What do you think are the essential ingredients to helping people?
The key points for helping others are offering a non-judgmental space along with empathy and compassion for whomever you’re working with, and of course never losing a sense of curiosity and exploration with a client as a collaborative partner. It’s also critical that as a therapist, you’ve done a lot of self-exploration and have a strong awareness of self.
What are some misconceptions about substance use/misuse?
I think the biggest misconception and problem is viewing substance use as a “black or white” issue (and I mean by the general population), when there are so many grey areas. I view substance use as a spectrum, and everyone is different, which means that the “one solution” view to treatment is stifling and it’s not a “one size fits all” issue.
How did you get into this field?
I worked for many years in public relations and marketing in the digital entertainment space, but it never felt satisfying to me nor did I really feel my profession fit my personality. I was always interested in psychology (both my mother and aunt are LCSWs), and became particularly interested in the area of substance use treatment because I lost my father to alcohol use exacerbated by depression. I always felt that had he had more support that offered less judgment, stigma and other alternatives than what was available to him, perhaps he could have received the help he needed.
Can you talk about a satisfying professional experience?
When I started working in private practice – and before I discovered Integrative Harm Reduction Psychotherapy – I had a 30-year-old client who came to me for his alcohol use after an incident with his live-in girlfriend in which he realized he had to address his use or risk losing the relationship. Instinctually, I worked with him for two years to help him explore his use, his triggers, the parts of himself that both wanted to control it as well as those that didn’t, and how he could easily dissociate his use from his core values. After two years of working with him, he was successfully managing his alcohol use and his relationship had been repaired. Last summer, I received a text from him telling me that it was his wedding day and he was thinking of me and the work we did together and thanking me because he would not have achieved this moment without it.
What do you like most about working at The Center?
I love that I work in a collaborative environment with people who are passionate about harm reduction and the many ways that can manifest or be applied to various areas – whether it be substance use or maladaptive process habits or trauma. After working for many years in “abstinence only” models (both residential and outpatient), it’s great to work in a place whose values and beliefs are in line with my own.
How do you deal with stress?
I try to go to the gym every day and do Pilates a couple of times per week. For me, there is no greater – and immediate – stress relief!
Fill in the blank: If I wasn’t a therapist I’d be a _______?
I used to think I would have been a writer, but now I think I would have loved to get into forensic investigation. I love solving puzzles with regards to people and their behaviors, which I guess is a lot of what we do as therapists anyway!
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I used to be a dancer and performed professionally with a bellydancing troupe for seven years.
What should we be paying attention to right now?
I think clearly the opioid crisis is top-of-mind for everyone, but also the legalization and de-criminalization of drugs in general. I’m also very interested in other alternative therapies to treat substance use and trauma, such as the use of psychedelics, which is something I know the Center is very invested and involved in.
Kristin Thomson Bader is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), with a background in both inpatient and outpatient treatment of substance use and dual diagnosis issues. Certified in Integrative Harm Reduction Psychotherapy, she regularly works with couples and families coping with substance use, trauma, mental health and communications issues, as well as facilitating parent, family and peer groups focusing on support and psychoeducation. Kristin has worked extensively with families and significant others to address maladaptive thinking patterns and integrate new behaviors to complement their goals and values. Prior to the Center for Optimal Living, she ran the Family and Parent Programs at New York Center for Living, an Intensive Outpatient Program for adolescents, young adults and their families. Additionally, Kristin facilitated numerous groups at The Addiction Institute of New York, where she worked with clients whose objectives ranged from substance use moderation to abstinence. She completed training at Summit Malibu in California, an inpatient treatment facility serving clients with dual diagnosis issues and their families. She approaches treatment from a psychodynamic perspective, integrating family systems, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), internal family systems (IFS), mindfulness skills and motivational interviewing in working with clients. Kristin has lectured extensively on the topics of addiction, family systems and communications. She holds an MA in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University and BA from Barnard College of Columbia University. You can reach out to Kristin at firstname.lastname@example.org.