The Ethics of Self-Care for Healers

Recovery Unscripted banner image for episode 98

Episode #98 | July 11, 2019

Featured Guest: Katie Myers

In a non-stop rat race world, how can behavioral healthcare managers create a culture of self-care for the caregivers on their team?

I’m David Condos and we’ll dive into this with Talbott Recovery CEO Katie Myers on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.

Podcast Transcript

Interviewer: I’m here with Katie Myers. Thank you so much for being with us.

Katie: Thank you so much for having me. This is so fun.

Interviewer: Absolutely. Tell us a little bit about your story, your background, how you got into this world.

Katie: Sure. I am a social worker by trade. I’m in education. Basically, the field chose me, I did not choose this field. My first job out of grad school was working with adolescents who had basically gotten busted for pot or alcohol at a party. They came to after school program. I love that work only moved away from that because my husband had a job in Atlanta and so because I’m a social worker, I can work anywhere and so we picked up and moved–

Interviewer: Where were you previously?

Katie: At Lexington, Kentucky. We both went to grad school in Lexington. My first job out of school was the Ridge Behavioral Health which is a UHS hospital. I’ve been with you UHS since 2008. He got hired on the Turner Broadcasting and so the great opportunity for him. I was super sad to leave Lexington, but everything happens for a reason.

I landed at Talbott in 2009. Family Therapists love working with families. My specialty was young adult to families really helping parents navigate helping their young adult or emerging adult launch. For so many families navigating both addiction but also everything that comes along with it like the enabling, codependency, the fear, the shame, that was my favorite part of the work. Then obviously seeing a young adult change their lives around and have an opportunity to do something very different and rewrite their story in a very different way in a very young age.

Interviewer: They still have so much time in front of them.

Katie: So much and we would have older patients and older could be even 35 looking at their 18-year-old and saying, “Man, I wish I had gotten through recovery when I was your age.” It’s very powerful. I did family therapy for five years. 2014, left Talbott for a little bit to go do startup work with another company. Really valuable experience, but it showed me that I wanted to get back to Talbot. The grass is greener on the other side type thing. Then you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

The clinical director position came open in 2017. I went for it and got it. I mentioned before when I got that job, I was like, “I have arrived.” That was the goal. That’s been the goal really since 2009 when I started at Talbott I was like, “That’s what I want to do. That’s what I want to be.”

Then in 2018, our CEO left and I found myself in a position of really doing a lot of those things and then saying, “I want this.” I transition from a clinical role to administrative role. I’m the luckiest girl in the world. I get to work at a facility that I believe deeply in. I get to do a very important work with creating a leadership team and guiding our team to just continue to create the very best treatment that we can provide.

I have the luxury and the benefit of being on the front lines for so long and knowing that part of the industry but now also seeing the other side. That’s my story.

Interviewer: Cool. I don’t think we’ve covered Talbott on the podcast before. Just give us a brief overview because I know you guys have some specialties in the history.

Katie: We do. Talbott was created to help the helper. Impaired physicians back when Dr. Talbott first created Talbot Recovery Campus, they didn’t have a place to go where they could be amongst their peers. As a physician himself, he found himself hitting rock bottom very hard and made a promise to himself that when he got sober, he was going to create a safe space for other doctors to go, other impaired professionals to go where they could be amongst their peers and have a safe space without the shame and the stigma.

That was so, so heavy. We’re working so hard today to continue to get rid of that and to lessen that. Back then, in the early ’80s, it was terrible. He created Talbott Recovery Campus to help heal the healer. That’s what specialty is, to provide a safe healing space for impaired professionals. We really branched out with, not only just physicians, medical professionals, including nurses, but also attorneys, lawyers, and pilots. People who have safety-sensitive positions, you want your pilot to be very sober and you want your cardiologist to be very sober.

We have to confront some of the things that those individuals come to the table with including a good dose of narcissism. Again, I want my pilot to be incredibly narcissistic. I need for him to own, that he’s going to fly this massive machine and get me to where I need to be safely. That narcissism, that character quality that has served him or her well and flying that plane does not serve him or her well in recovery. We confront a lot of those personality traits that those individuals come to the table with. It’s just very empowering to have over half of our current population be a professional that you get to come in and be amongst your peers, people who get you, people who understand. In a nutshell, impaired professions. Then we have a really awesome young adult program. It’s pretty good stuff.

