The Pace of Guidance: How Do I Recharge & Reconnect After a Natural Disaster?

As people receive the COVID-19 vaccination and cases across the country are in steady decline, daily life is looking more like before the pandemic hit in March of last year. But we know through research and experience that the mental health impact of natural disasters such as the pandemic long outlast the physical impact, and due to the longevity and intensity of COVID-19, experts say we may be dealing with the aftermath for years to come. In this episode of our podcast, Healing Choices: Conversations on Addiction & Recovery, Mel Taylor and Lori Fiester discuss how natural disasters affect us, and how we can help those struggling with substance use and other mental health disorders in the wake of COVID-19 and other disasters.

Five Little-Known Facts About The Council

The Council on Recovery is Houston’s oldest and largest non-profit provider of addiction prevention, education, treatment and recovery support services, having served our community for 75 years. Here are five little-known facts about The Council that briefly illustrate its longevity, growth, and commitment to the Houston community.

The Council’s origins go back to original founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, needed to raise awareness that alcoholism was a disease, and not a moral weakness. Marty Mann stepped up to the challenge and traveled across the United States to educate the public and fight the stigma of addiction. Marty’s lecture in Houston in the fall of 1946 inspired local community members to organize the Houston Committee for the Education on Alcoholism, now called The Council on Recovery.

We had 208 calls in the first year of offering services to the Houston community.

The Committee opened an information center in July 1952 under the direction of Frances A. Robertson to help Houston’s estimated 40,000 alcoholics. This was its first major effort to support those struggling with alcohol abuse. Over the next 75 years, the organization expanded both its reach as it grew larger and technology evolved, and its scope, as it implemented programs to address individuals and families on all points on the spectrum of addiction. In 2020, our intake team received more than 14,000 calls, with an average of 1,360 calls a month.  

We once had our own TV show.

Long before we began treating clients directly, The Council’s roots were in community education and awareness. We achieved this through phone calls, pamphlets, and radio appearances, but we also used the budding medium of television. In 1954, we produced a 10-week educational television program on KUHT – Channel 8.  Council staff member Mary Catherine Brown developed and hosted it.

We led the effort in Houston to treat people struggling with alcohol abuse with compassion.

For the first half of the 20th century, “revolving door” alcoholics who needed compassion and care were instead sent to prison, sanitariums, or, specifically in Houston, penal labor farms just outside the city. From the 1950s to the 1970s, The Council led an interagency effort to establish multiple halfway houses and detox centers in Houston to enable these people to recover and become contributing members of their community.

five facts about The Council

Our first fundraiser was a barbecue in 1948.

Early records include newspaper clippings advertising a barbecue fundraiser in support of the Houston Committee for the Education on Alcoholism in April 1948. Entertainment for this event included a one-act play entitled “What Can We Do?” which illustrated the Committee’s history and work. Our inaugural luncheon event was in the spring of 1984, and featured former first lady and mental health advocate Betty Ford as the keynote speaker. This event spawned the popular speaker series that continues today and has raised millions of dollars in support of local families impacted by addiction.

Learn more about the rich history of The Council on Recovery in our 75th anniversary feature, Hope Ripples Out, and consider making a gift to help continue our vital work for the next 75 years and beyond.

Changing Lives with Discovering Choices

Discovering Choices is The Council’s new outpatient treatment program, made possible by grants from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. This program allows us to expand access to our world-class outpatient treatment services and continue our promise to turn no one away. It includes specialized tracks for women and those with co-occurring mental health disorders. The following is a conversation with Ingrid Steward-Ryan, counselor for Discovering Choices.

What can people expect when they start with Discovering Choices?

Ingrid: After an assessment and orientation, they can choose between an afternoon or evening educational class. They also have individual sessions with their primary counselor. We do cognitive behavioral therapy; we aim for an overall change. The most important thing to expect is that they will also be in a process group with like-minded people. Being able to verbalize, “This is what happened to me,” and to hear other stories like their own makes the clients feel more comfortable and receptive to the program.

How does Discovering Choices help people?

Ingrid: We teach them to be self-sufficient. They are learning how to live again. We teach them how to balance their life, and how to live in balance. When you have become so used to the negative behaviors, and you were taught this way of life, it becomes a part of you. Once the client puts us in their schedule, as part of their routine, they want to continue with us. The success rate is very high. We have a lot of successful discharges, and we have a lot of people who want to continue on after treatment in our 8-week recovery management course.

What do you enjoy about working with this program?

