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Saturday, August 29, 2009

up close and personal...

One on one interview with Jeff Johnson.

Jeff Johnson, MSW is our subject for this month. He has provided us with this introduction to begin our interview process.

Jeff Johnson was born and raised in the Midwest both Indiana and Kentucky. Jeff completed his undergraduate work at Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY. Jeff attended law school during which time he strongly felt a call to become a therapist. Resigning his law school seat he completed his graduate work in Social Work earning an MSW at California State University, Long Beach. Jeff has completed specialty courses in substance abuse and addictions at UCLA and other training programs. Jeff has earned many awards with his work in Co-Occurring Disorders (COD) and speaks regularly at community and state level events teaching and consulting programs on this subject. Last year Jeff was at presenter at the California State COD conference. Jeff has recently started serving as an Advisory Board Member for the UCLA Extension Certificate programs in Alcohol & Drug Counseling and Studies.

TSS: What is a Co-Occurring Disorder? Do you consider this your specialty and do you have any other areas of interest?

Jeff: Co-Occurring Disorders or COD for short is when an individual has a mental health diagnosis and a substance abuse or alcohol diagnosis simultaneously. I specialize in the treatment of this population and sometimes focus on women with children who have a substance abuse problem who are in family reunification programs. I also enjoy working with youth and adults who struggle with sexuality issues, which can lead to addictive behaviors.

TSS: Describe a typical client.

Jeff: The clients I treat have either severe depression with and without psychotic features, schizophrenia, or Bi-Polar disorder, and have addictions with meth, opiates, marijuana, and or alcohol. Many times they have suffered severe sexual abuse, trauma, and have avoided proper treatment medically, mentally and for their addiction.

TSS: It must be difficult listening to problems and conflicts everyday without it affecting you?

Jeff: If everything was viewed as a problem I would need drugs for respite or a tall building to jump off onto my head. These individuals are seeking help, to get their lives back and find a new life. I view each individual as ‘presenting opportunities’ for growth into a new life. This treatment is not to learn how to live with a present lifestyle but to learn a new life—maybe for the first time. I am an opportunity developer—they do all of the work while I cheer them forward. It is beautiful to see one of your clients start college for the first time while hearing voices that are not real, or watch a client apply for a job after years of being depressed and high, and observing self esteem grow in someone when the best name they have ever been called is a “crazy drug addict loser.” I call them all “winners” from the first day I meet them and tell every one of them, “You are worth it.” So, how hard would it be for you to have a job where you watch people ask to get their life back then watch them do it? For me, it is a blessing to be invited to participate as they get their lives back.

TSS: Sometimes I wonder how individuals who have learned this through books can help if they have never been through it themselves? Do you hear this question a lot?

Jeff: Great question. Yes, I hear this question often from clients seeking treatment to other professionals in this business. I have never used drugs or abused alcohol—I have been very lucky. My answer is short and simple, if your doctor has not had a heart attack would you refuse treatment if you were having a heart attack? Do you have a male OB/GYN? Do you ask him how his last childbirth went? Addiction is a disease that has many roads leading to successful recovery. I utilize in my treatment protocols peers in recovery. A doctor friend of mine, who is 25 years clean after 15 years of active using described it well. He said, “When I started my recovery and asked a professional for help it did not matter to me if they had experienced recovery in their lives, I knew I needed to get well and they could help me.” As of today they have not stopped making addicts and alcoholics nor has the prevalence of mental illness diminished. Services are limited, funding for resources is scarce, professionals willing to work with this population are limited, so for those who are looking to get well should be looking at what they are willing to do not who will assist them in it. A therapist should be the smallest part of this process.

TSS: We have heard you are planning on writing a book. Can you tell us about it?

Jeff: Thank you for asking. Yes, actually I am working on research for a book and a workbook. I also want to research a paper—more on that later. My book title hopefully will be, “Spirituality, the Real First Step to Recovery for the person with COD.” Just to keep it simple, in the 12-step recovery process the first step defines the person seeking recovery as being powerless. In the second step they identify a higher power. Throughout the 12-steps a higher power is referred to more than any other item towards recovery, thus, my book subject. Learning symptom management for the mental illness at the same time adds a new dimension to the recovery process. I am also interested in writing a manual on stigma reduction (I teach this material now in recovery homes) and I think it could work in a workbook format. I would like to do a research project with lesbian couples analyzing the effects of how entering into a committed relationship has altered their sex lives. I have a lot to do.