Interviewer: Great. Here at the conference, you’re giving a presentation on the ethics of self-care. That sounds especially applicable because you’re dealing with all of these, high level, physicians, people who maybe have been focused on their career and have been neglecting that. That’s across the board in this industry as well, applicable. Start by describing the landscape right now and we’ll start specifically in health care, related to self-care and are people even doing it?

Katie: Sure. It’s interesting that I have a slide in my presentation tomorrow that shows some statistics about if you ask a roomful of anybody about what their self-care looks like, you’ll get every excuse under the sun and people will say, “Well, I really could do better with that, but I don’t because I’m a single mom and I’ve got kids and I’ve got two jobs and I’ve got a sick loved one,” just all the reasons. I don’t want to say excuses because those things are real. Those are real barriers.

You have all these reasons about why we can’t take care of ourselves or why we’re not taking care of ourselves. Then you get a room full of healthcare professionals. In this case, it’s a room full of social workers and you will have the exact same response. The difference is social workers, healthcare providers, we’ve been trained to know better, and yet we do not put it into practice. It’s like do as I say, not as I do. I’ll do a little self-disclosure here in my own therapy journey.

I will have these breakthroughs with my therapists and then I will go to work especially when I was working in the front lines and doing therapy, and I will have these breakthroughs with my patients. I would come back and I’d be like, “You’re not going to believe what I’m seeing and experiencing in my professional life.” My therapist said to me, she was like, “Do you see the parallel process? Do you see the connection that when you do the work, you are able to model so many of the behaviors that you’re trying to teach your client or your patient about? When you’re just sitting back and being a talking head, people don’t connect with that. When you are doing the work, even if you’re not talking about it, they can see something different in you and they’re attracted to that and you empower them to say, “Wow, she’s doing it, I can do it too.”

Marion Williamson’s quote in her poem, when I let my light shine, I empower all of you to do the same. It’s really that parallel process that goes along with when we in healthcare are doing the work. Again, like I said, it’s not even talking about it. There’s just something about you can see it, you can feel it. The people around you gravitate to that. Then they want to do the same. It’s a program of attraction, not promotion. We are attracted to those qualities in people.

When you have those social workers who are saying, “I can’t do it because I worked 40 hours of overtime last week and my caseload is so acute and I just can’t do any more than I’m already doing.” No, that’s the reason why you have to do the self-care. That’s the reason you can’t afford not to. The ethical piece that I draw into it, especially for those of us in the clinical world, whether it’s social workers, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, whomever, we all have codes of ethics.

It’s very interesting to start to do the research a couple of years ago on this and I found out I had not read. I admit I had never read all of my code of ethics for social work. I don’t know if you want to publish that. As I was reading through it, I was like, “Oh my gosh, there’s an actual section in here that says, it is your ethical obligation to be taking care of yourself.” I have several slides that show the language.

In essence, this is not a luxury, this is a choice that you get to say, “Well, I’m going to choose to drive this car versus that car.” No, you must. It is your ethical obligation to take care of yourself because of the safety-sensitive nature of what we do every day. We hold people in the palms of our hands on their most vulnerable day. When patients come into Talbot, – I train my staff around this – you are witnessing something so vulnerable then it almost becomes this, I call it a holy experience, that most of us when you are having the worst day of your life, you are doing it in the confines of your home, you have the shutters drawn, you are by yourself and you do not let a lot of people in that. When somebody walks into treatment, they have just opened the blinds and are letting people see. That is such an honor and such a responsibility. For us to be operating out of this sense of like, “Oh, I don’t need to take care of myself, I don’t need to do therapy around that, I don’t need to go to meetings, I don’t need to blah, blah, blah. No, you must because when you hold that person in the palm of your hands that day, they are relying on you and they’re basically trusting their lives with you.

We must take it so seriously the work that we have to do in order to show up every single day and be the very best that we can be because the broken soul that has come and that we have the honor of walking in that path with them on that day, there’s nothing that I take more seriously.

Yes, the ethics of self-care is so much bigger than, “You should really get a massage.” Maybe that’s your former self-care, but it’s so much bigger than that, and we have to internalize that.

Interviewer: Yes, right. Because like you said, it’ll trickle down whether you want it to or not, and that can be in a good way like you were explaining when you were doing your own therapy. That can trickle down in a good way or work and trickle down into that way, and that’s part of the responsibility part.

Katie: Absolutely.

