Podcast: Akua Treatment Programs

Gina:                     Hi everyone, welcome to the Harmony Foundation podcast series. I’m pleased today to be joined with Lauren Cabaldon, Clinical Director, and Brogan Rossi, Outreach Specialist for Akua Treatment Services, excuse me, in Newport Beach, California. Welcome.

Lauren:                 Thank you. Thanks for having us.

Gina:                     So great to have you guys here and visiting us here at Harmony. You came on a great day. Never know with mountain weather.

Lauren:                 We did.

Gina:                     Whether or not we’re gonna get tons of snow or not. You guys were very fortunate. We’re really excited to learn more about Akua. I know that here at Harmony we were very interested and I first met you Brogan, it was one of those things where you all have some very specific lines of service that are in deep demand. We’re gonna talk for a few minutes about some of those. Before we get into the specifics around your programming, I’d like to just ask you both individually what got you into the field of addiction treatment. Let’s start with you first Lauren.

Lauren:                 Absolutely. I am a therapist. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist. When I first started as a trainee, I stumbled across an adolescent facility called the bridge in Orange County and working with high school teenagers that were struggling with dabbling in drugs, but they were being ostracized, stigmatized, and of course they would come into my office. They first thing I would say is, not what’s your problem, why are you doing this? I’d like to turn to the parents and the teachers and everyone around them. So the elders. I am a researcher of sacred rights of passage. I started to realize that we were missing rights of passage in contemporary western society. Particularly from the ages 14 to 18, when most of our adult clients now in treatment will say, I got stuck there or something was missing in my identity formation. For me, that’s where the journey started.

Then of course when any clinician that’s working with adolescents, it’s challenging. You have to work with the adults that are in charge of them more to get good results. That’s why I started transitioning to the adults and then I’ve been with Akua for four years now. That’s been my journey.

Gina:                     That’s a great story. Thank you for sharing that.

Lauren:                 Of course.

Gina:                     How about you Brogan?

Brogan:                I’ve always worked in mental health. I think for me mental health is one of those things that I want to education and advocate for a population that has so long been forgotten and stigmatized. I’ve always been really drawn to that. I actually come from a background of eating disorders and moved my way into substance use. I come from a family of substance use. That, I was going to avoid it like the plague. Then stumbled upon Akua actually. I used to work at children’s hospital and it just felt like a really good fit philosophy wise and a lot of different types of treatment modalities. Since then I’ve been with them for four months. It’s still new and I’m learning so much, but I’m loving it.

Lauren:                 She’s killing it. She’s so kind.

Brogan:                I’m loving it.

Gina:                     I love having you in the Colorado community.

Brogan:                Oh good.

Gina:                     We definitely fit right in. That goes without saying. It’s been great having you a part of our community.

Brogan:                Thank you.

Lauren:                 Thank you.

Gina:                     Let’s talk a little bit about Akua. It brings east and west together to address addiction treatment. You alluded to that a little bit in your previous question. Can you talk to us a little bit more about the philosophy of Akua and how you created that program?

Lauren:                 Absolutely. Akua, the word itself is actually a Hawaiian word. It means the Polynesian God’s of the ocean. Also means higher power, spiritual recovery. If you ever go to a Hawaiian wedding, they’ll say may the Akua watch over you. I think a lot of times especially in the treatment community, personally I’ve seen a lot of just resistance to the 12 steps for AA. A lot of our clients, alcoholics, addicts, the addict brain, it’s very stubborn, very resistant. I think bringing in a lot of different tools from other modalities is something that opens the mind up to another way of doing things. If you say the 12 steps is the only way, sometimes we lose a lot of our audience. For me it was the east meets west, it’s like okay. Maybe you don’t have to do this talk therapy thing. Sit in this harp therapy group or try the sound bath Tibetan singing bowls, try acupuncture. You don’t have to do much to sit there.

It’s not necessarily the passive modalities, but it’s the modalities that notice and use more mindfulness. Our goal is to really get the brain as a neuro feedback specialist, my goal is also to get the brain into more of an Alpha state. Which is the state, it’s the brain wave that we’re more suggestible like hypnosis. When a lot of our clients come into treatment, they are not suggestible. They know they can’t keep living their lives the way they were before, but they don’t want to do it our way either. It’s that third way. That’s a very eastern approach. It’s a very Buddhist approach. It’s a very being an empty vessel, a Taoist approach. Don’t feel up your cup with alcohol, for lack of better words. Be empty and receiving. That’s really what we’re about. That’s where the east meets the west. Of course we have psychiatrists, we have talk therapy, we use CBT and DBT as a daily structure of our programming. The eastern approach, sometimes I have clients say, man I had a huge breakthrough in harp therapy.

Just listening to her play a Nirvana song on the harp. It reminded me of being a teenager and then this and that. That’s where the breakthrough sometimes happen, not when we’re talking about it. As a western therapist, I have to really let my ego go in that regard. That’s where east comes in.

Gina:                     What’s great about that is most of our clients who come into treatment have an issue with learning how to feel again because they’ve been so numb for so long.

Lauren:                 100%.

