As I mentioned in last week’s post, this week features an interview with Mountain Laurel Recovery Center’s Clinical Director, Trinity Cowburn.
Trinity has her master’s in school psychology and is a licensed behavior specialist and certified advanced alcohol and drug counselor**. As Clinical Director, Trinity supervises the counselors and recovery coaches and develops programming; she also finds time to coordinate an alumni Facebook group and annual reunion, teach residents gardening and take them on outings, organize karaoke-style sing-alongs, and more.
When did you start at Mountain Laurel, and how did you come to work here?
I started here as a clinician when the facility was Seabrook House West [a 90-day transitional living for men newly sober from alcohol and drugs] and then stayed when we were transitioning over to Mountain Laurel. When Summit purchased us, the CEO [of Pennsylvania facilities] asked me to step into the Clinical Director role; I started that position on December 21, 2015.
My background is mental health. The majority of my career was spent working with children (mostly with autism) and their families in a community-based setting. [Working as a clinician at Seabrook House West] was a big change for me. After our acquisition and transition to Mountain Laurel, I wasn’t sure that I would stay on here because of the change in level of care [from 90-day sober living program to 30-day detox residential]. I was more comfortable with the longer program that gave me more time to work on some of the underlying issues, the mental health, as that was my comfort zone.
However, when I met Brian Stoesz [the CEO], his passion for recovery and excitement for what could come was contagious; he said this could be a program that we could develop and turn into whatever we dreamed, and I was excited about that. So that’s when I decided to go on this crazy little ride and give it a chance. And I’m glad that I did because I’ve been allowed to bring a kind of heart to this program.
What do you like best about working here?
Since it’s transitioned, I love the very homey feel here. We joke all the time that we’re a dysfunctional family. We’re a small community and pretty intimate. I am blessed with an incredible clinical team. I get to know all of our residents, even at this level. Leaving the role of clinician was difficult because I love being a clinician and didn’t want to lose that connection; but I like doing the programming, and I still do groups and carry a small caseload, so I’m able to have those personal interactions. Every one of the residents knows my name; they know they can come into my office at any time. I’m grateful for that. Residents tell me that other facilities don’t have clinical directors who take them to buy flowers or garden with them. I love being with the residents and am as involved as I can be.
I saw [on Facebook] that you took residents to the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. Is that something you do regularly?
I love taking residents to the canyon and sharing the beauty with them. I try to take groups of residents up as often as I can and facilitate a spirituality group. There’s this spot on the Colton Point side of the canyon that I love. It is an easy hike and secluded. There is a large rock that jets out over the canyon that we will sit on and just look out in silence, practicing mindfulness. It is powerful and a great way to feel connected spiritually to the world around us. We also take things with us to have a picnic, and we just have a good time enjoying our surroundings and fellowship.
What’s the hardest thing about working here?
For sure, losing people [her voice breaks]. Just seeing the struggles our residents face each day. We have some of the most beautiful, courageous, determined, broken people walk through our doors every day. Every single day, we watch them fight for their lives. The realities of this disease are devastating and it breaks my heart to lose people to their addictions, to have those who have worked so hard relapse and see the pain they feel as a result. Like right now, we easily have 7 or 8 readmissions here. That’s hard.
And yet it seems like a good sign that they’re choosing to come back here [as opposed to going somewhere else].
I had this conversation with our CEO because he was like, “We have a lot of readmissions right now—what are we missing?” I said, “I don’t know that we’re missing anything.” The new statistics of heroin addicts recovering from rehab alone is like 6% or something crazy. I think it says something about what we’re doing that when our alumni get in trouble and they relapse, they pick up the phone and immediately let us know; if they don’t call, another alum will call and tell on them [she laughs]. We have a lot of that, alumni reaching right back out.
Our continuing care coordinator starts working with our residents literally the first day they’re here; he’s one of the first people everyone meets, even before their counselor. And he works with them every week until they discharge. So when they leave here, they’ve got a plan A, they’ve got a plan B, they’ve got a plan C. He calls them the day after the discharge, and he calls them every week thereafter for the first three months following their discharge. So they know they’re going to get that phone call from us. Some alumni will call and say, “I’m really struggling today,” and our coordinator will reach out to me and say “Hey, you maybe want to give her a call and just check in and see what she needs.” And if Plan A’s not working, we’ll make suggestions and get Plan B going.
I started our Facebook alumni page as a way for our alumni to stay in contact with each other and be able to support each other. Just yesterday I posted something because I noticed there hadn’t been a lot of activity; so I was like what’s going on, where’s everybody at, check in with me. That’s been a good tool, too.
Talk a bit more about the gardening. I know you said you started the garden. Is that something residents just do when they want to, or is that built in the program?
I don’t require it. Gardening is what I do; that’s my therapy, my down time when I go home. So I enjoy it. I help them maintain the flower beds. That’s what I did all day Tuesday—we were out cleaning flower beds! I just tell residents that gardening works for me, and it may be helpful for them as well. The people who I usually have use it as a tool to deal with their own anxiety and as a healthy way to decompress. I have a girl here right now…I haven’t even had to walk up to the garden, she’s got it. She’s up there at least a couple of times a day, making sure everything’s okay, everything’s watered.
I was going to ask what recharges you, but I guess gardening does that for you?
Yeah, gardening is something I love. I have a large vegetable garden at home and lots of flower beds. I enjoy every second of time I spend with my family. Hiking, traveling, reading, music, shopping (much to my husband’s dismay).
How many kids do you have?
I have two children of my own and two step children, so four total: 12, 14, 16, and 21.
What are a couple of fascinating facts about you?
I love music. I incorporate that into our programming as often as I can. I’m a die-hard Bills fan; residents make fun of that a lot, but I handle it like a champ.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I graduated from high school, I became a certified nurse’s aide and did that throughout college. I started out as a nursing student, but realized quickly that nursing was not for me; I don’t actually do gross stuff at all [she laughs], but I enjoyed talking and being able to help others. So I changed my major. It’s kind of funny really; my life is nowhere I thought it was going to be.
But you’re still in the healing profession.
But in a much better way!
**Breaking news: As of a day after this post, Trinity is officially nationally certified as a master addictions counselor. Congratulations, Trinity!