Interviewer: Right. With all of this, like you said, it was in your code of ethics. People in the health care field should know better. In your view, why is there such rampant neglect? Why do people think this is not important.

Katie: There are several areas and it’s very individualized. For some people, and I talk about this a little bit in my lecture or my presentation of ego. Ego is big in our field. When you have somebody who has been a part of– I’m talking about the miracle of recovery and the lifesaving, I call my staff heroes, real-life living today heroes. When you hear that enough, you get a little bit of an ego boost. It feels good to hear that. It feels like, “Wow, I’m really doing some amazing work. This is really good.” We start to shift away from the humility of, “I get to do this work, and I just was the lucky soul that got to cross paths with you on this particular day.”

Interviewer: Fortunate to be in a position where somebody helped you back along your journey to get there.

Katie: Absolutely. Yes. We get a little bit of this ego of, “Well, if I’m not here, then how are they going to get the help that they need?” I actually had a conversation with somebody that hadn’t take a vacation in eight years, and there was this element of because if he wasn’t there, then none of the work would get done. Wow. That’s just not the case. It comes back to the spiritual tenants of our program which is it’s not anything that I’m doing, Katie. It’s that God is using me in this moment, and I just happen to be the vessel or the tool that’s being used. If I wasn’t there it would be you or it would be my clinical director or it’d be somebody else. It’s really taking the ego out of, “Wait, if I’m not there everything will fall apart and if I’m not there, then they’re not going to get what they need.”

Interviewer: They’re just feeling that control like you have to be in there.

Katie: It’s control and it’s ego and it’s not allowing you to trust the process that things are going to go and whatever way it’s supposed to go, that your higher power, the God of your understanding is going to lead it in that direction. That’s one aspect of it.

Another aspect is there’s also the other side of it which is “I don’t deserve to take time.” I joke around that. When I became a social worker I made a deal with myself that I’m going to be a social worker that makes $35,000 a year for the rest of my life. I didn’t sign up for social work to be rich and famous. It’s like that was all I was worth was I do this work I do this really, really hard work, I don’t get paid a lot to do it, but that’s not why I do it anyway.

That can creep into the equation of victimness or a martyrdom, “Well, I have to say yes to that because if I don’t then I’m not worthy to do what I’m here to do.” I’m trying to think of a different way to say it.

Victimhood and martyrdom is big in our field. I have to say yes to that or my boss won’t like me. There’s also a huge element of people-pleasing in our field and that’s where we get a lot of our validation. When a patient does good, we feel good. When a patient does bad, we feel bad. That’s codependence, up one side and down the other. I teach my team that we really have to detach from the outcome of things because if we take credit for when they do good, then we have to take credit for when they do bad. Boy, does that put us on a wicked rollercoaster.

Interviewer: That is not under your control completely anyway.

Katie: No, it’s not under our control at all. We can provide the skills and the tools and the resources. If somebody doesn’t pick them up, that doesn’t mean that what we provided was bad. We have to get away from this sense of I don’t deserve to take the time off. If I’m not here working 80 hours a week, then I’ve not proved my worth in the field. My client needs me. Now your client needs you to learn how to set good boundaries and be healthy so they can learn to do the same. Again, it’s that modeling.

If you had 100 people in this room and they describe what they did or didn’t do for their self-care, you would find a hundred reasons why they don’t do it. The biggest piece is finding out what is going on within you. What is the narrative that you have, what is the story that you tell yourself and then just like we teach our patients to rewrite their story, we are constantly rewriting our story. We have to be engaged in our own parallel process otherwise dead in the water. We’re no good to anybody, and then we experience burnout. We experience compassion fatigue, we experience vicarious trauma.

Anybody who’s ever worked with somebody who has been through combat or has been in war, a war veteran, when you hear what they are sharing with you, if you do not have your own good self-care practices, you will take that on and experience vicarious trauma, secondary trauma. That means that you begin to live and you begin to take on emotionally what that person presented to you.

Again, you’re dead in the water. You’ve got to find a way to healthily experience what that is, align with your person while you are there in session and then go to therapy yourself to let go and unload.

Interviewer: Yes. I want to get into some of these, so you covered that vicarious trauma. You mentioned burnout, compassion fatigue. Because these are all elements of this whole conversation, could you compare and contrast what those are and what may be some tips are for that?

Katie: Sure. The element of burnout and burnout is tough because we use the word burnout and it’s like a spectrum. Some forms of burnout depending on who you talk to, somebody might say, ‘’Wow I’m just feeling really burned out.’’ What that means is that they’re tired.

