The Importance of Life Skills: A Q&A with Sean Rhodes, Life Skills Specialist at Pyramid Healthcare Altoona Detox & Residential Treatment Center

Published On: May 17, 2023|Categories: Educational, Life Skills|

What type of life skills are important to teach to those in recovery?

There’s a plethora of different things that we teach. It ranges from money management to securing housing, interpersonal skills to communication and everything in between. Some of those topics include values and responsibilities, which are right in the wheelhouse of life skills.

Real skills for real life. Refusal skills are one, and setting and attaining goals is another. Also, we discuss furthering their education or going back to school, getting a certification or licensing in some area or field that they’re interested in.

We talk about making amends in grief and loss because that’s a huge topic for our residents to work through.

Securing housing / looking for housing. Our residents don’t want to be homeless. And their immediate goal is to find housing in their area, to get some type of housing for them and their families to better the communities in which they live.

We have side topics among those main topics like stress management, anger management and co-occurring, where we talk about dual diagnosis (mental health and addiction in one). So it’s a great topic for our residents to kind of get educated on that stuff.

The key to a lot of these topics is just getting an education. Education is so important.

We also have a parenting curriculum here and it’s great for all of the parents that are in our facility. Even if you don’t have kids, we encourage our residents to attend our parenting classes because there are a lot of spiritual principles that you can get from our parenting curriculum.

All those skills are very necessary. Our specialists here at Pyramid Altoona Detox and Residential Treatment Center learn a lot just by teaching this stuff to our groups and our clientele.

How do you go about teaching the clients these life skills?

We have different LGI rooms, large group instruction rooms here that we house our residents in, and we will give our lectures in those rooms. We try to line up the chairs in the rooms, kind of like lecture style in rows. We tend to see that it benefits our residents the best just by keeping their attention spans and keeping them engaged.

We also do a lot of team building exercises, like ropes therapy where we have small group activities for adults that focus on spirituality and finding that happiness advantage for themselves. Because we know all too well, that life is too short to be miserable.

So we’re always trying to find ways in which we can tap into that happiness advantage for themselves. We talk about how their pain is not in vain, there’s a reason for everything. And, if we can get into the habit of changing some attitudes, then maybe we can change their altitudes as well. There are a lot of spiritual principles and aspects that we talk about so that we can get ourselves, as well as our residents, more spiritually fit.

Can life skills be put on a timeline of ‘healing’?

We’re constantly going to be learning and developing, growing and maturing to the day we’re six feet under and even into the afterlife. There are a lot of tolls that come with life skills and trying to better these communities in which we live. This is kind of our mission here in the life skills department.

Instead of having just a few life skills specialists we have six well-trained, extremely talented individuals in this department that really do help train our residents and retrain them. Some of them are being trained for the first time in a lot of aspects.

When we say “retrain” our residents, there are certain aspects where they might have some morals and some values instilled within them. But, sometimes the disease of addiction can put our morals and our values in the back seat. So what we try to teach them is, they’re still there, some of the behaviors that come from this disease are just a symptom of the disease.

It’s not an accurate representation of who these people really are. I think that’s what we have to portray to them and why we really try to teach them some good things so that they can move forward amicably and find that peace, joy and serenity in their lives moving forward.

How do life skills programs support and sustain recovery?

We are giving them tools and solutions, and I think that’s an excellent way to describe recovery–it’s about finding tools and solutions. I think that a lot of self-care comes into play here and we have a topic titled “Hygiene and self-care.” Sometimes we’re met with a little bit of resistance like, “Are you just teaching us how to brush our teeth?”

There’s more to it. Self-care goes much deeper than just taking care of your health. It’s taking care of your emotions so that you can make better quality decisions in the moments that matter and finding ways to network within your community. We put a lot of emphasis on the ability to network effectively.

How do these programs help somebody in recovery build community support?

Networking is huge. It’s like the old saying: it all depends on who you know. That comes from working the networking process. You have to get your name out there, you got to stick your foot out there, stick your neck out there and talk to people that want what you want.

Surround yourself with positive influences. Surround yourself with people who are not willing to just leave the world the way it is and who are always striving to do better and get more out of life. That’s what we talk about when we try to find these positive influences and network effectively because you never know who could potentially even save your life.

To stick your neck out there and to make a name for yourself and have those support systems in place all come from networking, and that’s really what we try to focus on.

Is it just the clinicians at Pyramid that are teaching these life skills or do you bring in professionals from the community?

Our clinicians do teach life skills. However, we do have a very strong team of life-skill specialists here in Duncansville that really get into the nitty-gritty of what needs to be talked about. We render it down to a team of specialists that can really give it to the clients and be real and raw and kind of get them to open up a little bit and be vulnerable.

As uncomfortable as that may seem, nothing changes if nothing changes. So we have to do different and healthy things to improve our lives. We bring in people from outside resources. We’ve had Career Link representatives come over and give a lecture to our residents, informing them of all the assets that they have there and all the channels that they could potentially go through. Also, Occupational Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) is a great thing to bring into our facilities and get them started with the application process.

