Ready for Change: How the Admissions Team Supports Referring Professionals

Blake Master

Blake Master

By Blake Master
Associate Director of Admissions

With direct efforts from behavioral health professionals who refer to Sierra Tucson, over 1,500 lives were touched in 2016. That’s 1,500 people making a change in order to feel better, improve, and thrive for years to come. It is not only these individuals who are taking a leap of faith when seeking treatment, but also their referring doctors, therapists, and counselors who are joining them on their journey. Having professionals feel prepared for this process is as important as having the residents feel comfortable and ready to begin. Sierra Tucson has refined the admissions process for healthcare professionals who reach out directly to our facility.

If you are a referring professional who is making a phone call to Sierra Tucson, you will be greeted by an admissions coordinator. He or she will gather clinical information regarding your client and walk you through our simple, two-step admission process. That’s it. In less than 90 minutes, your client will be ready to begin individualized treatment at Sierra Tucson.

Now, what happens while your client is in treatment? To ensure fluidity of care, Sierra Tucson will update you, the referring professional, weekly while your client is in treatment at our facility. We understand and respect that professionals have a history with the individual whom they referred, and the clinical information they  provide helps us deliver precise care. This weekly contact will continually happen until discharge. Sierra Tucson also understands that the upcoming change of treatment environment can be stressful for the individual and all parties involved. As your client’s treatment experience comes closer to completion, we make this process as smooth as possible for all involved.

Sierra Tucson has a three-pronged approach to its continuum of care. First, we communicate with the resident’s treatment team to assist with the individualized continuing care plan, which may include stepping down to a lower level of care (i.e., PHP, IOP, extended care, sober living, or continuing care with the referring professional). Second, the resident will be enrolled in Connect365, our year-long continuing care service offered to residents at no additional cost. Your client will engage in weekly communication with his or her recovery coach for one year post-discharge to help with the transition from treatment to life in recovery. Finally, the resident will have all of the offerings that come with being a Sierra Tucson alum, including support groups offered throughout the country, workshops, social activities, and the annual Alumni Retreat.

Our primary goal is client success. Pending the appropriate releases, we believe that communication and working collaboratively with treatment professionals help create a supportive environment that aids in the resident’s healing journey.

“The intake department at Sierra Tucson is extremely effective and efficient. I can usually expect an email response to our inquiries within 90 seconds from two separate intake specialists. They are quick to run verification of benefits, and great on the phone with our clients and their family members. If we ever want something done quickly, we know that Sierra Tucson is the first place to call.”
– From an outpatient professional group in Newport, CA


Alumna Shares Her Gratitude

Thank you so much to everyone at Sierra Tucson, especially my counselor, Phil Mitchell.

Since completing treatment, I have finished both of my masters’ degrees (MSW and MPH), have a job as a study coordinator and smoking cessation counselor, and have started yoga teacher training.

Let the journey continue – it truly is a miracle!

With unending gratitude,

Jessica W.
Philadelphia, PA

The Powerful Gift of Recovery as an Art Form

Scott Frazier, MSC

Scott Frazier, MSC

By Scott Frazier, MSC
Manager, Eating Recovery Services

Art is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination placed on any medium. The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) defines art therapy as an integrative mental health tool that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship. Art therapy effectively supports personal and relational treatment goals as well as community concerns. It is used to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change.

The use of art therapy—particularly mask-making—in a clinical setting can encourage self-exploration in a non-threatening way. I have used masks to help someone who is struggling with self-expression, suffering from depression, or experiencing a ‘freeze’ response when activated. Many residents at Sierra Tucson who are suffering from major depression and low self-esteem forget they have talents. They have placed themselves in social isolation and neglected to enjoy the things they learned in early childhood that supports creative expression.

Pablo Picasso once stated, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” There is nothing like being a clinician and helping a client gain insight into new cognitions for identifying strengths, talents, maladaptive behaviors, and coping strategies; setting new goals; and, ultimately, finding freedom. Art projects create a sense of self-reflection by allowing the individual to look at problems and then place his or her experiences onto an external medium. He or she is able to express and safely explore that which has been weighing him or her down, thus expanding his or her ability to function and express.

