the Coronavirus pandemic. During this time I have celebrated my 4 year sobriety anniversary.

Rick (right) at the 36th Annual Spring Luncheon in 2019

I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am for my sobriety. I can’t even imagine the nightmare this confinement would have put me and my wife through otherwise… all of the planning, scheming and hiding that would have been necessary to extend my drinking, would have exhausted my whole family. Thanks to them, I am facing this most unusual period in all of our lives with a clear mind. A mind absent all of the angst and turmoil that went with prolonging my drinking.

If you are struggling with any kind of substance abuse, please know there is help right around the corner at The Council on Recovery. Whether you’re worried about yourself or a loved one, The Council is the place to start. It’s confidential and it will change your life forever!

Maintaining Community During COVID-19

By Lori Fiester, Clinical Director of the Center for Recovering Families

As the last week wound down and settled, my staff and I made it through the trials and tribulations of integrating telehealth into our services. The reward – we are able to connect with our clients, see their faces, continue the work prior to this pandemic and offer assistance with this struggle. Most clients’ response was similar, “This got real!” Along with this response, most were grateful to get back to their recovery groups and have a safe place to talk. Reality appears to have shifted throughout everyone’s life. We all have been significantly impacted one way or another, and maintaining community seems harder than ever.

Change and the unknown can bring fear and anxiety. Some feel resistance to the change, which can increase such feelings. Another feeling common among our clients is grief. Not only from seeing the daily news and how this pandemic has killed thousands, but how the disruption of our daily routine magnifies all the little things we ordinarily do without a thought. Clients have expressed grief about their connections being disrupted or lost, friend/family becoming sick, employment threats or lay-offs, and how isolation compounds their feelings.

Isolation is one of the worst possible positions someone who is struggling with sobriety can be in, yet here we are.

Mandated to shelter in place. Isolation in any addiction or compulsive behavior is that ‘ism’s’  best friend. It causes us to think negatively, erroneously, and mostly disengage from the connection we most want and need. It can cause us to turn on ourselves, only to fill with self-loathing. As clinicians, our efforts are aimed at assisting our clients to navigate these changes by maintaining community in the chaos.

The technology that has often led to disconnection is now assisting us in the recovery community to connect with telehealth, online meetings, and online activities like yoga or meditation. While many are working from home, there are many others that are not working at all, and thus have even less connection to the world and more time on their hands. We are encouraging all our clients to reach out and connect, so the isolation can be lessened. Isolation, often the most troublesome of characteristics in this disease, now feels like it’s quadrupled. 

And while there are a lot of unknowns, what is known is that we need each other.

We cannot do this alone. As human beings, we aren’t wired that way, which is very similar to those in the recovery community trying to stay sober…. we all need the help of another. Today we need connection even more, even if it’s six feet apart and no more than 10 people at a time. Maintaining community in recovery is key. Another known is that the feelings of fear, anxiety, grief or any other feeling will become more manageable if we allow them in. If we can feel the feelings and allow them to move through, they will leave. Often we resist because the feelings overwhelm us, which causes suffering and more times than not, the feelings will come out sideways in unwanted behaviors. Another known is that we are in this together. If this is happening to you, help is just a phone call away. 

So, together we need to support one another to stay home and stay safe. We must continue our lives in recovery by maintaining community through attending online meetings, virtual classes, calling or video chatting with our sponsor, and if any of that hasn’t been attempted, it’s time now more than ever. 

Please visit The Council on Recovery’s remote resource page, as well as participate in our daily meditation offerings. If not now, when?

If you or your loved one needs assistance, please do not hesitated to contact the Council. We are here, ready and able to help in any way we can.

Mindfulness: Strengthening the Relationship Between Mind and Body

Here at The Council on Recovery, we believe in the power of mindfulness to aide us in difficult times. Mindfulness is the act of developing awareness of how we think and process information. We do this through focusing on the moment at hand and letting stillness and silence guide our emotions. 

If we’ve taught ourselves or been taught to numb our feelings in response to emotional situations, with substance abuse or other behaviors, we are not allowing ourselves the opportunity to understand our mind and body fully. We get to a potentially dangerous state in which we only know what we think and not what we feel.

Just being still for a few minutes every day and getting into a mental headspace in which you allow yourself to process emotions you’ve been potentially withholding can be mentally rejuvenating for anyone in this chaotic world. Every day now we’re overwhelmed with potentially traumatizing information, and lots of it. If it’s not the barrage of information that’s getting to us, it’s social isolation, changing the way we do our work, and more. Taking a step back and processing this information without judgement gives us a better chance at inner peace when it would otherwise seem impossible.

In this podcast episode, we discuss how to deal with negative emotions through mindfulness. At the time of this recording, COVID-19, also known as Coronavirus, had just reached the United States. Since then, the virus has become a global pandemic and shaken up daily life, causing uncertainty and anxiety for many people. People who already experience a mental health disorder, including many people in recovery can be especially affected.

Caitlin Payne joins Mel Taylor and Lori Fiester to discuss in detail what mindfulness is and how it can improve your life during times of stress and uncertainty, whether or not you are impacted by addiction.

What is Acudetox, and why has The Council decided to offer it?

