Outpatient Addiction Treatment – Limelight Interview

outpatient addiction treatment Masonic Temple

Sanford Outpatient Center bricks and mortar – while groups are facilitated via telehealth


Sanford’s Outpatient Center is abuzz with activity during the pandemic, and outpatient clients are all in groups via telehealth. But even though our programs are being conducted virtually, the administration, assessments, medical monitoring, confidentiality requirements, and stringent standards are still in place. And our outpatient therapists are experiencing the some of the same difficulties as our outpatient clients – grappling with new technology, physical distancing, and the added stressors of COVID-19.


The subject of today’s interview, Karli Henning, started with Sanford as an intern in the Sanford Outpatient Center. In her words, the job of interning was “shadowing and accommodating all corners of the Sanford world”. She audited but did not facilitate groups for several months. Finally transitioning into leading groups and working with clients individually.


New Job During a Pandemic …

In April of this year, Karli became a full-time therapist in the Sanford Outpatient Center. Which was when the world shut down with COVID-19 and our outpatient programs transitioned to virtual platforms. Karli says she is grateful for her job, and the orientation she got during her internship. Like all the Sanford therapists, she was able to adjust to the changes from in-person to telehealth groups with relative ease and good cheer.


Substance use disorder is a shame laden disease for a lot of people. In outpatient, I  help our clients manage and reduce shame and guide them to see alternative options. That’s my job. 

Karli Henning, MA, LLPC


Outpatient Addiction Treatment – Limelight Interview: Karli Henning, MA, LLPC


1. So, you became a full-time therapist and the world shut down. How did telehealth effect you and your clients?

There seems to be a lot more anxiety with the advent of COVID-19 than I experienced before. But people in recovery, our clients, are already resilient. They are also engaged and prepared to learn and use their coping skills – so important during this time. We work on harm reduction safety plans and developing support systems. For me, as a new clinician, I miss not being able to walk around a corner and ask a question. It is a bit more complicated than that.


2. As a therapist, what is your primary focus?

Substance use disorders are a shame laden disease for a lot of people. I try to help our clients see alternative options to manage and reduce shame. That’s my job – to reduce the black and white thinking that comes with addiction. Stop thinking about what I can’t do and focus on what I can do. I work to boost our clients’ sense of self-worth. That’s easy when a person does the right thing – but what about when you mess up?


3. Your outpatient treatment philosophy?

I am drawn to narrative therapy. I enjoy the story and to separate people from their problems. Also, Existential Therapy. My therapy mentor is Irvin David Yalom, an American existential psychiatrist. I help clients develop agency, and control what they can control. Learn to take charge of a situation. CBT and Mindfulness techniques are also useful.

4. Why did you become a therapist? Don’t you have one master’s degree in Creative Writing?

Laughs. Yes. I was planning on becoming a Professor, getting a PhD. But I was missing a sense of fulfillment. Becoming a clinical therapist was a seed that took a while to grow …



5. What do you think is the key(s) to successful outcomes in recovery?

First, having a structure and a solid recovery plan is important. And working in relaxation and fun. Second, having a therapeutic relationship. It’s part of aftercare planning in outpatient addiction treatment. When our clients step down from outpatient, we look for a therapist in their location to transition to as they leave.


6. What are the biggest pitfalls/triggers to relapse?

Not having a healthy respect for the chronic nature of the disease. Or experiencing low times without a plan. Boredom. You’ve got to find something that is fun and fulfilling for you. And the “shame voice” – you cannot listen to the voice that says “you don’t deserve it”.


7. What’s the fun part of Outpatient Addiction Treatment?

There are a lot of fun and funny moments in group. Especially with telehealth – there might be technical issues, where someone’s face freezes in a funny expression. Or a bug crawls across the screen. I do miss the office and the in-person groups, but we are making it work.


8. What are the challenges?

The current technical challenges are notable. And it is hard for our outpatient clients to not have a building to go to, or in-person connection. And when I still see folks operating from stigma, desperate for help but they still haven’t caught up with the science of addiction. But I do get to watch our clients learn and find relief and coping skills to deal with their substance use.


9. Creative Writing? What kind of books do you read?

My favorite book is Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. I like J.D. Salinger and Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. The incredible journal, Man’s Search for Meaning by Vicktor Frankl.


10. What do you think makes Sanford unique?

It’s the staff. Everyone I work with cares. Clients say it too – they get support from anyone on all levels of staff at Sanford.


11. What words or phrases do you use frequently?

As someone who can think too far into the future, “One day and a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time.”


12. Your most marked characteristic?

I am a thinker. Stoic, curious, I try to get all the information possible. I believe that telling the story heals the teller.


13. Do you have a motto?

Sometimes you have to live your way to the answer.

Thanks Karli.  SH


Sanford Behavioral Health is licensed and accredited as an addiction, eating disorder, and co-occurring mental health treatment facility, serving all of Michigan and beyond. Each of Sanford’s facilities in Greater Grand Rapids is carefully and diligently crafted to create a welcoming and comforting environment. Sanford is led by a psychiatrist-led team of medical, clinical, and support personnel providing medication-assisted, evidenced-based treatment to residential, outpatient, and telehealth patients. For more information, visit www.sanfordbehavioralhealth.com.