For one particular art project, I ask residents who are struggling with expression or depression to get a blank paper mask from our art supplies. I direct them to use art as a form of expression; on the front of the mask, they must depict how they present themselves to others through the use of drawings, symbols, and words. Next, they address the inside of the mask, depicting how they really feel or see themselves—especially in ways that differ from the front of the mask. I encourage them to get creative and have fun with the assignment. After completing the project, residents are asked to share how they interpret their own mask, including images, symbols, and words. This allows each participant to experience and identify his or her perceptions and feelings.

Oftentimes, residents entering Sierra Tucson have learned to change how they feel to protect themselves or manipulate their environment. It is common to see that both sides of the mask are different from one another, and the individual is encouraged to explore the symbolized mask. This is a great way for clinicians to gain insight into what is happening with the client both internally and externally. To unlock the ability to express oneself without going into a ‘freeze’ state opens the door for recovery from trauma or depression.

In one particular instance, a resident had a flat affect and refused to share information. She would disassociate anytime she felt unsafe. She had engaged in anorexia and alcohol—her metaphorical masks—as a means to control her environment and cope with the daily grind of life. As I established the initial rapport, she agreed to participate in the mask project and meet with me once more before giving up on treatment. I was amazed when she came in for the next session, as she had completed her art project immaculately. The outside of the mask was covered in dots, flowers, and green hair covering one eye; words surrounded the flowers and mouth, while only one word was placed near her green hair.

  • The words written around the flowers: motivated, honest, helpful, happy, friendly, loyal, trustworthy, connected, leader, love, and quiet.
  • The words written around the mouth: guarded and dedicated.
  • The word written near the green hair: stubborn.

As she presented her mask, she explained how the flowers represented behaviors that assured others she is OK. When she engaged in these behaviors, she felt like she could quiet down the critical voice from within. She began to tear up as she stated how much energy it takes to meet other people’s needs so she can feel good about herself.

Pointing to the word guarded, she then shared that she had experienced trauma, and how everything that left her mouth had to be evaluated so she could protect herself from harm. As she moved on to the last word—stubborn—she pointed to her own hair, which was green and partially shaven. She had a big smile on her face and said, “This is me! My hair represents that I am stubborn and won’t quit.” What a moment to see a person capture a positive viewpoint and be able to express herself where there was no voice before. As she sat with the emotions, she said, “I feel pride in not wanting to quit.” A magic transformation started to take place and motivation was then explored. She agreed not to give up on recovery and wanted to complete the inside of the mask.

Individuals gain personal insight through creativity and problem-solving. New ways of communicating allow for improved connection with others, and residents develop and rediscover talents and passions. The power of art as a form of self-expression is a gift that can aid in healing and recovery.

Celebrating Every Body: The Body Positive Movement in Action

Rachel Reid, RD

Rachel Reid, RD

In today’s world of Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Pinterest, photos of near-perfect bodies and flawless faces flood the social media scene. While many celebs and citizens alike are promoting a new approach to beauty known as the body positive movement, it’s easy to fall into the toxic trap of comparing ourselves to others. The good news is we’re making progress toward positivity and a healthy lifestyle. Rachel Reid, RD, a dietitian at Sierra Tucson, offers insight for men and women who are struggling with disordered eating patterns and poor body image.

Q: What are some ways in which individuals can celebrate their bodies?
RR: Daily positive affirmations are key. Give yourself compliments daily. Create a list of all the wonderful activities your body is capable of doing, and then read this list on a daily basis and add to it often. Those struggling with disordered eating can celebrate their bodies simply by giving themselves permission to eat foods they love and add a dose of fun to each day.

Q: How can we shift our focus from body hatred to being grateful for a healthy body?
RR: Give up the scales and the calorie-counting apps. You can honor your hunger by choosing foods that make you feel good. Focus on the flavors, textures, colors, and aromas of your food to promote a mindful eating experience. Celebrate your body by choosing exercises that bring you joy and pleasure. Remind yourself daily that your body is much more than its physical appearance, but an instrument to experience life’s adventures and a shell to your soul.

