Podcast Series: Colorado Center for Clinical Excellence with James Abrams

Gina:                                     Hi everyone. Welcome to the Harmony Foundation Podcast series. It’s my pleasure, today, to be joined with James Abrams, who’s with the Colorado Center for Clinical Excellence. Welcome, James.

James Abrams:                Hi. Thanks.

Gina:                                     It’s good to have you here.

James Abrams:                It’s good to be here.

Gina:                                     We are certainly very interesting in hearing about this unique model of what you do with addiction treatment. Before we have conversations about that, let’s talk for a few minutes about your background, and what got you into the field of behavioral health.

James Abrams:                Sure. Yeah, I mean, that’s a big question. I could do a couple hours [inaudible 00:00:28] that.

Gina:                                      Yeah.

James Abrams:                 I think the short version is, before I got into this, I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a professor, actually, ’cause I wanted to help people learn about the things that had been so helpful in my life. As I got closer to that goal, I realized, the kind of teaching that you get to do as a professor, really wasn’t gonna get any of the meaningful information across.

I just thought about it. I thought, “What’s most important, to me, is getting the meaning through.” The best way to do that, is one-on-one, just be with people, and be there to help them sort it out, themselves. It’s not about my brain. You know?

Gina:                                     So, being a facilitator of their behavior change, really kind of helping them …

James Abrams:                Yeah. Just, their values change, and their self-exploration. All of it. To be there to be curious about them, almost is a way to show them they can be curious about themselves.

Gina:                                     Yeah. You’ve got a great segue into my next question, which is talking about this idea of curiosity related to some of the principles of Buddhism that you use in the practice that you’re doing. A lot of times, when you’re talking to people in the field of addiction treatment, it’s usually just this very scientific, concrete, CBT, DBT type of approach. You have incorporated the Buddhist principles of mindfulness and existential therapy, into the work that you’re doing, with people with substance abuse. Can you talk a little bit about what that looks like, for a client that might be coming in to your practice?

James Abrams:                Yeah. I’ll try.

Gina:                                      Gonna try and condense it, in a very-

James Abrams:                 Yeah.

Gina:                                     … short period of time.

James Abrams:                 I mean, like you said, there are some more rigid approaches, like CBT, DBT, even ACT. I think those work well. They’re just not the approach that feels right for me.

For me, it’s more about … I think that behavior change comes as a result of values change. Right? The value changing comes as a result of mindful awareness of yourself, like, how do you figure out what actually matters to you, if you’re not paying attention?

What’s nice about the Buddhist principle of mindfulness, is that it’s totally nonjudgmental. It’s like you’re gonna feel and be whatever it is that you are, and that’s fine. That’s a message we could probably stand to get a lot more, in society, which is just that, you’re fine. You know? It sort of goes back to, there’s this old saying in analytic circles, which is that, “People come to therapy to find out what’s wrong with them. And they leave knowing that nothing is.” Right?

Gina:                                      That’s true.

James Abrams:                I think that’s the goal. For me, mindfulness, that’s the path to that goal.

Gina:                                      One of the things that I’ve learned through my meditation practice, is understanding that your thoughts are not who you are.

James Abrams:                Right.

Gina:                                     And, learning how to be mindful about your thoughts, and not judging them, but just accepting them and letting them go.

James Abrams:                Yeah.

Gina:                                     Which I think a lot of people, particularly in addiction, struggle with, because they self-identify around their thoughts.

James Abrams:                Right.

Gina:                                     Your focus is working specifically with substance use disorders, and one of the things that you and I have talked about, is this idea of relapse prevention, and looking at relapse prevention as it is in the industry of addiction treatment. Why is it important to you, to work with this type of population?

James Abrams:                It’s almost hard to say. I just, I get it. Something about people who are struggling with substance abuse, or any kind of addiction. I work with a lot of behavioral and process addictions. It just makes sense to me. Like, “Yeah. You feel really bad. You want to feel better. You reach for the thing that’s gonna make you feel better … at least for a little while. I think addiction is really that simple.