Ingrid: I’m a people person. Even though it’s now through Zoom, I like to talk with the clients, and be able to let them know that they can change, and they don’t have to go through this alone. That joy can come back. That’s my passion.

The beautiful part about this team is that we feed off each other’s energy. It feels like we’re linked when we’re working together, and like we can finish each other’s sentences. We all know what we’re doing in the program, and everybody has a role.

What do you want people to know most about Discovering Choices?

Ingrid: I want people to know that there is help, and that you don’t have to suffer alone. We will meet you where you are.

If you think you or someone you love could benefit from outpatient treatment with The Council on Recovery, or you wish to make a referral, call 713.914.0556, or contact us here.

How Can We Fix Texas’ Mental Healthcare Crisis?

This blog post is co-authored by The Council on Recovery’s President & CEO Mel Taylor, MSW, and Executive Vice President Mary Beck, LMSW.

Substance use is a primary driver of readmission to the hospital and/or criminal justice systems.  If we addressed substance use disorders in conjunction with mental health disorders, the number of people in need of care would significantly decrease. Yet time and again, substance use is viewed as a secondary concern and not as a confounding disease affecting the majority of people with a mental health disorder.

As we read Alex Stuckey’s three-part series How Texas Fails the Mentally Ill, we were met with a mix of emotions. On the one hand, it is heartening to see a light being shined on this decades long travesty – a crisis that strips people of their dignity and basic human rights; that tells people they have to wait, homeless on the streets or in jail to get the care they desperately need. On the other hand, it is concerning to see the pronounced blind spot regarding co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders that exists among healthcare providers, behavioral health providers, policy makers, and the community at large.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, multiple national population surveys show that about half of those who experience a mental illness during their lives will also experience a substance use disorder and vice versa. And the coronavirus pandemic is only making matters worse. A recent study conducted by The Recovery Village asked 1,000 American adults about their use of drugs and alcohol in the past month, and 55 percent reported an increase in their alcohol consumption in the past month, with 18 percent reporting a significant increase. When asked what prompted their substance use, respondents cited stress, boredom, and an effort to cope with anxiety or depression.

At The Council on Recovery, we’ve watched this dynamic intensify over the past year, with more clients struggling with relapse, suicidal ideation, and overdose. So what can be done? First, we must acknowledge and embrace the fact that the mental health care system is in disarray, and if co-occurring substance use disorders continue to be discounted and dismissed, it is unlikely that outcomes will improve.

Beyond that, we know that we cannot overcome this crisis if fragmented policies and underfunding continues. Texas needs a comprehensive analysis and long-range plan for the entire system, led by behavioral health experts who equally represent substance use and mental health disorders. The plan must study leading-edge best practices for the treatment of co-occurring disorders. Most importantly, it must identify multiple financing options that incentivize public and private providers – as well as payers – to participate in the plan and to provide best practice care.

Last fall, The Council on Recovery launched The Center for Co-Occurring Disorders as just such an initiative.

This multi-partner Center will explore and document current best practices, conduct evaluation on models of care, and identify and advocate for financing options. Led by The Council, other partners include The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, Harris County Psychiatric Center, Baylor College of Medicine and Harris Health, as well as a psychiatrist in private practice and community members with lived experience.

Over the last 75 years, The Council has witnessed the changes in the landscape of behavioral health care unfold in real time, along with the devastating consequences. In the wake of the pandemic, the oncoming tidal wave of mental health and substance use disorders will undoubtedly inflict even more suffering on the individuals trapped within our broken system.

But we can turn the tide.

Initiatives like The Center for Co-Occurring Disorders can help to educate the public, policy makers, and behavioral health professionals about the crisis in our mental health system. Together we can advocate for legislative priorities that support these efforts. Because doing nothing is not an option.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use or a co-occurring mental health disorder, contact The Council today. We offer telehealth services to all who need it, regardless of their ability to pay.

A Special Announcement From President & CEO Mel Taylor

Dear Friends,   

I wish to inform you of my intention to retire as President and CEO with The Council, effective August 31, 2021. Although this retirement will be effective in August, I have been asked to remain in an “emeritus” position working for the Foundation for the next three years to ensure a smooth transition, assist in planned giving, and aid with institutional memory.  A search process to identify my replacement is underway, capably led by our Board Chair, Dean Quinn, along with the help of outside counsel. I’m excited to be handing the baton over whenever that person is chosen and will support them in any way I can.   

