Tuesday, May 12, 2009

5 Questions for Sylvie Martin, Family Therapist

5 Questions is our ongoing feature where we introduce you to the people who make Brandywine Counseling run, spotlighting a different staff member every two weeks.

Name: Sylvie Martin
Job: Family Therapist, Alpha Outpatient Program
Time with BCI: 3 years

1. What does a Family Therapist do, and why did you get into this work?
Everybody at BCI that needs to do some family work or couple work, or even therapy, they’re referred to me, and I try to help them out in their recovery. I do believe that the family is a very important component of recovery. We all need someone. We all need to feel connected.

I used to work at Rockford Center as a psychiatric social worker some years ago, and most of the population was suffering from co-occurring disorders. It was upsetting to me that they would treat only the mental health, when the addiction part has such a big role to play. And so I thought, if you want to help somebody in that situation, you need to work on the two fronts. One is not sufficient. I don’t care which one. And it’s personal too; I grew up in a family with addiction. So I got my certificate in drug and alcohol, and then after that went for the [Family Therapy] license.

I love doing it. When I say where I work, people say, “I’m so sorry!” They tend to feel bad for me! So I always retort back, “I love it! You don’t understand, I love it!” There’s still a lot of social stigma regarding people with addiction. You always hear, “That’s the bum, that’s the criminal, that’s a second hand citizen.” So I always have to retort back to them, “Don’t feel sorry for me, I’m really happy that I’ve got this job!” To me, this is a gift. I come here, it’s a gift! I just love what I do.

2. What are the benefits of including your family in your addiction treatment?
I think it’s an important part of the treatment, if not vital. Because at the end of the day, we all need family. We all come from somebody and need to go back to somebody. And sometimes I say to people, none of us want to die alone. I don’t care if it’s the most shy, reserved person, or some consider themselves hermits, at the end of the day, we all want to have somebody by our side. And I think that they’re an important part of the treatment. Sometimes, they’re a deterrent to the treatment. Sometimes I find, I have to help the family, because they are the provoker or the enabler. They’re not helping, sometimes they’re even the trigger. I think it’s important to understand the person in their home environment.

I run group at Wilmington Hospital, where I work [full time] as a psychiatric social worker, and yesterday, I was showing them: “This is you, the first circle here, and then this is your family, and then this is your friends, the society at large.” So I really believe you need to be connected, it’s a vital part to be connected with your family. And I love doing that work, because too often you hear that it’s the person in addiction who had estranged themselves from the family, but the family sometimes is playing a big role, too.

3. What kinds of issues do you help your clients with in their family sessions?
Most, I would say, communication. It’s so funny, you would think it’s so basic. But sometimes, I do active listening, kind of a little lab. Because people are not listening to each other at all. So sometimes, when I first meet with them, I will make them stop and say, “Okay, you’re the one that talks and this is how you’re received.” I help people reflect back. Start with that, but it becomes a lot bigger than that.

I also do a lot about intimacy, believe it or not. Helping people understand that intimacy’s part of being a couple, and it’s way bigger than the action between the sheets. And how to reconnect back, because I’m really a big believer in connectedness between people. I help them with reconnecting, with a kind of joint exercise.

I just had this couple that I’ll see tonight - a big, big dude! I first saw him, and he was like – ohhh, really angry! And I met him the first time by himself, because he “wanted to talk to me…” Then at the second session with his wife, he was, “Oh, blah blah blah blah…” And at the end of the second session, I was saying, “I want you to do something together. What would you enjoy?” And he turned to her and he said, “Can you come with me and take a walk?” Like he was a little boy! And he’s like a big, big man! But he wanted his wife to walk the dog with him, and she wanted for him to cook. So we agreed that next time, you need to do this. This is your homework you’re gonna do.

4. What is your biggest challenge in doing your job?
I think it’s to get them to the door the first time. If I get a new referral, if they don’t come the first time, if I don’t have a face to face with them, then it gets easy to lose them, and they end up not ever engaging. Even if they’re very hesitant about it, and they’re afraid of the word “therapist,” or “family therapist,” bring them to me face to face. Usually, if I meet somebody, I have a better chance for them to come. If you refer somebody, I should set my eyes on them. So that I can, in a hook - and I don’t use it in a bad way! - but I mean, hooking the person, make them understand I’m a very personable person!

5. If you had $30,000 to donate to BCI what would you do with it?
I would put it toward the family services. I think that would be the thing I would wish for you guys, to have a family therapist full time. I only have 8 hours [a week] and it’s not enough, I do what I can. And, train everybody here, to do a little bit of family work, to get themselves interested. [Which we’ve started to do.] And I love it! That’s why I came for the inservice, and now they’re thinking about that. A good program should include family services.

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