TSS: What motivated you to this line of work and to work with this particular population?

Jeff: This answer is easy---God, my Higher Power! Everyone is wired with special gifts and talents. I prayed to God to allow me to work with the hardest population, the population no one wanted and to give me the gifts to bring healing to this population. God answered my prayers and now I am just following directions from HIM.

TSS: Any final thoughts to our audience?

Jeff: Yes, and thank you for this opportunity. Substance abuse and alcoholism for most is not a choice. Biological pathways in the brain modify themselves, in some more quickly than others, to sustain harmful habits. This disease enters into lives without barriers or boundaries and certainly without regard for consequences. Mental illness has a dual stigma with individuals thinking they are crazy if they have a diagnosis and the general public who agree with them. Once treatment starts it is not easily removed and it takes a lifetime of monitoring—like cancer—to stay its return. Services for individuals with COD are not funded adequately, professionals are not seeking this population to treat, and public perception on recovery is poor. People with COD can and do get their lives back. The public sees individuals in recovery as they struggle, but once stable these same individuals teach your children in school, treating you as a doctor or nurse or secretary, or rule on your case in a courtroom. How do I know this—because they have all been my clients! If you have more than 4 drinks a week please see a professional in this area to discuss if you need to have some concern or e-mail me for a confidential response at wrapcc@yahoo.com. YOU ARE WORTH IT.

TSS: Thank you Jeff for this interview—it is very inspiring and educational.


  1. thank's jeff. it is a great help to general public knowing a person suffering from Co-Occuring Disorder still has a life to look forward to, they can have their productive life back or start anew through help by a professional like you.

    this information open public awareness that people with this condition should be encouraged to seek professional help instead of battery of harsh and brutal words.one day it could be our love ones, it could be us in their shoes.

  2. I read from your comment on another site that ur a fan of forensic files.. I am a big fan as well...

  3. it must truly feel rewarding, jeff, to see (or hear about) one of your former patients - years later - transformed into a successful and productive member of society, and to know that you played a part in that person's improvement. i absolutely admire and have the utmost respect for people in your profession. i can imagine how stressful it must be to deal with these individuals with substance abuse problems and the like, and yet you launch into this noble task week after week with the goal of lifting battered spirits and instilling hope where there is none. may God continue to bless your work, jeff. thank you for sharing what you do with us. i found this interview quite interesting.

  4. thanks a lot Jeff, I know how much help and impact you've shared to those people who needed your guidance to help them find a way to get out from their situation.

    coincidentally, we had a seminar yesterday on gangs ( as teachers, we need some idea how to manage our classrooms to provide a safety environment for kids), and hearing our speaker talk, who is also a counselor like you, I can't help but shed tears for my heart cried for those kids who wanted to get out but did not know how, and I am glad, for the people like him and like you, who chose this profession to bring meaning and purpose to someone's lives.

  5. You have my respect and admiration, Jeff. You are in the fore ground of the battle to win back lives that are almost and could have been lost. What a noble way to handle such a difficult profession. I am amazed at your zealousness. You are right to include and put emphasis on the higher power, without which we would not have existed. The same higher power equips you in your everyday battle.

    God bless you and all your endeavors. I will pray for your book, I know it will be used mightily to change lives!

  6. Jeff was so excited to see his interview today. He wanted me to say thank you for this opportunity.

    He has been away to visit his sick parents.

    Thanks !!!

  7. My respect for Jeff, Chay.. i have a friend Swedish her mother is suffering from this kind of sickness, days won't pass without drinking alcohol, and my friend is really having problems, she don't even want to visit her anymore in Sweden they live here.

    It's good to know and read these informations from Jeff, thank you so much Jeff for this useful informations and Chay for featuring your interview with him.




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