Reaching Teens Through Kindness and Respect
Featured Guest: Johnny Patout
Today’s guest is Johnny Patout, a veteran clinician who currently serves as CEO of New Beginnings Adolescent Recovery Center in Louisiana. Recorded live at the Recovery Results conference in Dallas, this conversation highlights Johnny’s own experience of recovery, how that has shaped his approach to helping teens and how a very personal connection led him to serve at New Beginnings.
David Condos: Hello and welcome to this episode of Recovery Unscripted, a podcast powered by Foundations Recovery Network. I’m your host David Condos and I’m excited to share another great conversation that I recorded live at the Recovery Results conference in Dallas, Texas. Our guest today is Johnny Partout who serves as the CEO of New Beginnings Adolescent Recovery Center in Louisiana. His own experience of recovery led him to become a clinician and, as you’ll hear in the interview, it was also a very personal connection that led him to work with the teens and their families and New Beginnings. All right, let’s get started.
David: Welcome, Johnny. Thank you for being with us today. We’re going to start off by having you tell us a little bit about your personal story and how you got started serving in this industry.
Johnny Partout: Sure, sure. I’m in recovery. I had a pretty serious problem with alcohol and cocaine back in the 70s and early 80’s. I’ve now been in recovery for nearly 35 years. Following my first year of recovery, I stumbled into the industry working in a substance abuse program as a counselor’s assistant back in 1982, I think it was, and here I am today.
David: Nice. Could you tell us a little bit more about your current role with New Beginnings?
Johnny: Sure. I’m one of the owners of new beginnings and the managing partner. New Beginnings is a 60 bed residential treatment program for teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18. It’s an eight week program. Most of the kids who enter our program stay on campus for eight weeks. Many of them also, besides having a substance abuse problem, they have secondary issues, co-occurring issues and things of that nature. We have the clinical team comprised of experienced professionals that can effectively deal with those issues.
David: What would you say is one of your favorite things or a couple of favorite things about what you get to do in your current role?
Johnny: The most rewarding and enjoyable thing in my role is to observe how much these troubled kids change over the course of 8 weeks. Normally, we start seeing some significant and positive changes around week four and five, where the kids start to embrace the recovery process, begin to make some better decisions. I frequently tell people I have the honor of watching these kids change right before my very eyes.
David: That’s awesome.
Johnny: It’s pretty cool, yes.
David: Could you also tell us a little bit more about the philosophy and approach to treatment at New Beginnings?
Johnny: Sure. We’re an abstinence-based program. We believe that kids that get in trouble with alcohol and drugs should embrace the notion of abstinence. We utilize a variety of therapeutic approaches. We also believe that it’s important for these kids to have some fun in treatment. We provide the kids with various recreational activities ropes course, horseback riding. In Louisiana, we’re able to take them on swamp tours at times. Some of the out of state kids like the swamp tour. We have a ropes course, a ropes challenge course, on campus where the kids are challenged to work as a team. Another important part of our program is the family program, to take a look at the whole family system and encourage the whole family to get involved in recovery. We also have some music therapy, we have word therapy. It’s interesting you never quite know which particular approach may reach a kid and so we have a variety of approaches.
David: New Beginnings treats adolescents exclusively?
David: Okay. Why is that important? How can you better serve these adolescents in a way that other programs maybe couldn’t?
Johnny: Well, adolescents are certainly unique. One of the things about these kids is that they do not yet have fully developed brains. The human brain normally doesn’t fully develop until the mid 20s. Because their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed, this is one of the reasons why they make irrational decisions, demonstrate risky behavior. Basically from an outsider’s point of view, do some stupid things. [laughter]
Our treatment team is comprised of folks who specialize in working with teenagers. Even a normal teenager, without substance abuse problems or without mental health issues, those particular years– it’s just a challenging time. For a kid who succumbs to alcohol and drug abuse, they even become more complex. I just think it requires a specialized program and a specialized clinical team that understands teenagers, understand what’s happening in their brain, understands that their brain is not quite fully developed. It requires a significant amount of tolerance patience and love because the little rascals can challenge you on a daily basis.
David: Just like being a parent of a teenager?
Johnny: Exactly. It could be challenging. We created an acronym, R-E-A-L, REAL. It’s important on a daily basis for each and every one of our team members to treat these kids with Respect, Empathy, Acceptance and Love. That makes the difference. This makes the kids– the kids get a sense that team our members are genuine, really care about their well-being. We have a much better chance of motivating them to take a good hard look at some of the things they need to change regarding their thinking, and regarding their behavior.
David: Yes. It seems like dealing with teenagers does present a lot of specific challenges like that, like keeping them motivated and connecting with them. What are some ways that you guys have seen success with reaching kids in that way?