By Lori Fiester, Clinical Director of the Center for Recovering Families

I have been in the social work field for approximately 32 years and have seen trends come and go in substance abuse treatment settings. Treatment for substance abuse was primarily geared to the 12 Steps when I first entered the field, along with licensed chemical dependency counselors. Today we have a plethora of providers that give a vast array of therapeutic interventions that can assist those seeking help. Recently, I stumbled upon an opportunity to learn another intervention that can assist people who want to get sober, are sober, or are in sustained recovery, called Acudetox.

Acudetox is a five-point acupuncture protocol specifically designed for those struggling with substance use issues. The acupuncture needles are gently placed in the ear at specific points. This helps balance the body’s energy and assists the healing process. It is referred to in Eastern medicine as a yin tonification, restoring calm inner qualities like serenity. This process is best done in a group setting lasting from 30-45 minutes and is non-verbal with minimal interaction from the facilitator.

Acudetox has shown to decrease cravings for alcohol and drugs, withdrawal symptoms, relapse episodes, anxiety, insomnia and agitation.  Even more exciting, the effects can be immediate. There are usually no side-effects and the intervention is inexpensive.  Clients report relaxation, stress and craving reduction, mental clarity, an increased sense of wellbeing and more energy.  Programs have reported more successful completions and less client discharge against medical advice, along with higher client satisfaction improvement.

This seemed too good to be true, so off I went to get trained in Acudetox. As a result, I’m a firm believer that this intervention can assist anyone in the process of recovery. While practicing the protocol, I experienced immediate relaxation myself and noticed later that my mindless eating wasn’t as mindless. As I practiced on friends and colleagues, they reported decreased blood pressure, better sleep and more concentration. Even those who chose not to have the intervention in the group setting experienced a meditative state. As a therapist, it’s an interesting shift from talk therapy to inserting needles, but I see the value as clients become more aware of their body and their thoughts, and are able to settle more quickly to begin their work.   

The Council is offering Acudetox to clients in The Center for Recovering Families’ Intensive Outpatient Program, and is also now offering appointments open to the general public.  Click here for more information on Acudetox or to register for a session.

What is CBD and How is it Different from Marijuana?

Clinical Director for the Center for Recovering Families Lori Fiester answers your burning questions about CBD.

If you’ve driven around town lately, you might have seen all the CBD shops that have burst on the scene, or may have seen ads on your favorite social media site selling CBD oils and other such related items.

This surge recently came about due to hemp being legalized in 2018. There seems to be a lot of confusion about that too, especially when you realize that hemp and marijuana come from the cannabis plant. The difference between hemp and marijuana is that hemp can only contain 3% of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Past that percentage, it’s considered marijuana, which is illegal in Texas. While I see the effects of recreational marijuana abuse in my work, I had limited understanding about the what the differences between the substance were, the legalities, and was Cannabidiol (CBD) just another silver bullet. So I thought I’d dip my big toe in the river.

The Science of CBD

First of all, THC and CBD are chemically the same! Twenty-one carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms and two oxygen atoms. The difference is in a single atom structure. And that single-atom difference is about feeling the psychoactive effects of the substance or not.

There are about 85 known cannabinoids found in the Cannabis plant, which include THC and CBD. A cannabinoid is a compound that interacts within the network of receptors in the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), which assist to maintain vital functions within the body. There are two receptors in the body called CB1 and CB2. CB1 is found in parts of the brain that is responsible for mental and physiological processes such as memory, cognition, emotion and motor skills. CB2 is found throughout the central nervous system and the immune system.

While both CBD and THC bind to the CB2, they interact with the CB1 receptors differently.  THC binds to the CB1 receptors that signals the brain to feel pleasure or ‘high’ feeling. CBD doesn’t bind directly to the CB1 and even its presence will negate the effects of the THC on the brain, meaning you won’t feel high. 

CBD

Use and Effects

CBD has been linked to assisting with pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s, and inflammation, just to name a few. CBD is not regulated by the FDA and there have been no long term studies. There are no known side effects except in drug to drug interaction, i.e. medication.

THC is psychoactive which gives the ‘high,’ and its effects can include relaxation, altered senses, fatigue, hunger and reduced aggression.  Long term effects include addiction, impaired thinking and reasoning, a reduced ability to plan and organize, altered decision making, reduced control over impulses and correlates with significant abnormalities in the heart and brain.

Medical THC has been seen to help with the side effects of chemotherapy, MS, HIV/AIDS, spinal injury, nausea/vomiting, chronic pain, inflammation and digestive issues.

Marijuana is illegal in Texas although many states have legalized it for both recreation and medically.  Medical cannabis is legal in Texas in very limited situations. The Texas Compassionate Use Act came into law in 2015 allowing those affected with epilepsy, MS, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease have access to cannabis oil with less than 5% THC.

The Bottom Line is…

While CBD and THC come from the same plant, one is legal in Texas and one is not. It appears that CBD can have positive effects on a person’s health, it is not a psychoactive drug, there are no known side effects, and due to the changes in the law, it is readily available.  However, with that being said, there are no guidelines for manufacturing the substance, and there are no long term studies on the effects from taking the substance. I stress the issue of manufacturing due to the serious illness and even deaths we have seen from vaping when this delivery system was off-brand/market and often involving marijuana.

Marijuana is still illegal in Texas, it is a psychoactive and addictive drug and there are many side effects from its use. 

To make an appointment for a clinical assessment, or if you have any questions about how we can help you or a loved one struggling with substance abuse, call 713-914-0556 or contact us online.

If your campus, workplace or community would benefit from a presentation, contact us at 281-200-9273 or comm_education@councilonrecovery.org.