We Are Here and We Don't Give Up: Our Intensive Residential Treatment Programs

Our clients are ordinary people who were out in the world, living with loved ones, getting up and going to work, supporting their families, enjoying hobbies, spending time with friends.

They were a former legislator, a veterinarian, a master electrician, a boat builder, a teacher. Then one day, something happened.

It might have started with depression, they didn't get help, they had a break and ended up in a hospital or jail. It might have started with drug or alcohol abuse. Or heartbreak from the loss of a loved one. Sometimes triggers are obvious, other times causes are buried deep inside, and only the symptoms are visible.

"Our clients are people, with a history, a past. They did great things, sometimes big things in their lives. Their stories are inspiring," says Andrew Shaffer, residential counselor and assistant program manager at IRT South. "We get to know them and support them in their work to find their way back to a meaningful life."

"Everyday, we come to work looking for a good, positive day," notes Don Cray, Program Manager, "And when things go differently, our talented and trained staff know what to do. If a client is in crisis and staff needs support, a manager is always available to answer the call."

The move to Friendship Hill House last year was the culmination of years of searching for just the right location. When the House is full, nine clients are in residence, supported by 50 staff members, 1:1 counselor to client ratio, 24/7. "Finally, we are together in one building. And the setting is perfect. We are fortunate to have great outside space here," said Andrew, "We can get clients out, in the sun. It helps them feel better."

In fact, everyone noticed the difference immediately. Clients who had shown no interest in socializing were suddenly sitting in lawn chairs talking to their housemates and counselors like any other next-door neighbor. It was a phenomenon that managers have seen in the past, during Behavioral Health Camping trips. For the two days that clients and staff spend outside together camping, behaviors associated with clients' illnesses or disorders virtually disappear.

IRT at Wild Kingdom

Last week, everyone got to go to York's Wild Kingdom and had a blast. The park donated tickets that allowed clients and staff to attend and have lunch.

"Everyone was happy," Andrew continued, "This is the third year we've gotten this donation and we all looked forward to it." Excursions like camping trips or a day at the Wild Kingdom are essential reminders for our clients of the big world we live in, the world that includes them, that is fun and safe and full of wonder.

"It is a blessing to have experienced staff who support one another," Don said "When I ask an interviewee why they want to work in behavioral health, and they say, 'I want to make a difference in someone's life,' I know that they are probably in the right place."

Andrew added, "I was working at a retail job dealing with 'normal' people and it was not the right place for me. When I came to social work, it felt challenging, out of my comfort zone, I knew it would be meaningful. I'd rather work at IRT South than sell televisions."

IRT staff indeed make a difference. Because of unfortunate circumstances or their past behaviors, some clients have lost touch with family or friends. Sometimes staff support is all the support a client has.

One of our clients volunteers at the Biddeford Food Pantry. After his counselor's gentle guidance, handholding and accompaniment, he now walks there on his own, and enthusiastically encourages others to volunteer with him. Every Monday he is at the Pantry, preparing food, setting tables for up to 200 people and eagerly taking on new tasks. He is doing so well in his community role that he will soon be transitioning to a lower level of care, into our Beach Street program. He is our second graduate. We couldn't be happier.

On a good day, clients get up, shower, do their chores, have meals, maybe go to the library. On a bad day, clients can't get out of their own way, they want to stay in bed, they don't want to take their medications.

On a bad day, staff can sense how poorly a client feels. You can see it, sense it. You want to help and sometimes the way to help is to give them room to work through the feelings.

"They don't want you in their space, but they want to know you are nearby," Don said. "So, we wait in the office or in the community room. We check in every few minutes asking, 'Do you need anything?' and they answer, 'No, I just want to know you are there.'"

We are here. Thanks to community and public support, and thanks to so many local businesses and organizations who care, we will always be here.

IRT North: Seeing Our Clients For Who They Are, Not What They Have Done

(written by Maria Cameron, Program Manager, IRT North)

Last November, Volunteers Of America and a large group of psychiatric providers got together in Bangor to review client candidates for the recently opened IRT North. One of those candidates exhibited significant and difficult behaviors and we were told that his transition from hospital to community would need to be handled carefully.

When a client is chosen to come into our program, our staff visits him in his hospital setting prior to his transition. This enables our staff and the client to begin to build a rapport, and alleviates some of the fears the client might feel when leaving the safety of a hospital setting.

One of our counselors came to me shortly after visiting the new client and said, "I heard this guy can be really difficult." Someone at the hospital had been telling stories.

I knew then that we needed to stop seeing people based on their reputations. I knew that if any of us wrote the story of our lives based on bad behaviors in our past, and mistakes we've made, we might appear frightening too.

It was important for us to get to know him as who he is, not what he may have done while at the hospital. Turns out, he is someone who loves cats, and the Bible, and his mother. He's someone who likes to watch television and eat cheeseburgers. And, he's someone who needs the support of others in order to get through the struggle that is his life.

He lives with chronic voices in his head. He lives with the inability to process information well, and that affects the choices he makes.

Stained glass window in our client's room. He tells us, "I love to look at it, it gives me hope."

"This guy" moved in with us on June 7. To date, he hasn't shown any of the difficult behaviors he was reputed to have. We don't forget his history. We are aware of it and alert to it, but we greet him every day as who he is, not what he has done.

He's the guy who is fun to talk to, who tells us we're angels. He's the guy who's learning to help make his bed. He's the guy who picked out new clothes at the store last week and was so thankful for it. He's the guy who is working hard.

We are happy to have him in our program, and will continue to support him to be as successful as he can be. He's a guy who has taught us that we are each more than our history. We have the ability to become better than we were yesterday, every day.

I believe people enter into our lives to teach us lessons, and he is teaching us well. In our IRT program, we are always mindful of the past, but we are focused on the future. He is why we do what we do.