Johnny: Well, like some of the things I’ve mentioned before, some of the various therapeutic approaches. The music therapy, the art therapy, group therapy, individual therapy, the family therapy, experience ropes course. It is always interesting as to what particular approach and what aspect of what we’re doing on a given day, may reach a certain kid. You can see when that “Aha” moment happens, when they say, “Ahh, yeah.” [laughs] Sometimes it’s just one staff member having a casual conversation with a patient is walking the campus, we have a beautiful 22 acre campus. I speak to lots and lots and lots of parents from all over the country. Most of the time, parents who asked a question when they first get them on the phone, they want to know, “Why is my child doing this to himself or herself?” My response is, “Well, the simple answer is they like the way alcohol and drugs make them feel. But that begs an answer to the question, why don’t they like the way they feel in the first place?” That’s what I think we do in treatment. We try to explore what is it that is going on between this kid’s ears that they are incapable of feeling good about themselves, feeling good about their lives, having self-esteem. For each kid, it could be something different. I noticed lately in our business, a lot of people talk about trauma. Something as simple as a kid, say, a 15 or a 16 year old kid, not feeling as though they fit in with their peers at school, that can be quite traumatic for them. Some of them get in the habit of seeking relief through a mood altering chemical, they start changing and they change friends. In treatment, initially, we strive to establish some trust with these kids so that hopefully they’ll begin to open up at some point and talk about those things.
David: Yes, it does seem like that personal connection and trust would be really important.
Johnny: People with substance abuse problems have an awful lot of secrets. [laughs] Teenagers, perhaps have even more secrets than adults and they have a harder time talking about those secrets. An environment in which there’s trust so that they can feel safe to start talking about those things is certainly the initial step in changing their life to a more positive lifestyle.
David: I was reading in the New Beginning’s materials over at your booth about the Lean Forward Initiative.
Johnny: Yes, yes.
David: Could you tell us a little bit more about what goes into that and how you’ve seen patients respond to it?
Johnny: Lean Forward is just a name that we’ve given to a type of environment we’re trying to create, which is a positive, loving, caring, respectful environment. And that we absolutely never ever shame a kid for negative or destructive behavior. When one of the kids at our facility acts out, we view that as a therapeutic opportunity to explore what is going on with this kid so. In an environment, positive peer culture environment which says lots of tolerance, lots of understanding. That’s an environment in which we have a better chance of convincing a kid to explore. know what is underneath that anger. Most of the time it’s some sort of pain, or some sort of fear. The Lean Forward Initiative is just simply our entire staff maintaining a positive, caring, loving attitude toward these kids regardless of what they do. Now that doesn’t simply mean that we let them get away with murder. There are some consequences at times but we will always respond to them with a loving and caring attitude.
David: Yes, that’s a great way. I like the way you said it earlier to see those outbursts as teaching opportunities.
Johnny: The other interesting part about the Lean Forward Initiative, or a positive peer culture, is quite often the kids who’re doing well, who’ve been with us for a while, are a positive influence on the new comers, which is what a positive peer culture is about. You want them to influence. Those that are in advanced stages of the treatment process, you would want them to have a positive influence on the new comers. New kid comes in, not happy about his parent’s decision to admit him or her in treatment, and the kids who have been with us for a while would gather around the new comer and say, “Hey, it’s not so bad.”
David: Because they have that perspective now.
Johnny: Yes. “This is a pretty cool place, the people are nice, the staff will treat you well, this is what I’ve learned since I’ve been here, just be patient.” We’re confident that over the course of time you would be glad you came here. That’s the hope with a positive peer culture and we see that occurring on a regular basis.
David: Another thing that you touched on earlier was getting the family involved and that seems especially important because you’re dealing with adolescents. What are some ways that you try to do that and you’ve seen success with getting the whole family on board?
Johnny: Sure. Our clinical team makes sure that the families are involved from day one. Of course in admission, we get as much information from the family as we can. The families can come on campus every weekend, to visit their child. During that time we take an opportunity to do family affair each weekend. For those parents who are out of state and perhaps cannot come every week, we have a secure video feed where we can get them on to video feed and we could do some, like a TeleMed type of thing, we could do some therapy with their child and counselor in the room. Then at some point, when we get a better feel of the family dynamics and the particular issues for the child, we will have an intense three or four days of family program, taking a look at the family dynamics. Taking a look at how individual family members have changed the manner in which they respond to each other as a result of substance abuse entering their family and explore healthier ways to interact with each other. And hopefully extract a commitment from each family member to get involved with their own recovery. If the whole family embraces the recovery process, the identified patient has a much better chance of success.
David: Another thing that you offer at New Beginnings is on-site educational program for these kids because they’re still in school?
Johnny: Yes. They are schooling, yes.
David: Could you tell us a little bit more about how that works and how it helps the patients?
