- Written by Carrie Thompson
An Interview with Carrie Thompson, Director of Admissions and Business Development
A: When a person is experiencing a mental health crisis or struggling with chronic mental illness, they are often referred to some form of mental health treatment. While many types of mental health and behavioral health services provide “treatment” in the overarching sense that mental health concerns are being addressed, the distinctions between services provided along the continuum of care are helpful to understand.
We must first define and discuss some terms. In general, mental health care falls into three distinct categories: stabilization, assessment, and treatment. This can be confusing, because we often use the word “treatment” as an umbrella term to refer to all mental healthcare.
It’s helpful to clarify that stabilization services are usually accessed within medical model hospitals. Stabilization can include everything from addressing an acute mental health crisis in a psychiatric hospital, managing medication through the oversight and care of a psychiatrist, and/or detoxing someone from substance abuse. The primary goal of stabilization is to get someone from a more acute state to a space where they are able to engage in a therapeutic process. Stabilization is typically a short-term attempt to address a situation.
Assessment can oftentimes be coupled with stabilization, or can be found as a stand-alone service. The primary goal of mental health assessment is to clarify diagnostically what is occurring for an individual. An out-patient psychologist or a team at a psychiatric hospital can typically run test batteries and come up with a diagnostic conclusion. This approach, while appropriate for more simple cases, or high-functioning individuals, can often miss the secondary goal of truly understanding someone’s level of functioning beyond just a diagnosis, or outside the walls of a hospital.
Finally, “treatment,” is what people are typically referring to when they talk about longer-term care. Treatment, which is usually informed by some type of assessment, is accessed in a range of settings including residential treatment centers, intensive out-patient programs, transitional living programs and out-patient therapy. Individual therapy, group therapy and family therapy are implemented in these settings and typically follow a particular approach or modality. Treatment without a preceding thorough assessment to drive the treatment planning approach can at best be time consuming, and at worst be contra-indicated.
Q: So in general, there’s stabilization, assessment, and treatment. What category is Bridge House in?
A: Bridge House holds an interesting spot on the continuum of mental health services, and is a unique hybrid of all three models. The Bridge House process incorporates a holistic approach to stabilization with the best elements of sophisticated comprehensive assessment, while integrating the cornerstones of compassionate, relationship based therapy and treatment. We have set out to re-vision the concept of assessment and diagnostic services available to clients around the country and the world. By slowing down the assessment process, a broad understanding is gained. Our professionals are able to observe not just how individuals operate and function in times of crisis or in restrictive settings, but are able to watch residents grow, evolve and heal, all guiding a better understanding of a person.
Q: How do you incorporate all of these goals, and how do you prioritize each?
A: Let’s first discuss stabilization. We know that we can not provide adequate care or accurate assessment if someone is in the throes of a crisis. When people arrive at Bridge House, we provide a safe, home-like, and welcoming environment, which is conducive to their stabilization process. This is especially helpful if they are experiencing an acute mental health crisis. We aim to connect and create trust and rapport with our residents from day-one, to help them understand that we are here to help them answer questions and create a road map for their future. We focus on empowerment and relationship building to guide this process. Stepping well beyond the goals of in-patient hospitalization, stabilization at Bridge House incorporates diet, nutrition, sleep, medication, exercise and mindfulness. Bridge House has a psychiatrist on-site who manages each resident’s medication regimen to aid with their stabilization process. Stabilization extends throughout someone’s time with us as we raise their baseline of functioning and engage in a healing process.
Q: I’ve heard of treatment programs that complete an assessment at the beginning of a client’s stay with them. How is that assessment different from what Bridge House is providing?
A: It’s true, there are some treatment programs that may integrate some cursory assessment at the outset of a client’s treatment experience, but it is typically not the most comprehensive assessment available. Everything at Bridge House that occurs, sits under the umbrella of assessment as we try to understand an individual, what their strengths and challenges might be, and how to best support them in redirecting the trajectory of their lives. Self-awareness and understanding goes hand-in-hand with emotional health, wellness, and healing.
Q: If Bridge House includes treatment, do residents need to continue therapy or treatment after they complete their time at Bridge House?
A: The goal of someone’s time at Bridge House lies far beyond simply identifying an accurate diagnosis. We strive to help our residents truly integrate this new information into their daily life and subsequently improve their level of functioning. The outcome then allows residents to prepare for transition to the least restrictive level of care they are capable of managing since there has been opportunity for forward momentum alongside the assessment process.
