Christian Therapists Alexis Thomas and Ivan Gonzalez
Lakeview Health is known for its Christian program, led by therapists Alexis Thomas and Ivan Gonzalez. In this podcast, they discuss how the program helps people who identify God as their Higher Power and have an openness to belief. The Bible and faith in Christianity provide the framework patients can use as they learn to live a sober life.
Gina: Hello everyone, this is Gina Thorne with Lakeview Health and we’re here again today for the Lakeview podcast series. I’m joined today with Alexis Thomas and Ivan Gonzalez, therapists for the Christian program here at Lakeview. Welcome. Alexis: Hi! Ivan: Hi, hello. Gina: We’re really glad to have you here today and we’re excited to talk more about how the Christian program works here at Lakeview, but before we do that I’m interested in hearing a little bit more about your respective backgrounds. Gina: So, Alexis, tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into the field of addiction? Alexis : Well I graduated with my master’s in clinical mental health counseling in 2011. I was searching for a job. I was trying to go up to Atlanta, Georgia, but God had different plans for me and I ended up applying for Lakeview addiction. I took the classes, substance abuse, I have family members. I have peers that struggle with substance abuse, so I’m very familiar with that and it was just something that spoke to me. So I’ve been doing this for two and half years now and I love it. Gina: You started as a recreational therapist. Alexis: Yes, I started off as a recreational therapist. I was a certified recreational therapist I did that for 6 months here at Lakeview and then I started off in primary group as a primary therapist and then once a position opened for Christian therapist, I applied for that; I’m very active in my church. I’m part of the prison ministry, I’m part of the music ministry, so I’m very active in the ministry, so this is just more of me spreading the word of God. Gina: Great fit for you. Alexis: Yeah. Gina: Great, Well, how about you, Ivan? Ivan: Well, my wife and I-well, it’s funny you say that, Alexis, because I definitely feel it was very much a God thing that brought me here to Lakeview. We came up here; my wife and I just got married about 6 months ago and I was looking for work. Previously I’ve worked with marriages and couples and I did a lot of psycho-ed type of work and I also worked with college students for a little bit, still trying to figure out my fit, and she found a job up here and then I stumbled across Lakeview. I really wanted to begin dealing with addiction. I realized when I was working with couples that addiction is very much a family disease, like we talk about all the time. I really wanted to understand a little more, especially from the Christian perspective. Right now, I’m in the process of becoming ordained in my denomination so I really found that the Christian program in particular was a very attractive thing for me really, sold me on this place. Gina : That’s fantastic. We’re very lucky to have both of you as assets in our Christian program because we know that people are very much touched by the work that you do in their recovery work. So talk to me a little bit about the Christian program. If folks are listening today, they are probably curious about what the day in the life look like for somebody in your program. Alexis: Well, the Christian program we, it’s basically you identified yourself as a Christian you identified God as your higher power. Because we use a 12-step approach here, so it’s using God, using the Bible as your stepping stone, your tools that you need for your life and recovery. So a day here is you have a morning Bible study, we do healing as a choice and also life healing choices we use the Life Recovery Bible or whatever Bible you have on hand and just process the different steps and how they can relate to your life and recovery. We also openly talk about God in our processing groups, openly pull out the Bible for issues for concerns we pray, Bible study we have pastors who come in and talk. It’s just you know really reconnecting with God because a lot of people struggle with that: “God doesn’t want me anymore, God doesn’t love me anymore.” “I’ve done this, God doesn’t hear me” and it reconnecting and realizing that God never turned his back on you. You have to reach out and grab hold to God. So that’s basically what our program here, it’s learning how to reconnect, how to stay connected with God and how to use God daily not just on the ‘thank you, I need you, I need you, buts,’ it is on a daily basis, grabbing hold to God, especially much needed in recovery. Ivan: I like what you said there, Alexis. I definitely think that we’re very intentional here with the Christian program, meaning that a lot of people, you know, they really look at step 2 and talk about the higher power piece, but we really bring that framework for the Christian folks and I think using the Bible and using the scriptures that we have, the Christian program is a very intentional recovery experience. I think it’s phenomenal we’re continuously growing it, we’re adding more and more to it. I love it when the pastors come I really feel that the people get their spiritual needs met perhaps in other places they wouldn’t. Gina: Well, it’s also nice because obviously it’s speaking to the spiritual component of recovery and really trying to reinforce that for a lot of folks who have lost their spiritual path before, when they got into their disease. So giving them a space where they can actually apply that is great. Ivan: Absolutely. Gina: So, what’s the criteria to be in the group? Alexis: We don’t go by set religion-you have Baptist, Catholic, Pentecostal. There is no set religion-you just have to identify yourself as a Christian. You have to identify, you know, God as your quote unquote “Higher Power” and just be willing and open to look at your personal struggles, but also rely on the Bible and rely on the word to help you make life decisions, to help you focus on what you have to do for your recovery. So, you just have to have an openness and a willingness to have identified Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Identified that you have to have God, it’s