Gina:                     When you bring in the eastern way of thinking, it’s very, very different. It’s taking away the threatening feeling of I’ve got to feel again, what does that look like? Do I have to burden myself to the entire group in a small group setting where it feels very unsafe? Where if you do it in more of an eastern way of doing it, people feel less threatened by it.

Lauren:                 Absolutely.

Gina:                     That’s great that you’ve incorporated that in there. You also have your program is gender responsive. Your women’s program is called Lani.

Lauren:                 Lani.

Gina:                     Lani. What’s the meaning behind that? I’m assuming it’s Hawaiian.

Lauren:                 It is Lalani is actually a popular female name. It’s funny to say. It is gender responsive. With that as even just talking to your CEO about the LGBTQ affirming and how we do that the right way and as a [inaudible 00:05:42] therapist, I believe in more the anima, the animus, the masculine, and the feminine energy. What’s interesting is I traditionally actually see a lot of women coming into treatment learning how to reclaim their masculine energy. Sometimes men coming into treatment reclaiming their feminine. Getting in touch with their emotions. Whereas women are actually getting in touch with not being the victim and having a voice. We really want to honor that. As our women’s facility, Lani means heavenly women. Divine heavenly women, which I love because it really connects them to the spirit, connects them to the stars above. It connects them to the female energy that they might’ve been shamed for, what was taboo. Historically, the woman being crazy, being on their menstrual cycle and being psychotic. That crazy stigma is so much even worse for most women that are using or drinking or can’t fulfill their obligations as a wife or mother or daughter.

There’s a lot of those pressures on women these days. Men still a whole other beast to deal with. With women, we see a lot of that. I’m coming and reclaiming their voice. Really tapping into that powerful female energy. That it’s not something to hide or to be the quiet women, to be the subdued women. To have a voice, to yell, to scream, to express themselves. That’s really what Lani is all about.

Gina:                     That’s fantastic and it’s so true because so much of our women come in with so much shame. You sound like you’re creating more of a positive and affirming culture there for women so they feel like this is the place where they feel safe enough to get the treatment that they need.

Lauren:                 Absolutely.

Gina:                     Which I think a lot of facilities forget to do that.

Lauren:                 They do.

Gina:                     It’s all very traditionally focused.

Lauren:                 We separate the genders, we don’t really do different treatment for them. Our women’s director Shannon, she’s been with me from the beginning with Akua. She is fabulous because she recognizes her role as mother or sister and how other women might project their insecurities onto her to. She’s a tall, beautiful, blonde, strong, therapist. We’ll talk about that in the room and what that’s like. That’s real powerful because she’s real self aware. I love that in her too.

Gina:                     Right. Having the right people make all the difference, doesn’t it?

Lauren:                 Oh, huge. Huge.

Gina:                     Let’s talk about your mental health program, which of course really peaked our interest when I first met with Brogan. You have this really unique health residential component, which a lot of facilities at least I know in the state of Colorado really are hungry for that kind of resource. There’s not a lot out there that’s specifically for primary mental health. Can you tell me number one why you opted to move in that direction? Two, what is somebody going to expect if they were to come into that mental health program?

Lauren:                 Absolutely. I said this too earlier, but I’ll say it again. We’re not really treating the disorders. We’re treating the trauma that led to it. Meaning eating disorder, personality disorder, attachment disorder, substance use disorder. We believe that everything starts with an attachment, an unhealthy attachment, an insecure attachment. The mental health piece, we’re already treating these patients within our walls. It really is just driven by what insurance will authorize as well. We understand that. We did have those clients already within our walls. We started to notice that as more of a psycho dynamic facility, we are well poised to treat mental health in a really safe and loving way. I think a lot of, I won’t really say this in blanket statement. But a lot of substance abuse treatment facilities just use the 12 steps as their modality or use CBT or DBT. It’s all well and good but it kind of misses a lot of the clients that maybe don’t feel like they have an addiction. I’ve seen a lot of clients that come in that they were just using that to be okay in their environment.

I always say, a lot of times when people start using, it’s actually a healthy response to an unhealthy environment. A 14 year old will put a needle in his arm because mom and dad are fighting and he’s being triangulated in it. He can’t feel safe in that home. In that moment he puts the opiates in his veins. He feels calm, safe. He’s treating himself. Substances aside, we’re looking at the depression, the anxiety, and I’m not trying to get rid of the bipolar symptoms, the depression symptoms, even the personality disorders. I want to listen first and foremost to what those symptoms are saying. There’s a reason they’re there. When we work with our psychiatrist and do a lot of different modalities, we are I think poised as that psychodynamic facility and we are doing it really well I think already in substance abuse before we had our mental health licensee a year ago to inclusively and safely treat those traumas. I think it just became a natural order for us. We just needed to get the licensing to really do it and take the primary. In our area in Orange County and California, there’s a lot of hospitals around us.

We do get a lot of clients coming off 51 50s very depressed, very suicidal. Our approach of unconditional positive regard and compassion tends to do really well with that stigmatized population. It just really fit for us already. We were already treating it without having the license.

Gina:                     That’s great and it’s such a need.

Lauren:                 It really is.

