Month: May 2018

The Student Becomes the Master – A Practicum Experience at Together We Can

I began my Master of Counselling practicum placement at Together We Can (TWC) in September 2017, and from the first week onwards, I was impressed with the genuine care and understanding that staff consistently demonstrated towards clients.

Celia Yeung, MC, Together We Can

By Celia Yeung, MC
Together We Can – Masters of Counselling Practicum 

I was also moved and inspired by listening to clients share their personal stories, including what led them to make the courageous decision to enter an addictions residential treatment program to change their lives for the better. Moreover, I had excellent supervised opportunities to develop my skills in counselling clients both individually and in groups.

In my eight months at Together We Can, I gained a lot of knowledge while working under the exceptional guidance of Courtney Nichols, my practicum supervisor.  Courtney was very supportive in my practicing from a client-centred, strength-based approach in addressing client concerns, which may include clients coping with grief and loss, mental health issues, relationship challenges, and improving self-care.

Courtney modelled a highly ethical practice and provided me with a safe space to explore any area I wanted to improve on in counselling clients. She offered constructive feedback, provided ongoing encouragement, and shared many professional resources to help broaden my knowledge base and enhance my counselling skills.

I also learned to effectively integrate interventions from various theoretical orientations (e.g., cognitive behavioural strategies, mindfulness practices), when relevant, to facilitate positive client change. I highly value the collaborative, positive supervisor/supervisee relationship that Courtney and I built over the course of my practicum.

Furthermore, counsellors and other staff were readily available to assist me when I requested more information or resources related to clients’ treatment programs. Together, we worked effectively to empower and support clients on their paths to recovery that are culturally and personally responsive.

I am very thankful for the opportunity to complete my graduate counselling practicum at Together We Can. I worked with a dedicated team of professionals and an outstanding supervisor. It has been an enriching and unforgettable learning experience.

About Courtney Nichols – MC:AT, RCC

Registered Clinical Counsellor, Art Therapist

Courtney Nichols obtained a Master’s degree in Art Therapy in 2003 and is a Registered Clinical Counsellor in B.C. She is also Certified Cognitive Behavioural Therapist for anxiety disorders with additional specialty training and experience working in the areas of depression, PTSD, OCD & psychosis.

Often suppressed memories can play an integral role in addiction and identifying this through therapy can help unlock traumatic memories to aid in recovery.

She also uses her extensive knowledge and experience to counsel clients in Individual Mental Health Session regarding issues such as self-esteem, trauma, grief, and loss.

Courtney is an expert at investigating how feelings, thoughts and behaviours are influencing an individual’s current behaviour. She helps clients find patterns of negative self-talk and identifies how they are impacting the client’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Can Acupuncture Help Turn the Tide on the Opioid Crisis?

As we struggle to come to terms with the widespread devastation of the opioid crisis, a new study by the U.S. Military Healthcare System (MHS) on the efficacy of acupuncture as an alternative for pain control comes at no better time.

By Dr. Kim Graham, TCM
Together We Can – Acupuncturist

Acupuncture has been used to treat PTSD, chronic pain, and other battlefield traumas within the military system for years, but only recently has it really been getting the attention it deserves.

A Google search about acupuncture versus opioid use will quickly point you to numerous studies and research papers on the subject, and this truly speaks to how far acupuncture has come in terms of its acceptance and use within the medical system.

As a practitioner of this medicine for 16 years, all I can say is, “it’s about time.”  Long have I had first hand experience with patients who experience significant improvement in their pain, be it mental, emotional, or physical after only a few treatments. It doesn’t matter where the trauma resides; acupuncture addresses all of it – the whole person, body, mind, and spirit. However, if that’s too esoteric for those who are “science minded”, that’s ok, because now there’s science to back it up.

With that in mind, let’s turn our attention back to the most recent study from February, 2018.

The objective was to examine the usage of acupuncture within the MSH to determine who and why patients were accessing acupuncture services. The results showed that of the 15,761 people who received acupuncture in the MHS in fiscal year 2014, most of them were accessing service due to some type of pain either musculoskeletal or nerve and/or related to “system issues.”

For those of you who aren’t “science minded,” that translates to pain physically, mentally, or emotionally, or any combination thereof. This is also known in military circles as the ‘polytrauma triad’ – a fancy name for pain that affects mind, body, and spirit, and is typically treated with opioids and various other cocktails of anti-depressant or anti-psychotic medications along with cognitive behavioural therapy or other forms of therapy.