Johnny: Yes. We have our own school. When a child comes into treatment from any state across the country, our school coordinators immediately connect with their school. We get their coursework. They spend some time in school every day. When they complete our program and return home, they haven’t lost ground in school. In fact, quite often, they have gained ground. And there are times when parents would call and tell me about how wonderful our school is because their kid has made such progress. I find that a little humorous because when– I’m thinking “Well, when they were with us, they weren’t on alcohol and drugs. So they could focus a little bit better.” Yes, we have a school that helps keep the kids current with their schoolwork and sometimes they actually gain ground. That’s pretty cool.
David: You mentioned a little bit about your personal journey through addiction and recovery. How do you feel that that experience that you’ve had firsthand has shaped your perspective as a treatment provider?
Johnny: When I went to treatment, with a treatment team, I thought at the time that’s just a wonderful and fabulous job of providing me the opportunity to understand addiction as a disease, and like any other disease, it had to be managed on a regular basis. Just like someone with diabetes or someone with heart disease, there are certain things they had to do every day to manage that. The heart disease and the diabetes is certainly not going to miraculously disappear. And the same thing with addiction, which is a chronic disease. I’ve been able to have, again, maybe being 35 years of continuous sobriety. I think that’s because of the treatment experience I had convinced me of the necessity to manage my disease on a regular basis, which means to attend meetings, stay involved with other people who are in recovery. Our treatment team at New Beginnings strives to do the same thing. In treatment, we try to impress upon them the fact that they’re actually on the wrong path. Their 15, their 16, their 17 year old self is the worst enemy for their 30 year old self. Look what you’re doing to your 30 year old self. You’re going to look up at 30, which is going to come quicker than you realize, and you’re going to be having a life without money, a life without relationships, a life just not rewarding.
David: Yes. I just wanted to wrap up with this last question. You devoted a lot of your life and your time and effort to addiction, mental health treatment over the past few decades, why is this important to you? Could you just sum that up?
Johnny: Well, it’s quite personal. In 1998, I had a 17 year old son who actually went through New Beginnings. He had an alcohol and drug problem. He went through New Beginnings in 1998. Long, long, long before I was ever involved in New Beginnings. And my son was experiencing low self-esteem, abusing alcohol and drugs, went through New Beginnings, did well, feel good about himself, feel good about his life, was proud of himself, had four years of joyous sobriety and, unfortunately, he was killed while serving in the military. That makes New Beginnings pretty special to me. New Beginnings experience for my son was such that the last four years of his life was joyous and rewarding. When I heard New Beginnings was either going to close or the family was going to try to sell it, it was an honor and a privilege for me to be involved. Now, for me every kid that comes in, enters our program, I can look in their eyes and see my son. Hopefully, they can get the same benefit from their treatment experience as my son did because he turned his life completely around. New Beginnings is personal to me in that regard.
David: Wow. Yes, that’s incredible story.
Johnny: Ironically, we named our school house after my son. I know he’d get a kick out of that because he absolutely hated school. [laughter] We named it the Brandon P. school house on our campus.
David: Wow. That’s a great tribute to him now.
Johnny: Yes, I think so. Yes, I feel good about it.
David: Well, yes. That’s it. Thank you for your time.
Johnny: Thank you.
David: It’s been a pleasure talking with you.
Johnny: Yes, it’s been nice. Thank you very much.
David: All right.
Johnny: You have a lovely day.
David: Thanks again to Johnny for joining us. Now, I get to conclude this episode by introducing a brand new segment that highlights Heroes in Recovery, a grassroots movement that celebrates the heroic efforts of those who seek help for addiction and mental health issues and also works to break the stigma through building community. Part of that community is the Heroes website where over 1,300 people have shared their personal stories of recovery. I’m honored to be able to feature some of those stories on the podcast in this new segment called Hero of the Week. Today’s hero story comes from Dave. H. Dave suffered a lost all parents fear, when he lost his son, Greg, to an accidental heroin overdose in 2012. But out of this nightmare situation, Dave made a vow to save a life in his son’s name.
He closed his business and has been working as an advocate for ways to save lives ever since. He fights for improving access to the overdose reversal antidote, Naloxone, and for creating 911 Good Samaritan laws that offer immunity for those who help someone else get medical attention during an overdose. As Dave writes in his story, “What I come away with is, first, save the life. As long as they’re alive, they’re going to relapse, we know that, that’s part of the process. But where there’s life, there’s hope.” Thank you, Dave, for sharing that and for doing your part to break the stigma. If you’d like to read Dave’s full story or share your own, go to heroesinrecovery.com.
This has been the Recovery Unscripted podcast. In this episode, we’ve heard from Johnny Patout of New Beginnings Adolescent Treatment Center. If you’d like more info about the care they offer, visit newbeginningsteenhelp.com. As always, thank you for listening. Please share this podcast, give us a rating on iTunes and subscribe so you can have our new episodes delivered right to your app. See you next time.