Emphasizing the importance of healthy attachments is a mainstay in addiction treatment. Particularly when speaking of positive outcomes in recovery. Like the legs of a stool, the more support one has, the sturdier the result.
What are Healthy Attachments?
“Attachment” is defined as: a strong emotional bond, an affectionate regard, fidelity to a cause, or the state of being personally attached. But healthy attachments in recovery also bolster resilience, well-being, and emotional and social development. Group therapy, peer recovery groups, and an alliance with an individual therapist fosters attachment in the literal sense.
The key to successful outcomes in the treatment of substance use disorders, is family commitment and education, supported by a plethora of resources. And I cannot stress enough the importance of healthy attachments.
Jenny Selent, MA, LMFT
The subject of our Limelight Interview, Jenny Selent, is a licensed marriage and family therapist. And she talks a lot about connection, healthy attachments, relationships, and supportive systems. As Director of Business and Program Development, Jenny is in a good position to impart her “deeply relationship-based therapy” on the treatment models at Sanford.
The Importance of Relationships in Addiction Treatment – Limelight Interview Jenny Selent, MA, LMFT
1. What does your role as Director of Business and Program Development entail?
(Smiles) It’s a bit of a moving target, but I help develop clinical programming. We are always expanding our services to provide treatment for more people. So, I am researching intensive programs for specialized populations, such as, first responders, LGBTQ+, young adults, etc. In short, I develop programs that support recovery management and expand our reach. Also, our clients are looking for additional programs to stay connected to Sanford. Because of this, we have opportunities to enhance our continuum of care.
Do you facilitate groups yourself?
I am a therapist at the core. I like to stay connected to the clinical work being done at Sanford. And particularly, I like to stay up-to-date with marriage and family therapy.
2. What is your primary focus? How do you personalize your work?
I went the marriage and family counseling route, and it was reinforced in grad school, that I have a systems mentality. By that I mean group and individual programming systems, and how systems support each other. I don’t like to work in a vacuum. My brain wants to work toward the root. It’s not natural for me to deal with symptoms. I look for the larger cultural influences – family, community. I am a deeply relationship-based therapist – the cognitive behavioral approach. We heal within relationships – how we are in a relationship, is germane in all treatment models.
3. Speaking of relationships, how has COVID-19 impacted them?
We are all in the process of rethinking relationships … and what relationships are. During the shutdown, if you were without a “COVID cohort”, you were vulnerable to mental health issues. Even elementary school children showed signs of depression. COVID-19 created a disruption to healthy attachments, and that leads to mental illness. The pandemic did bring families together in smaller groups. And if you can get farther away from the internet, not waste the time, you can rethink your relationships. And not take any of your attachments for granted.
4. What is your treatment philosophy? Things you know to be true about addiction therapy?
That it is vital to incorporate family into the treatment and recovery process. To smash the myths and the unknowns that undermine recovery. Education is important, and assessment for trauma symptoms – especially in children.
What do you mean by “myths”?
In my experience, a person in recovery may be changed, but go back into a system that has not changed. An adolescent may come home and shut the bedroom door (innocently). The family’s, fear-based response might be they’re using again … We must address caregiver trauma as well. The family system may be on high alert, hyper-vigilant, and looking for red flags. The pain and damage are still there – even in recovery. Education and understanding are the foundation of a healthy family system
5. Why did you become a therapist?
Since I was very young, I knew I wanted to be a therapist. Both my parents had significant trauma before they met, and it created conflict in their relationship. Even as a child, I understood the conflict was coming from pain. It caused them to undermine each other. They sought help. The church could not help them, no referrals were able to help. I saw the repercussions and the impact on our family.
6. What is the key to success in recovery? Healthy attachments?
Philosophically, I think it is understanding the importance of healthy attachments. And also, recovery from all co-occurring mental illness. Also, family education and commitment, supported by a plethora of resources.
7. And the pitfalls to watch out for?
That’s a loaded question … Culture, life, human trafficking, the revolving door of corrupt treatment. We need more empirical public education on what is good treatment. Culturally, we glorify a partying lifestyle. It’s also glamorized in the media. In high-school, there is no powering-down from relational demands. Kids used to be able to come home from school and get a neurological break. Now, they are looking to see how many “likes” a post received. Social media follows us everywhere. It’s a set-up and drugs and alcohol are the relief.
8. On a lighter note, what is the fun part of your job?
Working in a team of clinically minded people. There is a buffet of ideas and ways of helping people. I love working in teams – getting different angles on a particular problem. The other thing I love, is seeing the result. One of my first residential clients called me recently. How wonderful to know that person is thriving! It’s what keeps you doing the hard work. Because this is a lifestyle, not a job, and we release people into the world who are more compassionate, healthy – incredible!
9. What do you read?
It had been a while since I read for pleasure. And I was determined to start again, so I asked my son to get me a book last Christmas. He got me The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett, and I loved it. Which got me back to reading for pleasure again.
10. What is your favorite journey?
My journey becoming a mother has been the hardest and the best journey. Through becoming a mom, my understanding and interactions have changed so much … protecting their identities … For example my daughter is a very free-spirit, and I do not want to somehow extinguish that in her.
11. What makes Sanford unique?
The heart and ethics of the founders is what brought me to Sanford. Their sincere desire to help people.
12. Do you have any phrases you use often, maybe overuse?
We take the time it takes, so it takes more time. In other words, you have to rebuild neuro-pathways, and it takes time to heal relationships,
13. What about your most marked characteristic?
I am intensely relational and optimistic (to a flaw). But, it keeps me wanting to change the world. (Laughs) Because I think I can …
We are sure you can! Thanks Jenny. SH