Q: How does Sierra Tucson promote body acceptance while staying mindful of a healthy meal plan and lifestyle?
RR: At Sierra Tucson, we do our best to avoid focusing on weight and numbers. We encourage our residents to focus on how their body feels, how much energy they have, and how well they are able to accomplish their daily tasks with adequate nutrition. We have a number of opportunities for residents to use their bodies in new and challenging ways such as our ropes course, rock climbing wall, equine therapy, yoga, and other practices that support body acceptance. Mindful movement is a therapeutic way to maintain a healthy lifestyle as well as improve mood and body image.

Q: What changes do you hope will transpire from the body positive movement?
RR: I hope the body positive movement will begin to counter the notion that our bodies are not good enough. I hope people begin to realize how beautiful and extraordinary their bodies really are. I hope we can disconnect our focus on appearance and turn our attention to health.

About Our Eating Recovery Services

Sierra Tucson’s Eating Recovery Services provide comprehensive treatment for individuals (18 years and over) struggling with disordered eating as a co-occurring condition. Residents benefit from our wide range of medical and clinical services that address disordered eating and simultaneously treat primary diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, trauma, chronic pain, or substance use disorder. For information, call our Admissions Coordinators at (800) 842-4487.

Body Healing Before Body Positivity


Jill Sena, MA, LAC, SEP

Summertime is often a trigger for individuals struggling with disordered eating patterns. Less clothing and barely-there bikinis can evoke anxiety and depression in those who suffer from maladaptive eating behaviors. We’re taking a more in-depth look at the societal movement toward ‘Body Positivity.’ Jill Sena, MA, LAC, SEP, a primary therapist at Sierra Tucson, offers insight on what it means to heal from disordered eating patterns, and how healing precedes a body-positive attitude.

Q: How does healing from disordered eating help with body positivity?
JS: Residents engaged in our Eating Recovery Services learn to listen to their body in healthy ways. They become aware of what their body needs and start listening to internal cues around what their body wants. They discover the importance of connecting with their body and begin to experience different aspects of their body that have been shut down for so long due to trauma. Individuals learn to let go of body hatred and direct that anger in appropriate places. This allows for the possibility of a body-positive attitude and treating the body as a vessel for healing. Residents come to understand that the body has many messages to communicate once they are ready to listen to its cues.

Q: How do Sierra Tucson’s Eating Recovery Services help those struggling with disordered eating patterns to heal holistically?
JS: Sierra Tucson’s Eating Recovery Services address the importance of healing the whole person – mind, body, and spirit. We focus on teaching residents how to make healthy food choices and taking care of their body in a healthy way. Residents engage in several modalities including Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, acupuncture, massage, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), mindfulness, and other alternative treatment methods. Additionally, residents develop their own sense of spirituality.

Q: What does recovery from disordered eating look like?
JS: Healing from disordered eating includes no longer eating (or restricting) to soothe emotions. Residents learn to eat when they are hungry and get in touch with body cues. This is a process that usually starts with a meal plan; the resident gradually begins to listen to his or her internal body cues. Long-term recovery means making a commitment to recognize emotional hunger versus physical hunger; having a new relationship with food and using it to feed the body, not emotions; and dealing with emotions in a healthy and effective manner.

Q: What are some tools to help individuals practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness?
JS: People can work on self-compassion by observing and noticing their inner critic and exploring if this critic helps or hurts them. Most people heal in a loving environment and not when they are surrounded by constant criticism, which puts them in a fight-or-flight state. The brain does the same when we criticize ourselves. The body cannot relax and is on hyper-alert no matter if it’s external or internal criticism. We are all worthy of self-forgiveness because we are all imperfect. Learning to love oneself in various ways, every day, can change old neural pathways. It is a challenge, but it can happen a little bit at a time.

About Our Eating Recovery Services

Sierra Tucson’s Eating Recovery Services provide comprehensive treatment for individuals (18 years and over) struggling with disordered eating as a co-occurring condition. Residents benefit from our wide range of medical and clinical services that address disordered eating and simultaneously treat primary diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, trauma, chronic pain, or substance use disorder. For more information, call our Admissions Coordinators at (800) 842-4487.

