In the last few years, many people have grown more comfortable with openly talking about mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Perhaps in part due to our shared pandemic-era experiences with loneliness, worry and grief, the stigma associated with mental health disorders is starting to fall away.
That’s a positive step. But we haven’t come as far with attitudes towards complex mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder, personality disorders, schizophrenia and other thought disorders. Those conditions are still shrouded in a lack of awareness and misconceptions about what the conditions are and how best to treat them. Also not well understood: the tremendous potential of individuals with those disorders to thrive in all aspects of their lives, with the right care and support.
In this interview, Dr. Amy Boyers shares how Galen Hope treats complex mental health disorders, and her goals for her patients as they transition from more intensive programs back into their everyday lives.
So tell us why you and Dr. Wendy Oliver-Pyatt founded Galen Hope, and what was the mission and vision of the organization?
There were a number of reasons why I wanted to start Galen Hope. For a long time in my private practice, I was very frustrated by the fact that there really were not comprehensive, sophisticated, holistic services for individuals with more severe or chronic mental illness.
There was a decent amount of resources for people with eating disorders. But even when I was in the eating disorder treatment center world, I was frustrated by the fact that a lot of the clients didn’t just have pure eating disorders. There were complex mental health concerns and psychiatric issues that I felt were really driving the relapses and that we never got the time, even in the context of an eating disorder treatment center, to get to those core issues.
And in addition to that, for people without eating disorders, I just felt like there really were not resources for them to be able to live here in their community with their social support network, with their families, to be able to stay engaged with their jobs or other things that they care about.
So I saw that there really was a need.
The other reason why I wanted to create a program like Galen Hope was because I always felt that the weakest point in treatment was when people were stepping down out of a residential treatment center. They could stabilize and feel pretty safe and secure in their recovery while they were in a treatment center, but as they had more time on their own, that’s where the struggle really began.
That’s a very overwhelming process for people. As they wound down their treatment, they were feeling very overwhelmed and very alone in the recovery process at that point. Not only do they lose the structure that comes with the treatment center, but they lose all of those people, all of those connections, that they developed while they were there. It can be very lonely. It can be very daunting. Families don’t always have the ability or skills to support someone through that process.
What challenges do individuals face when leaving residential treatment, and how does Galen Hope’s partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs (PHP/IOP) help with this transition?
One of the things that I always looked at a lot in my work as an individual therapist was what I called “the person building phase.” Once someone comes out of treatment, now what? What comes next?
The person building phase helps them to develop themselves as a human being again, to reconnect with the things that are sources of passion, sources of identity, and sources of connection to others. Because all of that gets very, very disconnected during a residential treatment stay.
Teaching someone how to be well again, how to live in the world again – that’s really where my passion lies.
The thing that we do very well at Galen Hope is that we don’t leave our clients at the doorstep of their lives. When they’re done with treatment, when they’ve stepped down from our intensive outpatient program, they are leaving much more prepared to reconnect with the world and are not afraid of that.
It’s very scary and overwhelming for people who have been struggling with major symptoms psychologically and then spend time in the treatment center to make that transition from the world of treatment to back to living in everyday life.
What are your goals for Galen Hope clients?
Our goals for any client would be to reduce their suffering and improve their functioning. That’s the most basic goal for them.
And the way that we do this is by helping them connect to the things that bring meaning and joy into their life. The things that help bring them a source of identity, of “this is who I really am.”
The way that we care for our clients, they get so much individual attention from the various staff members. They get a lot of feedback around “who we see you as.” We see your strengths.
We really get to know them beyond whatever the presenting symptoms were that brought them in to see us. So even though we may be actively working on a treatment plan that helps them to reduce symptoms and improve their coping, we connect with each person as a human being and we appreciate everything that makes them “them.”
That experience of being seen beyond just your symptoms is probably the most powerful thing we do here.
What brings joy to the team and to you, professionally?
I would say that when we see somebody progressing through our program and finally doing the things that they set out to do.
- when we see that they’re managing their life better
- when they’re feeling better
- when they’re smiling more
- when they’re re-engaging with their life
When parents tell us, “My kid is back.” We celebrate that as much as their family does. We really, really do.