- Written by Tawnie Larson, RN
Because the primary focus of Bridge House is to help residents and family members better understand the underlying reasons for issues leading to impairment in day-to-day adaptation and functioning, we seek to understand these issues through the application of scientific, social, medical, and observational strategies. Bridge House is committed to leaving no stone unturned when it comes to the assessment of our residents’ mental health, and we understand that physical wellbeing is a significant component of mental health.
In addition to all of the psychological and observational evaluation that occurs throughout the Bridge House process, our holistic approach to assessment includes a series of medical tests, which we believe are a key part of the puzzle when helping residents who come to us seeking help. To inform their treatment and assessment, when each resident arrives we administer genetic testing (if not previously completed), blood work, and toxicology screenings.
Bridge House offers genetic testing to personalize medicine for each client. Our clinical team uses the specific information gathered from genetic testing to create a more personalized approach to treatment, as genetic testing allows clinicians to understand if a drug may work for someone before they even try it.
Genomind Professional PGx ExpressTM looks at 24 key genes that are associated with mental health. With this information, along with a resident’s medical history, our clinicians can make a more informed treatment decision. Genomind Professional PGx Express supports the genetic profile implications for the treatment of:
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- bipolar disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- chronic pain
Bridge House provides in-house blood work which reveals information about a resident’s physical health and gives insight into any physical concerns a resident might be experiencing The blood work completed will often reveal physical concerns related to many of the following:
- thyroid issues/hormone imbalances
- calcium and vitamin D
- B12 and folate
- hemoglobin A1C
- cholesterol levels
- electrolyte imbalances
- liver function
- kidney function
An initial toxicology screening (drug urinalysis) occurs upon admission and then each week throughout a resident’s stay. This screening process is particularly important for the assessment of a resident who has previously been using drugs, as it allows the treatment team to determine when a resident’s body is clear of substances and is closer to a baseline for more accurate assessment.
Additional Testing: As Indicated
If our treatment team determines that more information is needed, they will consider additional testing. Because this testing is administered “as indicated,” there is no definitive list of tests that our clinicians will consider. The following tests are additional tests we’ve used to better understand specific medical concerns presenting in a resident, but it is in no way a complete list of what can be explored as we engage in an individualized assessment for each person we work with.
- Hormone testing: If our initial in-house blood work reveals hormone imbalances or other related concerns, our treatment team may determine that further testing is needed. In this case, we will complete a comprehensive baseline test of hormone production which will help us pinpoint any imbalances and further inform treatment.
- Micronutrient lab test: The Bridge House treatment team will consider a micronutrient lab test for residents to gain a better understanding of nutritional deficiencies in order to address any nutritional deficiencies or complications that may be the source of or contributing to any physical or psychological complaints/concerns. This test measures functional deficiencies at the cellular level and is “an assessment of how well the body utilizes 31 vitamins, minerals, amino/fatty acids, antioxidants, and metabolites, while conveying the body’s need for these micronutrients that enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones, and other substances essential for proper growth, development, and good health.” [Spectracell]
- Food allergy/sensitivity testing: If there are concerns that food sensitivities or allergies may be playing a role in a resident’s health, an IgG (immunoglobulin G) test can aid in the structuring of elimination diets that may relieve symptoms of many chronic neurological, gastrointestinal, and movement disorders.
- CT or MRI: If the treatment team has concerns about a resident’s neurocognitive function, a CT or MRI of the brain may be indicated to rule out serious illnesses such as brain tumor or possible traumatic brain injury.
- Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) or Functional Neurocognitive Imaging (fNCI): If a resident arrives with a history of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that has not been properly assessed, or if the resident is experiencing continuing issues despite previous TBI treatment, the Bridge House treatment team may determine that further assessment is needed.
- Lyme Disease: An IGX immunoblot test will be administered if a resident’s history indicates that Lyme Disease may be a concern.
- Sleep study: Throughout the assessment process it may be determined that a resident should participate in a sleep study in order to diagnose a potential sleep disorder. By recording brain waves, blood oxygen levels, and other vitals, a sleep study may help pinpoint potential concerns such as narcolepsy, sleep apnea, unexplained chronic insomnia, or other sleep-related disorders.