A New Path to Healing: Refuge Recovery


Sandra Guilfoyle, MS, LPC, NCC

By Sandra Guilfoyle, MS, LPC, NCC
Primary Therapist

Over the last nine years working with clients with substance use issues, I kept hearing over and over, “I don’t like the 12 Steps. I don’t have a Higher Power, it doesn’t make sense.” Once a client made up his or her mind that he or she would not be involved with the 12 Steps, the options grew very limited for other types of recovery tools. I could relate to an extent and recalled from my own early recovery how meditation saved my life. I began teaching mindfulness and meditation to help clients connect with themselves and learn tools like compassion, forgiveness, generosity, and service to others.

A few years ago, I heard about a Buddhist teacher named Noah Levine, a former addict and punk rocker adorned with tattoos who teaches meditation to addicts based on the Buddhist teachings of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. I was curious and wanted to find out more; I bought his book, “Refuge Recovery.”

Refuge Recovery is a practice, a process, a set of tools, and a path to healing addiction and the suffering caused by addiction. The main inspiration and guiding philosophy for the Refuge Recovery program are the teachings of Siddhartha (Sid) Gautama, a man who lived in India twenty-five hundred years ago. Sid was a radical psychologist and a spiritual revolutionary. Through his own efforts and practices, he sought to understand why human beings experience suffering. He referred to the root cause of suffering as “uncontrollable thirst or repetitive craving.” Sid came to understand and experience a way of living that ended all forms of suffering through a practice and process that includes meditation, wise actions, and compassion. After freeing himself from the suffering caused by craving, Sid spent the rest of his life teaching others how to live a life of well-being and freedom, a life free from suffering.

Refuge Recovery focuses on continuing Sid’s work, allowing the opportunity to connect with oneself and practice healthy behaviors of service, mindfulness, and compassion to others while using meditation, generosity, forgiveness, and peace to stay sober.

Sierra Tucson offers weekly Refuge Recovery meetings for all residents, as suffering can be related to addiction, mood, trauma, disordered eating, and chronic pain. A typical meeting opens with introductions, the Refuge Recovery preamble, a short meditation, and readings from the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path, followed by a discussion of how and what action can help us accept and move toward having more awareness, building a community, and finding support for healing.

About Sandra Guilfoyle, MS, LPC, NBCC
Sandra Guilfoyle’s experience in substance abuse began at age 15 when she started attending Alateen—and later Al-Anon—to learn coping skills around family members using substances. After a successful career in the symphony orchestra field for 15 years, she received her Master of Science in Clinical Counseling from the University of Phoenix, Tucson Campus. Sandra went on to community mental health, where she treated a broad range of mental health disorders, deepening her understanding of multifaceted needs of clients. She went on to work at the Tucson Center for Psychotherapy and then moved to Ohio for family reasons. She holds a Licensed Professional Counselor license in Ohio, where she had a private practice specializing in substance abuse, LGBTQ, adolescents, and women’s issues. She also worked at Legacy Freedom Treatment Center, a holistic 90-day intensive outpatient program. She uses an integrated and holistic approach in her work, drawing from mindfulness, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), person-centered therapy (PCT), transpersonal psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and family systems theory, as well as her personal study of meditation. Sandra believes in a person’s innate ability to grow, transform, and heal when he/she has the tools and feels safe to explore the deepest parts of himself/herself.

Body Beautiful: Finding Authentic Beauty in Self-Acceptance

Emme hi rez Shin Kishima

Supermodel Emme

Known for her advocacy work in creating a more body-positive society, supermodel Emme has made it her mission to incite a cultural shift in the status quo. Her 2016 #BodyBeaUtiful project, co-sponsored by Sierra Tucson and Timberline Knolls, featured videos and messages of individuals who shared their personal stories and joined the #BodyBeaUtiful conversation. We started our own conversation with Emme about this monumental movement from body dissatisfaction to body acceptance. Here’s what the TV personality, author, brand spokesperson, motivational speaker, lecturer, and, most important, mother, had to say:

Q: What does it mean to accept your body just as you are?
Emme: We accept our bodies just as they are when we desperately want to stop negative self-talk and find relief from body bashing. By giving in to a healthy change, we are finally able to accept who we are at any given minute, day, or moment. By learning new tools of communication – consciously forgiving family members, friends, and those to whom we are connected for the negative body culture they may portray – we then accept complete responsibility for ourselves and our feelings, regardless of what others may feel, say, or do. Ultimately, we set ourselves free.