Honestly, I’m at the point where I think everyone is addicted to something. Some addictions are more harmful and visible than others, but I really think it’s at the core of human experience. It’s just, “How do you feel better? And, do you get stuck feeling better, the same way every time? Does it help you or hurt you?”

Gina:                                     For somebody to come up against a provider like yourself, who is willing to be very open and accepting wherever they are in their recovery journey, is probably half the battle, sometimes, because they oftentimes feel so judged, based on their behavior.

James Abrams:                Right. I mean, so many people in the addictions recovery field … at least for a long time in the past, I think still today … are really committed to either like, “You’re bad. It’s a moral failure. Or, like, your behavior is bad.”

Your behavior might be harmful. It’s not bad. You’re not bad for doing it. I think that, in the end, everybody wants to get to health.

Gina:                                     You’re right. Yep. Good point.

James Abrams:               So, I’ll just help ’em get there.

Gina:                                     This was interesting, I read this about your bio … you have a master’s degree in Eastern Classics, and it looked at working with teachers from India, China, and Japan. How did those studies guide you in your practice with your clients today?

James Abrams:                You got all these big questions for this 10 minute interview.

Gina:                                      You can get it done.

James Abrams:                Yeah. I mean, that was sort of, like I said, that was the path for me. You know? There was just something about those eastern teachings, that just addressed what was going on for me in my life, so well, and ’caused such a massive shift in just how I felt … how I thought … how I acted. And, all towards things, that I’d been meaning to go to for so long. That sort of become the foundation for me. I mean, like I said, being able to sit in that nonjudgmental space, I think that’s everything. That’s where the healing comes from.

I mean, if we really want to get into the nitty gritty, there’s some stuff … if anyone listening to this is familiar with Dogen, the 12th century Zen Buddhist, a lot of his writing is about this thing that I think of as his idea that I call a tense juxtaposition. Right? Which is that, there are two things … there are two directions you wanna go in, or more. In your mind, that’s really possible. In reality it isn’t. You can only move in one direction at a time.

He would recommend, “Don’t do anything yet. Wait, and let that internal tension just build. And, it’s gonna be hard, but wait with it. Eventually it’s gonna collapse.” You will actually get a direction. You don’t have to keep guessing. You know? You-

Gina:                                      I can see what you’re saying.

James Abrams:                There’s a part of you that knows what you’re supposed to do.

Gina:                                      Yeah. That’s very true. I mean, I think I’ve actually experienced some of that, and never knew what it was. That’s great. This is your first visit to Harmony. No, it’s not. This is your second-

James Abrams:                It’s my second visit.

Gina:                                     … visit to Harmony. So, you’re a regular.

James Abrams:                All right.

Gina:                                     Tell us a little bit about your thoughts.

James Abrams:                I really, I think this place is great. As far as I can tell, it’s like the gold standard in Colorado.

Gina:                                      Oh. Thank you.

James Abrams:                Yeah. It just seems like, basically, all the bases are covered, and every time I talk to people, it’s like, “How do we cover them better?”

The detox seem so careful. The people involved seem like they care so much more than just, like, “Let’s get this junk out of your system.” The therapists, there’s people practicing so many approaches, I mean, any client is gonna find someone to stick to. It just seems so comprehensive.

Gina:                                     Thank you.

James Abrams:               Even talking to case management, it’s like they really care. They’re working hard.

Gina:                                     Yep.

James Abrams:                I like it.

Gina:                                     Thank you.

James Abrams:                Plus, it’s beautiful.

Gina:                                     Yeah. That doesn’t hurt it either.

James Abrams:                Yeah.

Gina:                                     That doesn’t hurt. If someone wanted to access services with you directly, whether it’s through the center or with you in private practice, what would they need to do?

James Abrams:                Oh. It’s real simple.

Gina:                                     Okay.

James Abrams:                You can give me a call. Two different numbers work. If you wanna get straight to me, call me at (720) 432-5680. If you wanna call the Colorado Center for Clinical Excellence, and chat it out with someone, you can reach them at (303) 347-3700. If you would prefer to email … eventually that will have to stop, but for an initial contact, you can reach me at J-C-O-L-E-A-B-R-A-M-S @gmail.com.

Gina:                                     Okay. Wonderful …