Q&A: Maritsa Yzaguirre, Executive Director of Treatment Solutions’ New Adolescent Facility

Maritsa Yzaguirre, Executive Director, talks to us about Treatment Solutions’ brand new adolescent treatment facility program in Wellington, FL, opening soon.

Tell me about your background as it relates to adolescent addiction treatment, and why you’re excited to be the new Executive Director. I was originally a high school teacher and guidance counselor, and so I developed a passion for working with adolescents, and eventually, adolescents between ages 12 and 19 relating to addiction. I saw a lot of kids who were having issues with friends and/or family, and they didn’t have the right coping skills to deal with them. Many of them turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. So, I started doing a lot of counseling as a teacher, and was also working towards a master in counseling at the same time. I then decided that I wanted to work with teens and their families to help them better cope with system breakdowns, conflict resolutions and self -esteem building so they could really deal with their problems.

My new role gives me an opportunity to put together the two things I love: kids and their families, and addiction. I’m also excited because we’re focusing on co-occurring addiction, which is a mental health disorder and substance abuse wrapped up in one addiction — I don’t think a lot of other treatment centers focus on co-occurrence, or I haven’t seen many to the extent we do. There’s too much blaming going on within treatment centers, and the clients themselves — addiction is blamed on an addict’s friends or family, for example. We are proactive. Instead of blaming, we see what works and take action.

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Based on your experience, what are the nuances of adolescent addiction, as opposed to adult addiction? What makes child and teen addiction different, or more or less sensitive when it comes to working with a client? Everything comes back to the brain. An adolescent’s brain is not fully developed yet. Our frontal lobes grow by the experiences we have, and younger people haven’t had as many experiences. Adolescents generally need more redirecting and reinforcing.

These children don’t have the full set of reasoning tools to understand how or why they’re struggling; they just live by what feels good. Deductive reasoning isn’t there, and if you delay reasoning, you delay the process. It’s like… everything is the end of the world. Unfortunately, we’ve had five teen suicides here in Wellington, FL recently because of that mentality, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to stop.

In your own words, describe the great importance of family, family support and family participation as they relate to adolescent addiction. Family support is key. In therapy, we have something called IP, which means “identified patient” and the person exhibiting the greatest amount of discontent. A breakdown in the family system leads to an IP. You don’t see many kids in strong, healthy family systems out of school and shooting heroin.

The breakdown happens when these younger addicts act out to seek attention. We need the family to come to terms with the reality of what’s going on and say, ‘Okay, I play a part in my child’s addiction.’ Whether it’s by enabling, or there are other addicts within the family, or a death has occurred, or some kind of abuse has taken place — the family must acknowledge that the family problem.

How is the ‘watchful eye’ that a parent may already have over the client different from that of this program? Our primary purpose is the child, and it’s not that the parent’s purpose isn’t, it’s just that the parent might have other things going on in his or her own life, like a marriage that needs work, or an illness, or a stressful job situation. We are there solely for the child. We have double the staff as an adult program, so we can really get to that one-on-one connection.

How are you handling schooling and education within the program? Will the client be able to transition back into their regular school once finished with treatment? Whatever the child is working on in school, we get. We want to open the lines of communication with clients’ current education systems and learn those requirements.

Clients will also be academically/mentally tested when they arrive. Any learning disabilities will be catered to with an assigned IEP, or Individualized Education Program. Trained psychology experts and teachers are on staff, and we’re in the process of putting a program together that incorporates homeschool-like tutoring.

It will absolutely be an easy transition back to their school system. And the child may even be benefiting more with one-on-one treatment, and go back to school with even more potential.

Bullying is becoming an epidemic. How is this program prepared to handle it? We’ll be providing tons of education with the direct intention of sending the message. Role-playing works great, because we openly talk about the feelings that come when put into various roles, and then the kids can describe what they like and don’t like about playing each role. They’ll be educated on prevalent themes like “power vs. force” and “aggressive vs. assertive,” and so on.

Adolescents are assigned a licensed therapist and counselor with whom they work directly throughout their treatment. Is there a procedure or policy in assigning certain counselors to certain clients? When kids come in, we make sure they’ll have a therapist that will help bring about comfort and openness, according to each client’s needs. But we have therapists that specialize in certain things — one may be trauma, one may be family issues, addiction and so on — counselors’ expertise is definitely tailored to each child. And if for some reason they lose or don’t form an effective connection, we’ll switch things up.

Do the program activities offer flexibility when it comes to the daily schedule, or is it similar school, where students (pretty much) take part in what is required? The program is flexible, but then again we want the children to be well rounded and experience different things. Maybe they don’t like art, let’s say, because it hasn’t been presented to them properly, or at all even. We’ll work so that whatever is best for a child will be what he or she gets out of it.

How does the program handle the physical space between young clients who have different conditions? For example, can clients with one psychiatric condition room with others who don’t have that condition? Yes, they can. It’s all based on personality, really. We want the child to feel comfortable — but we can’t just walk around our whole lives among only those we like the most. The real world doesn’t work that way. Learning how to deal with different people with different addictions and personalities will only benefit them when they return to their home environments. They may have rifts with siblings or friends, and we want them to be able to handle and change themselves, rather than flee from their environment and the people in it.

A 16-year-old is in such a different place than a 13-year-old, yet they’re both considered adolescents. How are the age groups handled? How a client will be placed amongst different groups will be handled on a case-by-case basis. If we have a 13-year-old who’s just come into drugs versus an older, more experienced addict, we’d have to assess whether or not it’s best for them to be purposely put around each other. In some cases, it may be beneficial to mix age groups. There’s lots of great opportunity for addicts to help newcomers transition, and vice versa — and say, ‘Hey, look how much better I feel… you can, too.”

How would you describe the Medical Assessment (and/or other initial assessments that may be nerve racking to a younger person) to a nervous, incoming client? The staff. Our staff is so caring. They’re used to dealing with adolescents. They understand the needs that must be met. Mood swings, nervousness, resistance — these are all common in these young clients who, very often, aren’t coming on free will. The staff is consistently screened, re-trained and are re-discussing ways to deal with clients’ needs. If one child is more apprehensive or sensitive, as opposed to one who is angrier, the staff members are trained to work with each individual. Plus, they bring their training already in place. And it’s just a very nurturing and caring environment.

Is Detox part of the program? If detox is needed, we’ll have the client go to detox prior to coming to the program, through Treatment Solutions. We’ll then transport them to our facilities once they’re cleared for outpatient care. We also provide medical management here.

Describe the program in three words: Caring, consistent, focused.

In your own words, what is the facility’s mission statement? To take in adolescents who must be shown that there’s a better way of life. That they don’t have to live with or mask the pain with drugs, alcohol or self-harm. That there is a better life out there, and we’ll show them how to get it.

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