But, I digress, that is subject matter for another day.

The data in this study showed that at the end of the day, acupuncture was more effective than placebo for addressing pain conditions (of all types) including the treatment of PTSD, and that as there was a growing acceptance of acupuncture for wider usage, suggests its use as an adjunct treatment for multiple conditions could be helpful.

That’s science speak for “it works”, which is all we really needed to know. Right?

Together We Can staff member Dr. Kim Graham, heads our Acupuncture Program, and is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

With eight years of education in Eastern and Western medicine, Dr. Graham is an expert in her field, and has hands-on experience with homelessness, addiction, and mental illness in Vancouver’s DTES and at Harbour Light.

She has been facilitating acupuncture treatments for men in early recovery since 2002, and is an expert at recreating balance and alignment for the processes within the human body.

As an active member of her profession, Dr. Graham also works closely with her profession’s regulatory body (CTCMA) on projects surrounding practitioner competency and public safety, focusing on the development and advancement of TCM in BC. In addition to this, she also sits on the Program Advisory Committee for Kwantlen University’s TCM program, mentors students in a clinical setting, acts as editor-in-chief for a Canadian TCM magazine, and runs a successful private practice.

Dr. Graham has been part of our program development and group facilitation at TWC since 2002. She currently leads weekly acupuncture sessions for all of our first and second stage residents.

From Addiction Dependence to Independence

Finding A New Life in Recovery – Success Stories

Together We Can (TWC) is committed to supporting men who seek recovery from substance use disorders.

Addict Success

Support of our men does not end at treatment graduation, but is sustained as men ease into independent living. We believe that our highly effective wrap around approach to care is best to meet the needs of our residents, and is the heart of our mission. This aligns with the goal of the Ministry of Social Development which aims to supporting its clients to self reliance.

TWC’s client care coordinator, Vince Pirozzi embodies our care model as someone that was on Ministry of Social Development assistance, but through following our care continuum has been able to regain independence and self reliance. A contributor to our community.

Prior to entering TWC in 2015, Vince was heavily addicted to crack cocaine and heroin which was amplified as he was using on top of being prescribed methadone. He was briefly employed in property management shortly after graduating high school. As Vince’s addiction progressed he lost this employment and became reliant on income assistance. For the next four years, Vince would not hold any further gainful employment as he became further entrenched in addiction and began to use criminal activity to sustain his habit. While Vince had family members who had their own addictions, others in his family withdrew their support. As a result, Vince was on the Downtown East Side and couch surfing in the final stage of his addiction.

Desperate for escape from his addiction, Vince reached out to a family friend who advised him to contact Together We Can. After reaching out, he was admitted to TWC primary treatment in two days time.

This was Vince’s first and only time at a substance use treatment centre. He remained in primary treatment for 90 days and during this time was able to make connections that provided him with inspiration that recovery was possible. His former addiction counsellors continue to be in his support circle.

During treatment, Vince was connected with the recovery community and learned the principles of mutual support which has been instrumental for his recovery. He recognized the importance of trusting the process and in following the direction that he was being taught.

There are two very important resources that Together We Can provides for men that are graduating primary treatment. The first is that clients are strongly encouraged to reside in one of TWC’s second stage homes and the second is that volunteer opportunities are provided to alumni. Both measures help support men in their after care. When Vince moved into second stage he started volunteering with TWC the day after graduating primary treatment. While volunteering, he was willing to perform any task that was asked him from facilitating intakes, washing dishes and doing general clean up around the centre. Within a couple months, he was offered the opportunity to work as a support worker during the evening and night shifts which he readily accepted. At the same time, Vince was offered the opportunity to manage one of the second stage residences.

Together We Can firmly believes in the human capital that those with lived experience with addiction possesses. When a volunteer has shown initiative and has expressed a desire to help others in recovery in a formal manner, then Together We Can will consider such a person for full employment. Because Vince performed exceptionally as a support worker and had an ambition to help those with addictions, he was offered a full time job. He initially worked as a residents’ support worker and later was promoted to manager. His desire is to become a group facilitator and to conduct one on one counselling sessions with clients.

To that end, Together We Can supported Vince in enrolling in an addiction counselling program at Vancouver Community College. When he graduates this June, he will be working in his desired role.