Q: How can you change your mindset from shaming your body to loving your body?
Emme: Like training a family pet, we need to train ourselves to unlearn that which has been ingrained in our minds of how an individual must look, act, and project himself or herself to the world. Additionally, to further shape-shift our thinking, brushing up on the facts about our bodies and ourselves is helpful to solidifying what we think and how we feel the next time we look in the mirror or comments are made about our physical appearance. For instance:

  1. Educate yourself on the three natural body types: ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph. Determine which one your body naturally gravitates toward and embrace it, allow it to be, and honor it.
  2. Learn about myths around health and fitness. For example, an article in The New York Times, written by exercise scientist and researcher Steven Blair, set the record straight that being thin does not equate to being healthy or physically fit. Good health and fitness come in all shapes, sizes, and weights.
  3. Begin to speak and think positively about yourself. I write on all my mirrors (and you can, too, with grease pens) affirmations such as: “You rock,” “I love you,” “Slay, sister, slay!” “Go there and be your bad self” and “You are BEAUTIFUL.” Each time I walk by, those encouraging words are staring me in the face time and again. Self-care starts with you and me! Creating positive self-talk will change your mindset gradually by being surrounded by positive words and sayings, as well as choosing friends who lift you up just the same.

Q: What does the term Body BeaUtiful mean to you?
Emme: Body BeaUtiful means being the you that you were created to be, not living as someone else or trying to attain someone else’s body. To be real, genuine, unique, bold, special, and divine, at all costs. Naturally.

About Our Eating Recovery Services

Sierra Tucson’s Eating Recovery Services provide comprehensive treatment for individuals (18 years and over) struggling with disordered eating as a co-occurring condition. Residents benefit from our wide range of medical and clinical services that address disordered eating and simultaneously treat primary diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, trauma, chronic pain, or substance use disorder. For more information, call our Admissions Coordinators at (800) 842-4487.

Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder

Kimberly Peters

Kimberly Peters, MSSW, LCSW

By Kimberly Peters, MSSW, LCSW
DBT Therapist, Sierra Tucson

I still remember my first encounter with someone living with borderline personality disorder; I was in graduate school working as part of an assessment team for a closed psychiatric unit. As we were about to walk in to meet with the patient, my mentor looked at the chart and said, “Oh, she’s borderline.” The interesting thing about this experience is that years later, I don’t remember the assessment or the patient, but what I do remember is my mentor’s dismissive tone of voice and the negative stigma associated with the diagnosis.

For years, borderline personality disorder (BPD) and manipulation were synonymous in the mental health community. With growing research and training, we now understand that people with BPD are simply doing what they know works to get their needs met. When we look at someone with symptoms of BPD, what we often find is someone who was born acutely sensitive to his or her surroundings; perhaps this was a baby that took longer to soothe after becoming activated. If this child is raised in an environment that is validating and helps him or her learn to soothe appropriately, then the child learns how to advocate for him or herself using healthy copying mechanisms. However, if this child is raised in an invalidating environment, often including a trauma, then he or she learns maladaptive coping mechanisms in order to get his or her needs met. As long as these maladaptive coping mechanisms are working, the child will continue this behavior. Moreover, these maladaptive coping mechanisms can, and often do, continue into adulthood.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) targets maladaptive behaviors on four fronts: mindfulness, emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance. DBT skills address identity confusion, feelings of emptiness, cognitive deregulation, interpersonal chaos, fears of abandonment, labile affect, excessive anger, impulsive behaviors, suicidal threats, and parasuicide.