Our team takes an enormous amount of pride and joy in watching our clients progress, and we definitely relish seeing people move on with their lives.
How can primary care doctors, pediatricians and other referring clinicians help identify people in need of treatment for mental health or eating disorders?
Primary care doctors really are on the forefront of the mental health crisis right now. They prescribe more medications than even psychiatrists do.
A lot of that is really built on the relationships that they have with their clients. For example, the pediatricians who’ve been working with a family since this child was born, I think they are often in a better position to talk to parents. Sometimes parents do have an inkling something is wrong and they need the doctor to ratify that to encourage them to listen to themselves.
It can be very challenging for doctors to be able to really recognize what is going on. But I think particularly pediatricians do a good job because they’ve known these kids for a long time. They know the whole family. They know the siblings. They get a sense of how this family functions and notice when, “Whoa, this is really different.”
I think the doctors can help by asking people more about mental health symptoms and also just asking, “How are you doing?” “How are you dealing with stress? I’ve noticed a change in your blood pressure.”
Sometimes they’re quick to just write a prescription when maybe there’s something else going on.
When we’re under stress, when someone is overwhelmed with psychological symptoms, they don’t take care of themselves as well as they used to. A doctor who’s known them for a while may pick up on that.
It’s really leveraging the relationships that they have with their clients and being willing to probe. I don’t know that modern medicine always allows for that, unfortunately.
What is Galen Hope’s relationship with outpatient clinicians?
We engage with outpatient providers a lot during the admissions process. Even before a client enters our program, we really want to get a clear picture from the team. What is it that they feel they need us to address? When someone’s in a more intensive, structured environment like ours, you are able to address certain issues that in one or two hours a week, as an outpatient, you just aren’t going to be able to get at.
One of the advantages we have is that we have this treatment milieu where we get to watch the clients interact with one another and with our staff. In terms of looking at social skills deficits or life skills deficits, we’re often able to discover where those issues lie more quickly.
But often, the outpatient clinicians have a very clear picture that there are certain issues that need to be addressed while the client has more support. We definitely take their suggestions to heart. We incorporate that into the treatment plan and we will have weekly contact with any referring clinician in whatever format they see as helpful.
They are invited to attend our staff meetings. If they would like to hear how we are working with their client and they would like to chime in, they are free to attend our staff meetings as well. And then usually about 3 to 4 weeks before discharge, we will then talk to the client about setting up that appointment and having them reconnect with the outpatient team.
So there’s a crossover period, when we make sure everybody is clear on what work still needs to be done. It’s also an opportunity for the client to reflect on the work that’s been accomplished while they were with us and to be able to explain that to their outpatient team. But we usually do a couple of weeks of crossover before they go back to their referring team.
How does someone know that Galen Hope is the right program for them?
The way that someone would know if Galen Hope is the right program for them is if they have gone to other treatment centers and had this experience of quickly relapsing after being in a treatment center. Typically, people will say they’re looking for a program that’s going to help them with returning to a higher level of functioning, and of being able to engage in their world, whatever that may be.
A lot of clients will describe feeling very connected here, feeling like they belong here. They describe feeling very connected to our staff and feeling supported in a way that they haven’t before.
Those are the kinds of things that tell me they’re probably in the right place, that we have connected not only with the problems that brought them here, but with the human being. That they feel recognized and connected as a human being.
A lot of people come to us because they want a different treatment experience. They don’t just want to be in a bubble. They want to be pushed and challenged to be out in the real world.
THE ROAD TO WELLNESS STARTS BY SEEKING HELP. TODAY.
Built on the principles of assertive community treatment, Galen Hope is an eating disorder and mental health treatment center offering individualized treatment options that include Intensive Outpatient (IOP) and Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP). As a “Community of Integrated Wellness,” we pride ourselves in fostering a thoughtful and meaningful care experience that can guide our clients on their road to recovery and increased quality of life, regardless of diagnosis. Galen Hope currently offers separate, age-specific programming for female and transfeminine adolescents ages 12-17 and adults 18 and up, as well as gender-specific programming for males and transmasculine individuals with eating disorders and primary mental health diagnoses.
To learn more, or to join our community for integrated wellness, please contact us today.
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