Integrating Medical Testing into Assessment and Treatment
The results of all of these tests are reviewed and integrated into a resident’s Bridge to Health Report and recommendations are formulated and discussed with the resident by their treatment team. Our Medical Director, Psychiatrist, Clinical Dietician, and team of nurses help integrate this information into a care plan that facilitates raising the baseline of physical health for each person receiving support at Bridge House.
- Written by Anna Marasco, LCSW
Being transgender is often a trauma in itself, and we like to have great empathy for individuals who are trans when welcoming them to Bridge House. It is important to fully understand what it means to be transgender before treating or supporting a person who identifies as such. To be transgender simply means that a person identifies as a different gender than their biological birth gender. Research has shown that people who identify as transgender often possess the brain of the gender with which they identify, and not their biological gender assigned at birth (Cleveland Clinic, 2019).
Trans people are often victims of violence and discrimination. An open transgender status frequently finds individuals forced into unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and/or survival sex work. In 2019, at least 22 transgender and non-conforming individuals have been victims of fatal violence. This number also does not accurately depict the number of deaths because many police reports have misgendered these victims (Human Rights Campaign, 2019). Trans women of color face some of the highest levels of discrimination in any population nationwide (National LGTBQ Taskforce, 2019). Access to healthcare is very limited, as they are frequently turned away by doctors, therapists, and medical professionals due to personal beliefs, fear, or not specializing in transgender care. They also face daily persecution due to others not using their preferred pronouns, which results in daily revisiting of trauma and magnifying what the individual sees as “wrong” with them.
Most people who are transgender learn from an early age to feel uncomfortable in their own bodies—they look in the mirror and see the parts that aren’t supposed to be theirs, they look at what’s wrong with them. There was an instagram post by @TBESTIG that circulated social media recently about what it was like to be trans. It shared about how people who don’t fully understand often say, “I identified as a dinosaur when I was six, kids that age are too young to know they’re trans.” The post then continues, “Nah, mate. You didn’t identify as a dinosaur. You didn’t cry yourself to sleep because you couldn’t figure out why you had no tail. You didn’t feel inexplicable sense of shame at your lack of claws. When you saw yourself in a mirror in a dinosaur costume, you weren’t upset about all the non-dinosaur bits you could still see. When others saw the costume, you weren’t brought to tears by them treating you like a child-wearing-a-costume instead of a real dinosaur” (@TBESTIG, 2019).
Being transgender creates an identity crisis from an early age because your body—something that you should be able to rely on and trust—is telling you that you are not allowed to be yourself. This results in struggles with self-confidence, self-esteem, and difficulty finding a place in society because transgender individuals often feel like they don’t belong in social settings due to their foundational feeling of not belonging in their own body.
When we approach treating people who identify as transgender, the most important thing we remember is: if someone says they are trans, we believe them. When this person shares their preferred pronouns and names, we use them. Not only does this validate who they identify as, but it validates them as a human in a world that often treats them less-than. A person who is trans has already decided their gender and their place, it is not anyone else’s place to decide that for them. We are not here to change their identity, but we are here to support them through the process of reinforcing who they are and who they want to be.
People who identify as transgender are not seeking attention and are not “going through a phase.” Being transgender is a risk in today’s society—it is unsafe, it is a target for discrimination and violence. It is imperative to consider how important it is for someone to transition if they are willing to face the risks of transitioning (violence, discrimination, loss of relationships, loss of family, homelessness, poverty, etc.), versus living as the wrong gender. This isn’t a choice, but the individual’s biological makeup, as shown in the Cleveland Clinic research (link below).
In understanding a person’s experience in being transgender, therapy can often lead into the exploration of the person’s relationship with gender throughout their life. Being trans inherently brings trauma, and it is important to explore this in therapy in a non-threatening approach that builds from a non-judgmental foundation of safety in the therapeutic relationship. People who have experienced trauma often will resort to behaviors of survival.
Being trans isn’t bad, and it isn’t something to change. And when we step out of the individual’s way and don’t try and change who they identify themselves to be, we empower them to take control of the life they want and deserve.
