Corner Canyons Approach to Treating Mental Health and Substance Use in One Effective Program

Posted on April 16, 2021 by Cheryl K, LCSW, CEO, Co-founder and Partner
Mental Health And Substance Abuse At Corner Canyon Health Center

One of the most common questions we receive in admissions is “Do you work with both mental health and substance use?” The answer to that is “yes.” Then the follow up question usually becomes “Well, how does that work?”

Research shows that there is a great deal of overlap in the neurobiologic systems involved in the pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders and substance use disorders. Neuroadaptations in brain stress as well as the reward pathways associated with chronic stress may predispose or unmask a vulnerability to psychiatric disorders, substance use disorders, or both. A trial conducted on a large sample of adults in 2009 highlighted the prevalence of comorbid psychiatric and substance use disorders; in particular, associations with substance use coinciding with anxiety, mood and personality disorders (Hartwell, Tolliver, Brady, 2009). Of course this is not the case in every situation. Many clients experiencing anxiety, mood disorders and struggling with trauma have no history of using substances. Yet, this information better helps us approach each client by utilizing a trauma lens. 

The trauma lens is often referred to as “trauma informed care.” It is based on 5 principles and offers a clear, compassionate and rewarding approach. 

  • Bear witness to the patient’s experience of trauma.
  • Help patients feel they are in a safe space and recognize their need for physical and emotional safety.
  • Include patients in the healing process.
  • Believe in the patient’s strength and resilience.
  • Incorporate processes that are sensitive to a patient’s culture, ethnicity, and personal and social identity.

Trauma informed care stems from an individual’s childhood. In many situations adverse childhood experiences work their way into the physical body which can impact long term health by causing psychiatric conditions, inflammation, dysfunction and disease (Purkey, Patel, Phillips, 2018).  

So how does Corner Canyon Health Center apply this lens? In a conversation with our clinical director, Sara Sorenson, LCMHC, she states: 

“We approach every client with a trauma lens, meaning most of us who struggle with anxiety, depression, dissociation, or compulsive/destructive behaviors are trying to numb, avoid or escape unhealed wounds, often from childhood. 

The trauma approach sees addiction like any other desperate attempt to manage pain and confusion associated with trauma, and we know that addiction clients need to do the same healing work most other people need to do in order to create effective and lasting change in their lives.  Yes, addiction does come with some challenges are that are specific to that disease and we provide supplemental groups, resources and treatments to address that, but the underlying contributing factor (why I first needed to numb, why I kept numbing) is the same as the underlying contributing factor to a non-addiction client’s need to survive by isolating, or running away, or lashing out, or engaging in toxic relationships.  

The overall skill-building process in treatment (identifying triggers/impulse urges, practicing healthy replacement behaviors, improving quality of supportive relationships, identifying and prioritizing personal values, connecting to self and others effectively, developing meaning and purpose) is also the same.  In fact, I find that when people are open to it, addiction and non-addiction clients learn really important things from each other that can make a big difference to their ability to understand their own dysfunction and the need to prioritize healing.”

Here at Corner Canyon, we believe that regardless of the nature of our client’s struggles, a trauma informed approach provides the framework for clients to actively participate in their treatment. We empower our clients to be leaders in their own healing process and guide them in addressing the traumas in their lives that have contributed to the development of unhealthy coping mechanisms, so that together we can move past those traumas and towards a healthier, more fulfilling life.

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Hartwell, K. J., Tolliver, B. K., & Brady, K. T. (2009). Biologic Commonalities between Mental Illness and Addiction. Primary psychiatry, 16(8), 33–39.

Purkey, E., Patel, R., & Phillips, S. P. (2018). Trauma-informed care: Better care for everyone. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien, 64(3), 170–172.