While not every resident that comes to Sierra Tucson is in recovery for borderline personality disorder, many are struggling with how to appropriately manage emotions, foster relationships with others, and cope with life’s stressors in healthy ways. Since Marsha M. Linehan, PhD, ABPP, developed DBT in the late 1980s, not only has it been proven effective for people with BPD, but it has also been effective for individuals that are struggling with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction, and eating disorders. I personally believe that DBT can be beneficial for anyone regardless of whether or not they have a diagnosis. After all, the goal of DBT is to have a life worth living. Who doesn’t want that?

At Sierra Tucson, DBT skills groups are a part of each individual treatment plan. Our DBT groups are led by trained DBT therapists. Individual DBT appointments may also be added to a resident’s treatment plan per the treatment team or resident’s request. We believe that a life worth living is possible, and we teach our residents how to achieve that.

For more information about Sierra Tucson’s comprehensive residential programs, please call our Admissions Coordinators at (800) 842-4487.

Body Positivity: Celebrating every body and the person within

Scott Frazier, MSC Manager of Sierra Tucson's Eating Recovery Services

Scott Frazier, MSC
Manager of Sierra Tucson’s Eating Recovery Services

Body Positivity. Two buzzwords and a very hot topic in today’s society. But what does it really mean, and how do premier treatment centers like Sierra Tucson incorporate this concept into their therapeutic milieu? Scott Frazier, MSC, manager of Sierra Tucson’s Eating Recovery Services, explains.

Q: What is Sierra Tucson’s stance on body positivity?
SF: At Sierra Tucson, we teach residents to be loving and kind to their bodies. Many residents need to make amends to their bodies, treating them with love and respect. We challenge body-hatred talk by helping individuals explore a healthy approach toward a body-positive attitude.

Residents start to develop a new pathway of love and acceptance. This pathway increases the more they focus on what they like about their bodies. We encourage residents to think about self-love and offer ways in which to show compassion toward self. Residents get in touch with new body sensations and learn how to love and be connected with their bodies. Self-love and how one views self is a highly important piece that builds the foundation of being in touch with one’s body. It also reinforces the idea that when an individual treats his or her body well, positive feelings ensue. Truly, body positivity is vital to a person’s emotional wellbeing.

Q: How do Sierra Tucson’s Eating Recovery Services contribute to the message of body positivity?
SF: Sierra Tucson believes that disordered eating exists in tandem with one or multiple other disorders, including depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, trauma, or chronic pain. Our Eating Recovery Services place emphasis on the idea that the body is sacred and must to be treated with care. In other words, it mustn’t be starved or stuffed full of food. As part of their treatment, we help residents find a meal plan that works for them and nourishes their bodies in a healthy manner.

Residents can start practicing self-care by replacing disordered eating behaviors with healthy new behaviors. Somatic Experiencing® helps a person understand how the body responds to trauma or anxiety and how he or she has turned to unhealthy coping skills. Yoga helps one to understand the sensations of the body and how his or her body is something to be enjoyed. Support groups with an emphasis on body expression help residents understand that expression versus restriction leads to body positivity. Sierra Tucson’s Therapeutic & Recreational Activities Program help individuals understand that creating and overcoming vulnerability within the body leads to a stronger, more empowered view of the body. Residents experience what it’s like to stop engaging in disordered eating patterns during their time at Sierra Tucson. Consequently, they feel a sense of pride in what they’ve accomplished and have faith that they can continue with long-term recovery outside of treatment.

We have seen dramatic improvements and witnessed residents reach goals and make momentous strides after completing treatment at Sierra Tucson. Our integrative approach “care-fronts” the way one looks and feels about his or her body and integrates evidence-based practices to fully address the trauma, addiction, and/or mood issues that are the root cause of disordered eating behaviors.

Q: What are some tools that professionals can offer their clients to promote body positivity in their own practice?
1.    Learn to challenge negative body talk in an encouraging way
2.    Align yourself with the healthy aspects of your client
3.    Encourage your client to use his/her body by participating in pleasurable, non-addictive activities
4.    Recommend reputable books about how to heal from disordered eating behaviors
5.    Help your client start to feel and embrace new sensations in his/her body
6.    Help your client treat his/her body as a vessel to his/her soul

For more information about Sierra Tucson’s comprehensive residential programs, please call our Admissions Coordinators at (800) 842-4487.