In my 28 years as President and CEO, much has changed, and as I reflect on my time with The Council, I am filled with awe and gratitude. In August 1993, I went to work for The Council at a most difficult time. We had a deficit of $93,000, almost no available cash reserves and were nearly 90% financed by state and federal grants. Less than 1% of the Houston community had ever heard of “The Houston Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.” We had a Foundation in name only. But, we had the passion, vision and dedication of a few willing board members, a couple of 3 x 5 index cards of donors and a powerful, if not resilient, intention to prove that, as someone said, “We really can raise money for drunks!” 

Today, we are operating with a balanced portfolio between public and private funds. We have established the organization as one of the best — in culture, in meeting mission, and in esteem by the community we serve. We have established Foundation reserves to help ensure the Council’s operation for years to come, secured a stable annual operating budget, and continuously serve more than 65,000 people each year!   

During this 28 year period, we have helped a lot of people – those we can tell of, and many who were helped that we will never know. We have seen miracles of recovery many times over, and we have experienced the deep loss that comes when addiction is not faced head on. I am profoundly grateful to you and our many friends and partners who shared in our passion and helped to grow and sustain our mission. My greatest gift has been to experience so much passion and dedication by an incredible staff, board, and community who serve a purpose greater than themselves and have given back to service in untold ways. 

Through it all, it has been my honor to help lead this organization through fires, mergers, and pandemics, building new programs and responding to changes in our community. Each day of those 28 years I have never tired or desired to be elsewhere, looking forward to coming to work and to the opportunities we have been given.  

As we look to the light at the end of the tunnel of these past twelve months and ahead to our 75th anniversary, The Council is well positioned for the future. We have launched our Center for Co-Occurring Disorders, completed a successful reserve fund campaign, secured grants and contracts for the next several years, and have a strong and devoted leadership team and board of trustees.  

And so, the time is now for me to step aside and make room for the next person to assume leadership as I retire from daily service to The Council. Until then, we continue to serve those that need us, now and in the future – vowing never to turn anyone away.  

Yours in gratitude and recovery, 

Mel

For The Council’s official press release detailing Mel’s career and legacy, click here.

The Council reflects on a year of COVID-19

Almost a year has passed since COVID-19 reached our own backyard. Within this year, we lost more than 500,000 lives, experienced historic social and political unrest, and most recently, endured a traumatic winter storm. Our community has faced a staggering amount of adversity within a relatively short timeline, so it is important to pause and reflect on these challenging events as we move forward to rebuild and recover.

Like most people, by the second week of March 2020, we understood that everything was about to change very quickly, and in a very big way. We also knew that the frightening and unprecedented nature of this global pandemic was going to inflict major, long-term damage on the collective mental health of our community, and that we needed to be ready.

Within the span of two weeks, we transformed our services to keep our staff and clients safe from this new and mysterious virus. Our quality assurance team vetted telehealth platforms, and created and trained staff on new policies and procedures. Our two-person IT team transitioned entire operations to remote work. Our intake department created new processes for virtual paperwork that met regulatory requirements. Our direct services staff phased out in-person assessments, counseling, and meetings, in favor of telehealth and other virtual services.

year of covid-19

That was just the beginning of an unforgettable year of challenge and change. New questions arose for programs and events that often required answers that balanced both creativity and adherence to the rules and regulations of our industry and funders. How do we reach those who need our help but don’t necessarily have the technological means or knowledge to participate in our services? How do we continue to serve students in schools when most are still meeting in virtual or hybrid formats? How do we help those who benefit from support groups we cannot host in person? How can we serve those on the front lines of the pandemic who are most affected? How do we continue our cherished speaker series virtually?

As the one-year anniversary of the pandemic approaches, we wanted to take this moment to acknowledge the complexity and enormity of our collective experiences throughout the last year.

At The Council, we are proud of our determination to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges. But we celebrate these achievements while also remembering that they came with immense personal hardships unique to this natural disaster. We saw teens in crisis after having their social and school lives upended. We heard of clients and community members relapsing after years of sobriety and stepped in to help wherever possible. We responded to cases of acute mental health distress triggered by the fallout of the pandemic.

As we move toward the light at the end of this tragic year, we know that the trauma and grief from the adversities our community has faced – and continues to face – will long outlast the current circumstances. That’s why our resolve to serve the community is unwavering. The Council has learned to adapt and respond to each challenge, strengthening our ability to serve Houston and deepening our passion to help all who need us.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use or another mental health issue, pandemic-related or otherwise, call us at 713.914.0556 or contact us through our website today. Our qualified and compassionate intake team will get you to the help you need and deserve.