Burnout, in essence though, is when you have reached the threshold of oversaturation of what it is that you’re doing in the field and you run the risk of doing harm. I am burned out. I no longer can look at my client and see that they have self-worth. When my clients come in, now I’m just like another addict. Another person who says they’re going to do what they’re not going to do, they’re never going to do it because been in this field for 12 years 15 years and it’s always the same story. It’s when you lose your compassion, it’s when you lose your ability to see them as individuals and everything becomes the same.

That really does create this pathway for you to do harm because you are not thinking compassionately. You’re not thinking critically. You’re not thinking in a way that’s going to guide them in a path or on their journey to get better. You fall into the same trap of I’m too tired, I’m too exhausted, I have too many notes to write and that’s the story for any clinician is we get bogged down in paperwork. We can’t focus on those pieces that are the most critical pieces of our work because we’re burned out, we do harm. Burnout, it’s a spectrum. It’s a very wide spectrum.

Interviewer: What’s the solution? Is it recognizing it or what’s the step?

Katie: The solution is honesty which, for me, in my own journey of recovery is I can only do that when I am allowing myself to be vulnerable with another human being whether that’s my therapist, whether that’s my meeting, whether that’s my interaction with a good friend to be able to say because as soon as I get God complex, I’m like, “No, I can do it,” and/or I get the ego boost of somebody saying, “I don’t know how you do it. You do so much.”

I’ll tell you, that’s not a compliment. It’s a warning sign masked as a compliment. Whenever I hear that my ego gets puffed up and I’m like, “Yes, I really do do a lot. I’m crushing it. Yes.” I have to take quick inventory of myself and say, “Wait a second. Either I’m presenting in a way that’s making people think that I’m doing way more than I’m actually doing, or I’m dancing very close to the line of potentially self-harming myself or others.” How do I do it or how do I function on so little sleep and I’m a part of so many different things? I am successful in x amount of areas and that’s what our doctors and our attorneys and our nurses and our pilots experience every single day. They get that dose of–

Interviewer: That’s what’s rewarded in those professions.

Katie: It’s backward, it is our culture, it’s our society of go, go, go. Achieve, achieve, achieve, and if you’re not doing all of that stuff, then what the heck are you doing? What I’d like to say is, well, I’m living in some sanity, that’s what I’m doing.

When I look, and sometimes feel, and I use air quotes around the word lazy, that’s the healthiest place I am. Is when I look potentially lazy to other people when I say, “No, I’m not going to go to that function. Thank you so much for the invitation, but I actually what I need to do is just spend some alone time journaling.” “You’re not going to go to that event, you’re going to stay home and journal? Can’t you journal later?”

Actually, no because later I’m sleeping. That’s so counterculture that we’ve got to get rogue in the way that we approach this topic, in the way that we approach the interactions with others that we can say without feeling that shame of, “Oh my gosh, I’m not doing enough.”

You’re right you’re doing all of these things and I should be doing all of these things. No, what I’m doing is self-care in the form of saying no, in the form of I don’t have to grasp for all these opportunities because there will be other opportunities. It’s also FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out.

It’ll be interesting to see how this next generation comes up in– Because millennials and Gen Xers and the disparity and how we look at one another. I think we’re going to learn a lot about what it looks like to take care of ourselves in a healthy way. Unfortunately, I think how we’re going to come upon that information is by the fallout and the consequences of not taking care of ourselves and so we see that in addiction.

I first started drinking or using different substances to help me feel better because I couldn’t cope with how much was going on in my life. Self-medication and a coping mechanism. Well, that worked maybe for a brief period of time, it was a survival mechanism that served me well for a minute, until it didn’t serve me well.

Then we find, okay, I’m going to probably experience a good amount of pain before I realize I need to do something differently, and pain is a great motivator. That’s what we see with people in our center every single day is they rarely come to us. Getting off that we talked about the elevator of hitting bottom and you get off the elevator at any floor. A lot of people don’t get off the elevator until they reach the bottom floor and that’s because the pain wasn’t enough of a motivator. I felt like I could do it. Again, ego. I felt like I could continue to do it. I’m really smart, I’m really capable and really successful. Yet those are the things that will be my downfall if I don’t keep it in check. I’m not sure if I answered the question.