Because Vince has dedicated himself to his recovery and to attaining independence, there have been numerous additional benefits in his life. The first is that he has been able to repair the relationship with his family. They have been able to reconcile the past and become a stronger family. The second is that Vince has been able to successfully encourage many friends from his days of addiction to attend treatment and to attain the same gifts of sobriety as him. The third is that Vince was able to move out of TWC second stage housing and is now living independently and is financially self reliant. Vince has also been able to regain his licence and has regained his independence with the purchase of his own car. He continues to give back through extensive service work in Vancouver’s recovery community and being a supportive person for others that desire recovery from addiction. There is also times of quality leisure for Vince as he is involved with the recovery softball league.

Vince has become a true ambassador for TWC’s care model. It takes considerable stamina to lift oneself from the depth of addiction to being able to overcome one’s past and to flourish in recovery. However, Vince did not have to fight this battle alone, he knew that he could count on TWC’s support which has been unfaltering since the day Vince reached out for help. It has been mutually beneficial as TWC has gained a passionate dedicated employee with a strong desire to help men recover from addiction; Vince has been able to attain his goals through TWC’s support. It is one person at a time, to respond to the client’s needs that has enabled TWC to help thousands of men over the past 25 years. TWC takes pride in our men such as Vince who are able to share with others the same support that they had when they needed it the most.

Together We Can Celebrates 25th Anniversary

TOGETHER WE CAN – A 25 Year Long Legacy

In 1993, a single recovery house at Kingsway and Moss Street in Vancouver opened it’s doors and took in the first few clients under the direction of founder, Calvin Lee. Today that house has grown into an organization, Together We Can. We’d like celebrate our 25th anniversary with a trip down memory lane.

After opening that first primary treatment residence, it took only until 1996 for TWC to add three more; all located next to each other. It was then too that they built a fully integrated kitchen to serve all four houses more effectively.

With more recovery education space available, TWC Centre was born.

As TWC grew and saw more men advancing in their recovery, they soon realized that there was a need for more sober living homes beyond primary care for graduating residents. So in 2000, Together We Can opened up its first transitional housing location in Vancouver’s Marpole area.  Today, that number has risen to 10 transitional residences located throughout the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.

In 2005, Together We Can expanded to add their 5th primary treatment home at TWC Centre. For the following decade, TWC continued the important work of educating and supporting men and families who struggle with the challenges of addiction by fostering positive, meaningful, and beneficial partnerships with communities, industries, agencies, and the health care system.

Fast forward to 2018. That single house on Moss Street has now grown into 26 residences with over 300 beds, and 110 staff members and volunteers. We look forward to the days and years to come, as we all seek our Recovery Life.

Together We Can serves on average over 328,000 meals per year to our residents.

Leadership Matters

Stacy Wilson, Executive Director

In 2015, under the guidance of Stacy Wilson, Together We Can embarked upon one our most ambitious and meaningful stages of growth.

Building upon the foundation that our past board of directors and Executive Directors Calvin Lee, Rita Loftsgard, Alan Nielson, and Robert Waring had built for Together We Can, Stacy Wilson unveiled a new vision for the organization that was bold, ambitious, and daring.

Strengthening relationships, and working harder towards creating more meaningful and effective addiction services is the focus moving forward.

Trusted and experienced leaders from the First Nations, LGBTQ, Veterans, First Responders, clinical, and therapeutic communities were identified and charged with the important tasks of creating treatment and support programs for Together We Can that were impacting their worlds.

The Alliance program is Canada’s only LGBTQ designated treatment program.

New Programs & Services at TWC

First came our Veterans Services and Outreach program in 2015 run by Canadian Navy Veteran, and Together We Can staff member Mike Cain.  Our organization put together a comprehensive treatment program tailored to the specific needs of veterans struggling with addiction, which includes targeting PTSD, neuro-feedback therapy, acupuncture, meditation, after care housing, fitness, athletics, financial literacy, sober coaching, and a weekly veterans support group.

Second, came the Alliance program in 2016, a one of a kind safe and supportive addiction treatment space for the LGBTQ recovery community, built around the principles of acceptance, tolerance, compassion, and service.

Originally started in 2013 under the name Discovery, the Alliance program was spearheaded in 2015 and managed by Don Presland until his passing in 2017 and today is championed by Rico Pulgar, who brings a passionate, dedicated energy to our unique program.