Empty Nest Syndrome: Healthy tips for re-fluffing your feathers

Chief Operations Officer Jaime Vinck, MC, LPC, NCC, CEIP If your last child is getting ready to leave the nest, or he or she has already moved out, you might find yourself at a crossroads of emotions. Empty nest syndrome doesn’t affect every parent; one parent might endure a sense of loss while the other might find an empty house liberating.

It’s common for parents to feel emotionally unprepared when their child leaves the home, having regrets about missed opportunities in his or her life, feeling vulnerable without other things to focus on, or experiencing grief and mourning. Although not a clinical diagnosis, this condition affects the quality of life of the person who is battling it, as well as those closest to him or her.

Do you find yourself thinking or worrying about empty nest syndrome? Sierra Tucson’s Chief Operations Officer Jaime Vinck, MC, LPC, NCC, CEIP, sheds light on why men and women experience empty nest syndrome and what can done about it.

Q: What is empty nest syndrome?

JV: Empty nest syndrome is a normal developmental experience where children leave their family home for college, marriage, career, etc. This often becomes a challenge for couples, as they must redefine their relationship in ways other than as parents or reproducers. For many people, this also occurs when their parents are ill or dying, thus creating another void in the nest.

The nest often empties at the same time that careers have maxed out and retirement becomes a reality. This creates a need for another redefinition of self, and could mean a change in lifestyle, the selling of a family home, and a tightening of the belt financially.

Q: How does one overcome empty nest syndrome?

JV: I prefer to think of re-feathering a nest rather than it being empty. This season of life is about celebrating accomplishments of one’s past and accepting his or her adult children as they become their own independent beings. Nests can be re-feathered with a spousal relationship that does not revolve around the rearing of children. It’s also a time for enriched relationships with siblings, friends, and colleagues (running out the door every night at 5 p.m. for a soccer game is a thing of the past). It can also be a time for new passions, dusting off an old hobby, and self-care.

Taking care of yourself is essential when re-feathering your nest. This includes keeping up with your physical and mental health. This can be as simple as making all of your dental and vision appointments to taking up yoga, meditating, and journaling. Time is another important element of the re-feathered nest. While you find more time on your hands, use it wisely and celebrate the present rather than longing for what once was.

Q: Why is it important to redefine ourselves?

JV: I like to think of it as becoming reconnected with oneself beyond the role of spouse and parent. Depression often kicks in because the empty nest triggers a loss of identity and the feeling of being needed. Take this as an opportunity to do something you’ve always wanted to do, whether it’s going back to college, getting back into the workforce, or taking those archery classes you never had time for. Volunteering is also a great outlet that allows you to continue caring for others in a way that is interesting, fulfilling, and familiar.

This season of life should be a time to embrace who you are and to celebrate the wisdom that has been gained. Learn to enjoy your new surroundings and newfound self, knowing that you have earned this stage in life through decades of selfless efforts.

A Smoother Road to Eating Recovery

Alisa Fliss

Alisa Fliss, EdS, MBA

Sierra Tucson’s Evolved Approach to Disordered Eating
by Alisa Fliss, EdS, MBA
Director of Business Development, Acadia Healthcare – Recovery Division

Recently, I received an invitation to a conference call to learn about the latest updates on Sierra Tucson’s Eating Recovery Program. I have to admit, this was a conference call to which I looked forward. There’s a real need in our communities for programs like that of Sierra Tucson’s, a treatment center that truly treats the entire individual using an integrated approach and addresses the underlying issues alongside the behaviors. During the call, it was announced that, from now on, Sierra Tucson will treat disordered eating as a co-occurring condition to primary diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, trauma, chronic pain, or substance use disorder.

At first, I was somewhat perplexed. I took the weekend to reflect on these changes, and it brought me back to my early years in recovery from anorexia and bulimia. I thought about my own treatment experience, and my mindset started to shift. I thought about what my recovery might have looked like had I, after multiple times in treatment, received help to address the underlying issues as the primary focus of my work, while concomitantly receiving the support needed for my eating disorder. I wondered, “Could this be what the eating disorder treatment industry has been missing all along?”