Gina:                     Such a huge need.

Lauren:                 It really is.

Gina:                     Brogan, you’ve been sitting there very quietly. We’d like to get to know the people behind the program. I’m gonna ask you, what books have you gifted the most to other people?

Lauren:                 I love that question.

Brogan:                Two very different books. Recently I’ve been gifting the neuro science of Buddha’s brain.

Lauren:                 I am actually reading that.

Brogan:                Oh my gosh I love it.

Lauren:                 Seriously.

Gina:                     Yes, I am. [crosstalk 00:10:51]

Lauren:                 It is great. I come from a neuro science background so that’s a really cool way to bring together mindfulness and neuro science. Then on the other end Harry Potter. I’m the biggest Harry Potter fan. I’ve read it four times.

Gina:                     Have you really?

Brogan:                I have.

Gina:                     All of them?

Brogan:                All of them.

Gina:                     Four times?

Brogan:                Yes.

Gina:                     That’s impressive. Did you talk to Alyssa our case manager?

Brogan:                No. No.

Gina:                     She’s a huge Harry Potter fan.

Brogan:                We’ll have to just nerd out and talk about it.

Gina:                     You totally will.

Brogan:                I gift it to everyone who’s like, I haven’t read it. I’m like, well you need all seven so here you go. You need to read them.

Gina:                     That’s great that you do that.

Brogan:                Very different.

Gina:                     Out of curiosity, why Harry Potter? What is it about Harry Potter that compels you so much?

Brogan:                I think starting it as a child and then reading it in different phases of my life, it’s this way to escape to this really cool, I don’t know, magical thing that you can immerse yourself in. You become involved. Then to read it at different phases of my life has been really cool to see how I’m taking it all in. I just love the characters to be honest.

Gina:                     You fall in love with them.

Brogan:                That definitely is gifted all the time.

Gina:                     What’s his name? Radcliffe?

Brogan:                Daniel Radcliffe.

Gina:                     Daniel Radcliffe, he’s in recovery.

Lauren:                 Is he really?

Gina:                     Yes he is.

Lauren:                 I had no idea.

Brogan:                I had no idea and I’m a huge … wow.

Lauren:                 Fascinating.

Brogan:                I have to read more about that.

Gina:                     That’s really another cool thing about it.

Brogan:                More to read.

Gina:                     Lauren, if I’m gonna play off the idea of the word harmony, what do you think it means when I say to live a life in harmony?

Lauren:                 Wow. A lot of different things come up for me. I’ve been doing a lot of this internal work on myself. I’m noticing that internally personally on a personal level, I’ve achieved a state of balance, but then I step out into the world and oh look at all that. Look at all that. That guy cuts me off on the freeway. The guy at the post office is taking too long and everyone just wants to … looks like the world is conspiring to trigger me and irritate me. It’s funny, I experienced that with a lot of my clients. Everything is okay or can be okay. Then I experience the outside world and it’s so terrible and traumatic. Balance to me is that maintaining that healthy ecosystem of not isolating because we were not built and we were not born to be isolating. I truly don’t believe we are and I love that TED Talk. I forget who did it about addiction and how the antidote to addiction is connection. That sometimes the last thing that a depressed or anxious human wants to do is connect. That’s the biggest threat to their individuality. It’s the one thing that can help us really individuate. That’s the great paradox of being alive and existing.

For me, true harmony is not just being on this lotus flower levitating in the middle of a lake and being alone. Oh my god, as an introvert, that’s where I’d want to be. Then there’s this super loneliness to it. I’m not balanced. I’m not sharing what I have here with others. True harmony is really figuring out how to step into that space to me and be with others and still be in the calm of that storm, but also letting each individual teach us how to grow. Dr. Rachel Carlson wrote this book Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff. He says in that book, it’s really just about just staying true to yourself and all the small stuff will just come and irritate you and bother you. Imagine everybody else is enlightened except for you. That was one of my favorite chapters. It’s like, wait a second. No. I’m enlightened. I’m doing this work. I’m this enlightened, spiritual being. When you look at it that way, everyone that pisses you off, you’re a really co dependent mother, that your boyfriend that’s telling you you’re not good enough or this or that, they’re all here to teach you something.

Gina:                     They sure are.

Lauren:                 If you can flip it that way, make your problems into gifts, then harmony really can happen in no matter what environment you’re in, no matter what relationship you’re involved in.

Gina:                     That’s a very beautiful response. I guess my last question is, if someone were listening to this today and they wanted to access treatment services at Akua, how could they get in contact with you?

Lauren:                 I would say one of two ways. You can either call the admissions line directly. The phone number is 833-258-2669 or go to our website and check us out there. It’s akuamindbody.com. Akua is spelt A-K-U-A. Then mindbody.com.

Gina:                     Awesome. Lauren and Brogan, thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us.

Lauren:                 Thanks for having us.

Brogan:                Thank you.

Gina:                     I’m really excited about sharing Akua with the rest of the world.

Lauren:                 Thank you.

Gina:                     We’ll stay in touch for sure.

Lauren:                 Thank you so much.

Brogan:                Thanks. We appreciate you.