Interviewer: Yes. I think what you’re getting at is that’s the same trajectory that it can be with burnout is like you just keep going, keep going, keep going, and you don’t realize how bad it is until you reach that bottom.

Katie: Exactly

Interviewer: Then compassion fatigue, how is that different? How does that play out?

Katie: I see this a lot in my clinicians around some codependency and the compassion fatigue of all day long. We use family therapy, for example. When I was a family therapist I would often have five appointments a day because there were other things that were in my day and I would need to take breaks and schedule things. I also made a rule that I would not do back to back sessions. If I had a 9 o’clock session and a 10 o’clock session, I would not schedule an 11 o’clock because if I had three back to backs, by the time I get to my one o’clock in the afternoon session, I have taken in so much of the trauma, of the pain and I am exhausted with how much compassion I have had to come up with and output.

When I am in that place of, I am not filling back up, and it’s the old cliche of if my cup is empty I have nothing else to give and so I have to continue to fill my cup up, and when my cup is overflowing, that is when you get the best of me.

That again comes back to the ethics of I need to provide my best and it’s not perfectionism, it is truly I’m only what I have. If I have just given out four hours in a row of everything that I’ve got, because that’s what is required of me, if I don’t fill back up, again dead in the water. I become so ineffective, I get short with my client, I say the wrong thing to the family member, I don’t take the time to pause and reflect in certain areas because I’m spin, I’m empty.

This compassion fatigue, I sometimes feel like if I ran a half marathon, I’m less exhausted than when I have a full day of really tough family sessions or work that I’m doing because it’s a similar amount of energy, it just manifests itself and presents itself in a different way. I would never run a half marathon and not get a snack afterward or beforehand potentially carb load which I know that’s not necessarily the right way to do marathons these days.

That’s why I used to do, have carb load before the run and then you drink your Gatorade and your water throughout the run at the different stops and afterward, when you cross the finish line they hand you a bag of a banana, an apple, a granola bar and then you would go because you’d be refueling.

Interviewer: If somebody shows up to the half marathon and think like, “Oh, I don’t need that stuff I’m super strong you don’t know me. I’m just going to take it from here.” You’ll be like, “This is an idiot.”

Katie: You are an idiot and you’re going to crash and burn and you’re probably going to freeze and you’re going to tense up or whatever on mile 8, and you’re going to be hurting, and good luck to you. We would all be snickering on the sidelines saying, “What a fool?” Yet, how often do we do that in our clinical work every single day? “I’m just going to do more, I’m going to see more patients, I’m going to do more paperwork, I’m going to just go, go, go.”

How many times I’ve heard clinicians say and I’ve actually instituted mandatory self-care, for salaried employees, you don’t have clock out for your lunch, but if I hear that you did not take a lunch for some reason, I write you a coaching form. It’s not a disciplinary action form, but it goes in your H.R. file and it says, I sat down with this employee and I explained to them the importance of eating lunch because if you do not fuel up throughout your day, you’re like that dummy marathon runner who thinks they can run it without fueling themselves can’t do it. It’s not a badge of honor. “Oh, I worked so long today, I didn’t even get lunch.” That’s not okay. I don’t look at that as being a positive thing.

Interviewer: Changing that mindset.

Katie: You’ve got to, you’ve got to change the story that you tell yourself. The harder you work, the more valuable I am. No, because as soon as you – and we’ve had this, I’ve had staff and I’m grateful for when they make the decision of, “Okay, I need to take a break, I need to take some time off and go get some help.” The reality is, had they been taking care of themselves the whole time, they wouldn’t have had to take that time. They’re more valuable to me when they take care of themselves every single day than when they take three months of FMLA because they’ve had a mental breakdown. It’s not worth it and that’s what we’re teaching our patients. It’s not recovery.
Interviewer: That’s not modeling.

Katie: No.

Interviewer: I’m glad you’ve gotten into it a little bit so I was going to ask from a organizational standpoint, a cultural standpoint within your team, what are some ways that you can build and foster that? I know you mentioned the lunch break, the coaching form, what are some other ways you can do that?

Katie: My biggest thing is modeling. I do take a full week off every quarter and if there’s something that’s big that is going on, so I traveled this last week to Vegas and then I’m here in San Diego this week. I took a day last week, I got back on Wednesday, I did not go into office on Thursday. I asked my peers, it was CEO conference, I asked them, “You guys coming in tomorrow? They were like, “Oh, yes, we’ve got work to do. There’s a lot to do.”