not ‘I think I need God’ or ‘I don’t want God’ but no, I have to have God in the center and I have to use God for my recovery. Gina: So, people who may have not seen that in themself before could certainly identify that; Alexis: Yes, I have had people, you know, atheists come in and say they don’t believe in God, don’t believe in God and have that spiritual awakening while, you know, they almost died or something happened and they come to the Christian track and they start developing that relationship with God. So you have to have that willingness and openness. You have to believe that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior. You have to believe that God is your Higher Power to be in the Christian track. Gina: And we’ll accept you. Alexis: Yeah. Gina: So what kind of aftercare support is typically available for people who are working a faith-based recovery plan? Alexis: There are a lot of Christian therapists out there so we refer Christian-based therapists in addiction or marital individual counseling. We also look for Celebrate Recovery in your area. Gina: And what’s Celebrate Recovery? Alexis: Celebrate Recovery is the biblical-based approach to 12 steps. So they use the same 12 steps in AA and NA meeting, but it uses the Bible as the reference guide for it. So its praise and worship, everyone is welcomed, you could be struggling with addiction, gambling, sex, eating, so it’s just an open forum for you to go. So we encourage patients to attend that as well as NA and AA meetings, individual, marital/family counseling, we look for a Christian therapist in their area and also IOP intensive outpatient, like group therapy we try to look for that once or twice a week, we try to set all that up before you leave. Gina: So you think there are enough resources out there to compliment what we started here at Lakeview? Alexis : Yes. Gina: That’s great, so how would you describe the Christian program impacting the success of our patients’ recovery? Alexis: I truly believe, well I get a lot of emails. I get cards; I get phone calls from patients that say “you know I got 6 months clean,” “I am a year clean,” “I reconnected with God, or even if they relapsed they say “you know, I messed up, I went to church” or “I started calling my sponsor or I prayed to God and I got back up I didn’t beat myself up,” so I really believe that spirituality is such an important part of recovery. I came to believe a power greater than myself restored me to sanity, just realize that you’re not alone. So when you have that spiritual component, that it’s not just you, you are relying on a higher power, you’re working on forgiving yourself. You know you already been forgiven by God, it’s easy. It makes the steps easier; you don’t have to go through it alone, you don’t have to be you know by yourself. You always have someone with you. And I think that’s the main part of having God as a higher power. You know, Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. It’s looking at how can I rely on God, not just say I’m a Christian, but put God in the center of everything and that’s what they’re learning and once they grab on to that, God will never leave you or forsake you so continue to walk on that steps of recovery. Ivan: Absolutely, I think that you know that surrender piece you talk about, Alexis, when you come into that Christian program, that framework is already there, even if you are still trying to figure everything out or what that means or what the implications are for your faith. You know, I’ve seen the patients in our program, not that they get it right away necessarily, but there is a framework for them and that there is a direction for them to go, not with just the 12 steps but with their faith. I think it allows them to have more confidence or freedom to kind of explore those areas that-before they came to treatment-they were kind of scared or uncertain to do so and with the community of believers-oh, it’s a powerful thing. Like it says in the Bible “When two or more are gathered in my name, I am there” so I really believe that and I see that very much so tangible with our patients. Gina: That’s fantastic. What do you think sets Lakeview Health apart from other treatment programs? Just globally as a clinician here at Lakeview, not just because we have this amazing Christian program, but if someone was listening today and they needed to make a decision about their loved one getting treatment here. What would you say to them? Alexis: What sets Lakeview apart are the people here that care. You have people that will go out of their way to make sure you are OK. You have, it goes from the nursing staff, to the clinicians, to the doctors, to the maintenance people, to the cleaning ladies, they are always “are you OK, do you need help?” so it always that love there, no matter what your religion is, what your sexual orientation is, no matter what your drug of choice is, there’s someone always there. For me that what sets Lakeview apart is family, we care and we confront but we also lift you up when you’re struggling. Someone’s always there for you. Ivan: I’ll definitely echo that, Alexis, from the stories I’ve heard from other patients we are just a big family here. Regardless of if you are in the Christian track or not if there’s willingness if you are willing to engage those 12 steps and really surrender to something bigger than yourself, I believe we have the resources and the personnel, the quality of people, the relationships that you build here are just phenomenal. I think, like you said, we just have an incredible staff we really I think go the extra mile. I know I speak for myself; I know that I do I really love my patients and try to know them by name. Gina: Well, you both obviously are very passionate about the work that you do and I am deeply honored to be able to work with both of you and I’ve seen the passion that you talk about when you’re working with your patients, so very excited about the opportunity to talk to both of you today about our Christian program and about Lakeview. For those of you that are still interested in learning more about Lakeview, we encourage you to join us at: www.Lakeviewhealth.com If you have any questions, feel free to give us a call at 866.704.7692 . Thank you.