Let’s face it: I was an expert on food before treatment, and I was an expert on food after treatment. I knew what I needed to do, but I did what my disordered self wanted to do. Subsequently, every inpatient or residential stay for my eating disorder was spent with the majority of those weeks learning how to eat all over again, every time. I’m not saying that I didn’t need structure and to regain a normal state of nutritional and behavioral equilibrium, but did I need to return to the basics? I couldn’t help but wonder.

Given I had the unique experience of having one of my final eating disorder treatments chronicled in an HBO documentary, I could very well say that most people with whom I have a relationship know my story. Unfortunately, though, even the documentary focused predominantly on weight and food, food and weight, and the maladaptive behaviors that I used to lose weight. That’s not actually my story though, and today I am proud to say that. My story is so much richer and goes far deeper than the behaviors. To understand the disorder, wouldn’t one need to know the back story?

What most people don’t know, and what I’ve very rarely acknowledged or disclosed even to those who know me, is that my eating disorder was how I managed, or mismanaged, and suppressed my depression, anxiety, and trauma. Most people have heard me say, “I’m in recovery from an eating disorder.” Nevertheless, I don’t know that I’ve ever said out loud that I have battled with depression and anxiety, and that I am a trauma survivor, probably because most of my residential therapeutic work was around the disordered eating behaviors, symptom stabilization, and body image work.

I’ve been in recovery for 13 years now. Early on, I had an encounter with someone who was still struggling with her eating disorder, and she asked me what recovery felt like. I paused for a moment and tried to put feelings into words – feelings that, at the age of 30, I was just realizing were actual sensations in the body and not just thoughts and ideas. I remember responding to her question, “It’s awful, grueling, painful, anxiety-provoking, miserable, and depressing!”

She then asked, “So why in the world do you do it?”

I confidently stated, “Because all of the pain, anxiety, and misery are still so much better than the nothing I felt when I was active in my disorder.” I also remember saying, “I don’t starve myself anymore, nor do I binge and purge, but I still get anxious over having to pay bills, among many other things. I still get nervous in certain situations, and I still go into avoidance mode when I get too overwhelmed, and…” the list goes on.

The road to recovery was very bumpy, but I’m not so sure it needed to be. For someone like me, who knew “how” to eat, was a program with a primary eating disorder focus necessary the second, third, or fourth time around? Had I known there were primary programs for mood, anxiety, trauma, and/or PTSD, where I could focus on the underlying issues while still receiving the necessary support for recovery from my eating disorder, would I have learned to deal with the uncomfortable emotions and core issues? Maybe the road to recovery would not have been so riddled with pitfalls.

Sierra Tucson gets my stamp of approval! As a clinical community, it’s time to evaluate what clients need at any given time in their process. For one individual, stabilization and medical intervention may be required, in which Sierra Tucson might not be appropriate; but for another, time might be needed to figure out how to live a healthy life in a world filled with fears, stressors, triggers, flashbacks, feelings of depression, and, let’s not forget, those who trade their eating disorder for other addictions whenever the going gets tough.

As the director of business development for Acadia Healthcare – Recovery Division, I work with professionals to match treatment and recovery programs that are right for their clients/patients. Our team of treatment placement specialists (TPS) is an important link in the recovery chain. Every TPS must fully understand what makes each facility and its offerings unique. These dynamic professionals come from a diverse collection of healthcare backgrounds and individual experiences in behavioral health treatment that allow them to guide individuals in finding the most comprehensive help available. As such, it takes more than just education for us to be effective. It takes a special kind of expertise and compassion that serve as a true resource for professionals and their clients/patients.

There is hope, and Sierra Tucson, with its evolved and comprehensive approach to disordered eating treatment, is here to help. If you, your loved one, or your client/patient continues to struggle and is ready to address the underlying issues that keep him or her stuck in the cycle of disordered eating, call (800) 842-4487 to speak with an Admissions Coordinator, or find your local treatment placement specialist (TPS) by visiting