I started to think to myself like, “Oh, do I look like a slacker? Is my boss going to feel like why didn’t you go in?” I had to distance myself from that and say, “You know what? They may be doing something very different for their self-care, but what Katie needs, in order for Katie to be the best Katie that I can be, I need to not go into the office.” I was jet-lagged, I was exhausted, I took a four-hour nap that day. I needed that, but had I gone in, what that does is that tells my team, you go full throttle and you don’t miss a beat. No. Self-disclosure, I’m not super good at this because of time zone issues, but I try not to respond to emails after hours and that is so hard for me as I have to keep myself in check because if I’m doing that, the message I sent to my team is, I want you to do that.

I interviewed our clinical director and he sent me a message and I responded to it within seconds and it was really great. It was very eye-opening. He said, “Wow, you responded so quickly. Is that the expectation that you hold for your team?” Well, so interesting pivotal moment for me to say, “You know what? I answer when I can and I just happened to have my phone open. I wanted to respond because I could.” I said, “But no, it’s not the expectation that you live and breathe and die with your phone in your hand and that you must be connected and plugged in at all times because you’re not going to last very long.” I was called out in essence before he even took the job, and I was like, “This is good.”

Interviewer: That’s a great question to ask because most people wouldn’t even ask. They just be like, “Oh, gosh, that’s what people do here.”

Katie: “That’s the expectation. That’s the culture here.” No. So, really I set the tone, the expectations that I hold for others if I’m meeting those expectations myself. If the expectation is for you to take time off, then I must take it too.

I keep track of everybody’s PTO hours and whenever I see somebody creeping up, so where they’re over like 140 hours or even really a hundred hours of built-up PTO, we’ve got pretty good PTO payout and that’s a great benefit that we have at Talbott. I will actually email them and say, “Hey, I looked at your PTO accrual and you’ve not taken time off in a while, what’s up?” They might say, “Oh, I’m saving up for that two-week vacation in Hawaii.” “Okay, great. That makes sense. However, we need to be doing this consistently. Why don’t you take a long weekend?” I’ll tell them. They’ll often push back and say, I’ve got work to do. I know.

Interviewer: I’m your boss, I know.

Katie: “I want you to be able to do that work for a really long time. Have a wonderful Friday. Don’t respond to email.” That’s the other thing. If you’re on PTO and you respond to email, you get blasted from the staff. People are like, “What are you doing? Put down your phone, get off email.” It really is changing the narrative of, it’s not like, “Oh, wow, they’re so committed. They’re so loyal and so committed to their job.” It’s like, “Dude, get off your phone and take the day off because you need to.”

We do a lot of talk about self-care. Gosh, it was right around the holidays, I paid for a yoga instructor to come in to do morning yoga one day a week. I asked the staff to chip in a little bit because I felt like that would give a little skin in the game, a little incentive if they paid 20 bucks for this six-week course.

Our yoga instructor came in and she’s also our front desk receptionist and she’s amazing, but she came in early every Wednesday. We did six 45 to seven 45 yoga and I only had eight staff sign up. At main campus we’ve got over 60 staff. I asked a lot of questions about, “Okay, this didn’t work for you, what would work for you?”

I got a lot of feedback and we’re implementing a health and wellness program and a healthy workplace program where we’re going to do jogs, afternoon running or mid-day meetings or something else that connects, not everybody loves yoga. We’re offering those things and I’m supplementing the costs, subsidizing the cost so that if you want to do yoga, it only cost you 20 bucks for six weeks. Where can you do yoga for 20 bucks for six weeks anywhere else?

It’s your work. You bring your mat, you bring a change of clothes, you’re able to get there for your eight o’clock morning meeting, but you just did 50 minutes of yoga and centered yourself. We’re constantly trying to create and provide those opportunities because I also know there are other real barriers. It’s hard to drive across town to get to wherever you need to go. Yada, yada, there’s a million excuses remember why we can’t take care of ourselves. Let’s remove those barriers. We’ll just self-care right there in the office. Love it.

Interviewer: Good stuff. Just kind of bringing it full circle here. What’s maybe one or two other things, can be big picture things, can be practical things that you wish people in this industry understood about self-care, about the importance of it, the ethics of it? If we’ve covered it at all, we can skip to- [crosstalk]

Katie: In a nutshell, I cannot convince you that self-care is something that you need. It is a journey that we again, pain being a good motivator, we don’t realize certain things and it’s the American way. It’s the American dream to just achieve, achieve, achieve. We do so to the detriment of our souls. How many Americans are on antidepressants right now? How many of us are overweight and are using any type of substance to self soothe or to deal with whatever it is? Until individuals come to the recognition for themselves of I am worth, I’m worth more than my job.