We do have a resource center, it’s one of the first of its kind. When it gets to the end of our resident’s stay here, we give them the opportunity to come to our resource center. We have desktops lined up so they can get on the Internet, they can go on and look for jobs in their area, or they could apply for OVR. We also have Express Employee Professionals. EEP and representatives from EEP will come in and speak to our residents as well.

We also have representatives from financial institutions speak, one being from Forney Financials. They’re willing to come into our facility and talk to our residents about how to better budget your money and manage your money.

It’s a great thing to have these people from outside agencies who are willing to come in for free and speak to our residents. I think it does wonders for not only them but for our residents as well.

Is family encouraged to attend life skills classes with their loved one as an extended support system?

We used to have visitations and it would be on the weekends, and they could have visitation where they would have family members come and visit them. However, since the pandemic, that kind of has been put on hold.

I always say that you have to honor yourself first before you can honor other people. A lot of times they get phone calls throughout the week, our residents do, and most times we call that the “pain box.” Because, I get they want to have the support of their family, but a lot of times their family might not be on the same page as them or they might not even understand the disease of addiction.

They can be met with a lot of pain when they get on those calls. They might hear some bad news or they’re hearing things that they just don’t want to hear. Maybe their family member or friend is giving them some grief and it distracts them. It takes them away from their focus and what they really need to be concentrating on.

That’s why we always try to tell them, you got to honor yourself first before you can even honor others. Just to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and be content with what you’re seeing in your reflection. We focus on progress, not perfection. We take baby steps. We’re not expecting our residents to look at themselves in the mirror and be like, “Oh my goodness, you’re so handsome, rugged, I can’t even take it.”

We just want them to be content with what they’re seeing in the reflection. That’s really a step in the right direction for them to understand that you have got to develop these support systems, but for some support systems, you might have to love these people at a distance. And, that’s another spiritual principle that we try to teach our residents— love at a distance.

Sometimes love at a distance can be the best thing you can do for yourself because you’re setting yourself up with a boundary. Boundaries are extremely important, and we talk about all types of different boundaries. The ones that are healthy from those that are unhealthy. We tell them that if you are going to set a boundary for yourself, but you’re going to cross or break that boundary, you might as well not have any boundaries at all.

If you’re going to put a boundary in place for yourself to protect yourself, you have to make sure you stay pat. We really try to focus on consistency and with that comes repetition, and repetition is extremely important.

I think that extended support, again it all comes down to networking and finding that support system. Whether it’s through the sisterhood or the fellowship or the group home or the sponsor, I think just reach out in any way. You can surround yourself with those people that you would like to be surrounded with that want more out of life and are not just willing to leave it as it is.

What’s the best way to support a loved one in recovery?

Spiritual principles, humility, patience, restraint and respect. All this goes into the families of our addicts in recovery. It’s interesting because a lot of times some of our family members think that maybe we’re not being treated properly while in rehab or we’re not being fed properly, or they think, “Those people said you were an addict, but they don’t know you.”

It’s difficult in that moment to just be “okay.” Maybe you have an aunt or something that said they called you an addict, but they don’t know you. I don’t know if that’s the right opportunity for you to just explain the disease concept really quickly and you’ll understand it.

People are not always going to latch on to the education behind the disease concept right away. Again, we might have to love these people at a distance.

I would say to the parents who have a son or daughter in recovery, sing love songs to them. I think this whole time addicts have been singing war songs and that never seems to go anywhere.

I think we should really be singing love songs to them and telling them you love them no matter what, whether you’re using or you’re not, “I love you, and if you need someone to talk to, I’ll be here for you.” But, understand that it’s a lot on their part to make sure that they can iron some things out. Work on their character defects and have more awareness of what they’re thinking and feeling because if you don’t talk out, you’re going to act out.

We really try to get people to open up to step outside their comfort zone, to be vulnerable. And when you do that, you start to see results, you start to see change. The more you keep coming back, you’ll start to see other people change as well.

It’s a process. We’re going to be living with this disease until the day we’re six feet under. So, we can definitely get to that point where you can live a happy and healthy life in recovery. And, it’s about a connection as well.

It shouldn’t be called addiction, it should be called connection because when people have happy and fulfilled connected lives, they tend to do much better. But, if you’ve got no design in mind when you wake up, you’re kind of all willy-nilly and you get into the self-obsession and who knows what could happen after that?

Just stay true, stay genuine, work the steps or find a process to recovery that’s tailored to you. There’s smart recovery, there’s refuge recovery, and there are the 12 steps that we mostly focus on at Pyramid Healthcare Altoona Detox and Residential Treatment Center. Find that program, find that fellowship and find that networking and happiness will come into your life, joy will come to your life, and freedom will come back into your life. That’s ultimately the goal. We don’t really know who we’re helping, but we know that we are helping, and that’s enough for us to keep coming back. It works if we work it.

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