Cleveland Clinic (March 27, 2019). “Research on the Transgender Brain: What You Should Know.” https://health.clevelandclinic.org/research-on-the-transgender-brain-what-you-should-know/
National LGTBQ Taskforce (2019). Website: www.thetaskforce.org
Human Rights Campaign (2019). Website: www.hrc.org
Interview with Connie Anast-Inman (November, 2019), Executive Director for TEA (Transgender Education Advocates) of Utah from April 2011 to June 2015.
- Written by Dr. Chris McRoberts
We are frequently asked by potential residents, their families, and members of the therapeutic community how we developed the ideas, assessment procedures, and therapeutic modalities utilized at Bridge House. This is a difficult question to answer because it was a plan developed over a period of nearly two decades. This plan began when Dr. Chris McRoberts created a psychological testing and evaluation firm with psychologists specializing in evaluating children, adolescents and young adults in schools, therapeutic programs, and private practice settings around the United States and even internationally. Over the years, it became clear to Dr. McRoberts that a majority of people with mental health, cognitive, learning, substance-abuse, and behavioral difficulties were not being adequately assessed or accurately diagnosed prior to beginning costly and time-consuming therapeutic regimens. Many people were being tested during times of crisis or while in a hospital when test results could be erroneous. Additionally, many people underwent psychological, educational or neuropsychological testing when they were experiencing the lasting effects of drugs or alcohol or immediately after significant medication changes which might impact their test results. Some were evaluated in the midst of a severe psychotic, manic, or depressive phase of their illness. Others had physical illnesses, chromosomal abnormalities, dietary problems, family situations, or histories of trauma that could cloud test results and lead to inaccurate diagnosis. It became clear that a slower, comprehensive, integrative, and community-based assessment strategy should be implemented.
In 2016 Dr. McRoberts partnered with Rod Andrus, a skilled clinician and manager with more than 20 years of experience creating and implementing therapeutic programming in residential settings. Together they developed a strategy for working with a diverse array of people experiencing mental health and adjustment problems with the goal of understanding the complex underlying reasons for the struggles people were experiencing. They utilized research evidence showing that people in acute and chronic distress must experience a caring and nurturing environment with their caregivers to feel safe and secure enough to make therapeutic gains. The assessment program they developed at Bridge House focuses on this type of environment while also providing structures to keep residents safe while they develop stability and with it the ability to heal. As this program is implemented, medications are adjusted and residents undergo medical, dietary, occupational therapy, DNA, and other comprehensive assessments before efforts are made to accurately diagnose and understand their problems.
Mr. Andrus and Dr. McRoberts also determined that a necessary component of the assessment process was to effectively communicate assessment results to each resident, to their families, and to future treatment providers so that a plan could be developed for lifelong health and healing. Because it often takes some time for people to understand the complexity of their issues, an integral part of the Bridge House process is helping each individual understand their diagnosis and the types of supports and therapeutic interventions they will need in order to function optimally in society. To this end, each individual at Bridge House participates in a wide variety of community activities in order for their ability to function outside of residential treatment to be evaluated and future plans can include interventions tailored to their reactions to real life experiences and challenges.
It was also clear that during the three month assessment process developed at Bridge House people could make significant change. This is accomplished through a wide variety of therapeutic interventions including eight hours a day of various forms of group therapy made available to residents, intensive individual therapy, and effective medication management. These interventions have consistently enabled Bridge House residents to make tremendous gains, which in turn, allow them to transition to the least restrictive level of care possible.
At Bridge House a fundamental tenet backed by many years of research is that caring relationships heal. Because of this, we hire the most kind, compassionate, and caring people we can find who are also able to set good limits and boundaries. This contributes tremendously to the healing process and creates an environment of peace, safety and security within which our residents feel secure enough to try new behaviors and to risk their deepest selves in order to make change.
Finally, the environment at Bridge House was chosen specifically for the peace and calm it engenders. Our beautiful home sits on five acres with a serene pond, outdoor living spaces, grassy areas, and beautiful trees away from the hubbub of city life. Our residents are free to move around the property, and, when they are safe to do so, can regularly go off the property to engage in service, athletic, and community activities.
We are trying something new at Bridge House, and it’s working to reduce the revolving door that so many people with mental health problems go through with multiple therapists, hospitalizations, medications, and other interventions that were ineffective due to an inaccurate diagnosis and a lack of understanding of each complex individual. We work hard at Bridge House to develop understanding, to create effective interventions, and to communicate our understanding of each resident and what will benefit them long-term.