That’s why as a CEO, that’s hard for me to say sometimes because I have to think about like the business side. I need really wonderful people to make us be successful. I’m judged by the success or the failure of my facility. Yet, I know, if I have a team who doesn’t feel invested in, who doesn’t feel appreciated, who isn’t able to take care of themselves, I will have no team.

I’m not sure necessarily what the nutshell, the nugget of bringing the full circle is other than, my philosophy, Katie’s philosophy and what I employ at Talbott is, we are worth so much more than most of us will ever even recognize in this lifetime. We have some choices to make about how we spend our time. It is a choice. There’s nothing in my life that I don’t sign up for; my marriage, my relationship with my children, my relationship with my kiddo. My relationship with others, my job, my ability to take care of myself or not. There’s nothing in my life that I do not co-sign.

When I feel that empowered, I know that I could make some choices. If that makes me look lazy to some person, all right, you can think I’m lazy. Then guess what? I sleep really good at night. Guess what? I have an amazing recovery program. Guess what? I have amazing relationships.

I’ll take your one negative feedback or your one perspective that really doesn’t matter to me at the end of the day anyway, what you think of me is none of my business. What I think of me and what my higher power thinks of me, that’s what I need to focus on. We are worth so much more than this rat race that we get into in our culture, in America and I’m sure other places too, but it’s just so prevalent in our society of just go, go, go. I want to have a very clear, no, no, no, I’m worth saying no to something and it doesn’t make me less of a person, it’s not going to make me less successful. Actuality, it’s making me more successful.

Interviewer: Over the long term.

Katie: I often will say, I want to bring people alongside me and say, no, do this, do this. I have to just respect their journey and say, “You know what? You’re going to find it on your own.” If you see something amazing you like, I’m happy to talk about it. I’m not going to pull you along and force you unless you work at Talbott, then you have to.

Interviewer: You’ll get that email when you get to a PTO.

Katie: You’re going to get the email on the conversation and written up if you’re not doing what you need to do. It’s that important.

Interviewer: Wrap up with this final question. Everyone who gives their time, gives their life, gives their energy to this mission has their own personal reasons for wanting to get up and fight it every day. Could we end by having you sum up why this mission is so important to you?

Katie: It comes full circle to when I said this field chose me, I did not choose this field to come. I did not know that. Well, I will say when I got into social work and there’s a running joke amongst social workers and those in the helping profession is that we get into this line of work to fix our own stuff.

The other piece of the joke is, well, if I can’t solve my own stuff, I’ll help you solve yours. There’s absolutely a drive inside of me that I don’t always know why or where or how it gets to where it is. This field chose me and I didn’t get into recovery until after I was in the field for a bit.

I consider myself one of the extremely lucky ones to know that I now have a way and I have a path that is filled with hope.

I know that there are many people just like me before I got into recovery that don’t know. They don’t know that there’s hope on the other side. They don’t know what it’s called. They don’t know where to find it. They don’t know who to talk to. If my story, and if my journey can help one person, then it will have been worth every single minute of pain, trauma, hurt, and whatever you want to call it, up to this point in my life where it had a purpose, it had a purpose and it continues to have a purpose.

I still do a lot of supervision with younger clinicians and I see myself in them. I see myself in them every single day and that’s very humbling, but also very empowering because – It’s a real quick a side tangent. Talbott has a program called Mirror Image and it’s the very end of somebody’s program and that’s where they start to help the incoming person. They definitely have over 60 days of recovery and so they’re meeting with incoming patients and the mirror is they get to see what they looked like 60 days ago, 75 days ago, 80 days ago and this is this contrast of, “Wow, look how far I have come and look what I could go back to.”

Then the incoming patient looks at the mirror image patient and says, “Look where I can be.’” Oftentimes, they’ll say “Are you a staff member or are you a patient?’’ “I’m a patient,” and they’re like, “Wow, I want what you have.” There’s this mirror image process and this parallel process that happens with us too. When I sit down with that clinician who’s two years and she’s working on her licensure and she’s struggling with impostor syndrome and she’s struggling with volunteering for everything because she feels like she has to prove herself in the field, I am in that same mirror image program of where I get to look at her and say “Ah, you are going to be okay. You’re really more than okay. I can remember what it was like to walk in those shoes of that insecurity and that uncertainty.’’ When I validate and say, “My gosh, I’ve been there,” She can look at me and say, “Okay, you made it I can make it, I can do this.’’