In addition to the incredible work that the Alliance program does in its two houses, they also have a strong belief in the power of service and volunteerism, and created the TWC Street Reach program, which gives clients and staff the opportunity to help others in need by handing out clothes, food, drinks, and hope to Vancouver’s homeless population.

All My Relations is the only indigenous treatment centre in the Metro-Vancouver area.

All My Relations – Ignite the Fire Within.

Next came one of our most groundbreaking initiatives in 2016 when Together We Can launched All My Relations, a culturally authentic treatment program for indigenous men under the leadership of Program Director Dan Bernard and Indigenous Cultural Coordinator, Tyler Craig.

Through government policies such as the Indian Act, many indigenous communities nearly lost their cultural and spiritual practices. Addressing the collective and individual traumas that many indigenous men face is critical to overcoming substance abuse issues.

The All My Relations Indigenous healing program was developed through extensive consultation with Elders from different First Nations. The use of traditional medicine wheel practices, culturally appropriate trauma informed counselling, daily smudging ceremonies, workshops with Elders, contact with knowledge keepers, and sweat lodge ceremonies are all key to helping men recover from drug and alcohol addiction.

By integrating 12 step programming, and numerous ceremonies to enhance wellness, the All My Relations program has been able to help over 300 indigenous men on their paths to sobriety. Today there are three AMR recovery residences in Metro-Vancouver serving the indigenous community.

In 2017 over 1200 men successfully completed treatment through our program.

In 2017, Together We Can entered into the premier recovery market when Elevate Life Wellness Centre opened its doors for the first time.  Designed for clients who desire a private and intimate treatment experience, Elevate Life combines residential comforts with privacy and the highest quality of clinical care already offered by Together We Can.

Elevate’s mission:  to carry on providing the finest treatment services available anywhere, while also catering to a client’s individual needs for exclusivity, privacy and comfort.

Elevate Life is staffed around the clock by qualified clinicians and treatment professionals, and offer structured, intensive and effective individual and group therapy sessions, and access to numerous fitness and wellness facilities not found anywhere else.

Today, Together We Can with their growing suite of addiction recovery models has one of the most comprehensive, forward leaning, inclusive, and diverse recovery programs offered around the world.

Looking Into the Future

The only thing more exciting and inspiring than the history of Together We Can, is the future of our organization and the monumental goals we have set for ourselves and the clients that we serve.

In September of 2018, Together We Can will be opening the doors to our brand new resource centre that will give our clients unprecedented access to more mental health, counselling, and medical services.

Psychiatric, one on one counselling, and clinical services will also be available on an out-patient basis so that we can help to better serve the recovery community both inside, and outside of our treatment program.

October of 2018 will also mark the second annual Together We Can Elevate Life Gala fundraiser, which last year raised enough money for our organization to make a sizable contribution to our Fallen Sons Memorial Fund, upgrade our administration office, make significant upgrades to several of our first stage houses, and make meaningful contributions to our music therapy, hockey, baseball, family, and numerous support programs.

Above and beyond all the exciting and impacting initiatives that Together We Can will accomplish this year, we will be making headway on our most important long term goal:  to partner with private, public, and healthcare stake-holders to meet the needs of our community by building a new, up to 100-bed treatment facility in Metro Vancouver.

Thank You for 25 Years TOGETHER

This new facility will include 24/7 clinical staff, a comprehensive addiction education centre, on-site addiction doctors, a collection of specialized addiction therapies, and recreation and physical fitness amenity spaces. Our goal is to have the doors of this new facility open by 2023, and all this will be made possible in large part because of our Elevate Life Gala Fundraiser.

On behalf of the staff, volunteers, board of directors, alumni, and most importantly, our clients, we want to thank each and every person, partner, and organization that has helped and supported us over the last 25 years.

We would like to invite you all to be a part of our next 25 years as we continue our mandate to educate and support men and families who struggle with the challenges of addiction, and desire a new life in recovery.

The list of addiction programs and services we offer has grown to be one of the foremost centres for treatment in North America.

Art Therapy
PTSD Support
Veterans Support
Aftercare Planning
Hockey Program

Chiropractic Services
Music Therapy
First Responders Support
LGBTQ Programming
First Nations Programming
Baseball Program
Neuro-Feedback Therapy
Sound Therapy
Family Support Program
Financial Literacy
Life Coaching
Subsidized Recreational Passes