It’s the giving back piece and it’s not just as a clinician, it’s not just as a person in recovery, it’s not just as a woman in a position of being a CEO. It is I am human, I understand the human condition, and as soon as I am able to relate and connect with your human condition, we get to do this thing called life together. Not everybody has that, but because of this field and this introduction, and I can remember the very first time I went to a meeting I was like, “I need to be here, not as a professional, I need to be here. What a gift?”

So many of my colleagues who don’t take care of themselves or who don’t do the work themselves, they’ve not experienced that gift yet. My hope is that they will eventually experience the gift. It may not be because they need to be in recovery, but they need to be on antidepressants or they need to stop living off of Diet Coke and skipping lunch. To me, that is just as unhealthy and just as detrimental as whoever’s doing the really hard – it sounds strange, but who’s shooting up heroin. Unfortunately, Diet Coke and skipping lunch is acceptable, [unintelligible 00:42:59] you get a side-eye, people start to get worried. We have this acceptable way of self-harm. We have this acceptable way of not doing what we need to do and it’s time to change the script, it’s time to rewrite the story and say, “You know what? You’re hurting yourself.”

If I can be that to, like I said, even just one person, then my entire journey has been worth it. I will continue to share my story and I will continue to have the expectation of my team and the people that bring the message every single day to our patients, that if you’re not doing it, you got no business telling other people to do it. Let’s be good stewards of our resources. We have so many resources. Oh my gosh. Especially in the metro Atlanta area. No joke. There’s 80,000 meetings in the metro Atlanta area. I come from a town there are three or four meetings a week. We have so much access to information today.

There really is no reason to not do what you need to do to walk the walk. The more that I can be of service in that area and help either, whether it’s those still suffering alcoholic or the newly graduated LMSW who’s finding her way, we all have an obligation and a responsibility to do good in this world.

I believe we have a responsibility to do goodness, otherwise we’re just taking up space. There’s a lot of people just taking up space. You have something to offer to somebody, so go and give back and do whatever that is.

It can look like anything. Anything. The broken person today who doesn’t even know that they have that to offer, we don’t have time for that. People are dying every single day because they don’t know. The message needs to be sent, the message hopefully will be received, and the more that we are walking the walk, again, the program of attraction, not promotion, we attract people to us who will say, “I had no idea. Let’s talk about it. Let’s connect and let’s change the world.’’ One rewritten story at a time.

Interviewer: All right. Well, Katie, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for sharing that.

Katie: My pleasure.

[00:45:25] [END OF AUDIO]

Unlearning Toxic Masculinity

Episode #105 | January 8, 2020

In a culture that often encourages a toxic version of masculinity, how can treatment providers help men unlearn harmful stereotypes and uncover their own trauma?

We’ll answer this with SCRC clinical director Hedieh Azadmehr on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.

Cultivating an Environment of Innate Listening

Episode #104 | October 2, 2019

As the healthcare industry evolves, how can treatment professionals turn off the noise and really listen – to emerging trends, to their patients and to themselves?

We’ll dive into this with speaker, coach and founder of human connection company BluNovus James Hadlock on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.

The Realities of Self-Harm and Suicide

Episode #103 | August 15, 2019

What can behavioral health providers do to better understand the realities of self-harm and to know how to respond when they spot the signs in their patients?

We’ll discuss this with non-suicide self-injury specialist, author and counselor Lori Vann on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.

For more about Lori’s work, visit

Integrating Buddhism and the 12 Steps

Episode #102 | August 8, 2019

How can ancient principles from Zen and Tibetan Buddhism integrate with modern treatment programs to help more people build lasting recovery?

We’ll discuss this with author Darren Littlejohn on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.

For more about Darren’s book, The 12 Step Buddhist, visit

Can LGBT-Affirmative Therapy Help Re-Write Internalized Messages?

Episode #101 | July 17, 2019

In a heteronormative culture, how can providers use affirmative therapy to help LGBT individuals re-write the false messages they’ve internalized?

We’ll answer this with psychologist, author and activist Dr. Lauren Costine on this episode of Recovery Unscripted.

For more about Dr. Lauren’s work, visit