Exeleon Magazine

Michelle Smith: The Mindful Warrior in Mental Health and De-Addiction

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Times are tough. People are under severe emotional and economic stress, thereby making them prone to addictions, disruptive behaviour, and mental breakdowns.

At times like these, one needs a patient ear and a helping hand to come out of the darkness created by one’s own mind. A person who is empathetic enough to genuinely help such individuals find a definite direction; a person who can navigate them out of this mess; a person who would guide them towards attaining an addiction-free life.

Michelle Smith is one such inspiring individual who has made it her mission to help people with issues related to addiction. Her mental health and deaddiction venture – Recovery is the new Black, is a centre that provides essential counselling and rehabilitation services to addicts who want to come clean and start afresh.

Her expertise is a result of spending over twenty years in forensic psychology and addiction treatment methods in correctional institutions. Michelle has made it her purpose to help those who have lost their way.

A Career in Social Justice

Michelle Smith started her career as an intern for a women’s crisis line, assisting callers and arranging to provide safe transit for women and children fleeing domestic violence. The experience of helping these victims was satisfying, but left her itching to do more for these abused women and children.

She wanted to help them find their way after they were rescued; to support them after they came out of those horrific experiences.

Moreover, as a solution-oriented person, Michelle was extremely curious about the pathology of the perpetrators of such violent acts. She applied for, and was selected as the lead for the Mentally Ill Offender Unit. This was in the local Probation and Parole field office of the Government. From there, she worked her way into the Department of Corrections, and became familiar with various correctional therapies.

Although it was not a very well-paid job, the social value of her work was the real reward. This led her to realize her calling, and subsequently inspired her to start three start-up treatment units.

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Roadblocks and Learning

Michelle’s biggest roadblock has been getting her patients into appropriate treatment therapies. Since a majority of them are unemployed, more so due to the pandemic, and don’t have health insurance, most treatment options are not financially feasible for them.

Another hindrance has been the long wait for treatment. She says, “Getting a new patient appointment in an outpatient setting, or scheduling an intake appointment for residential treatment ranges from 6-8 weeks.”

Her learnings, however, outweigh the hiccups. She loves her work, especially for the solidarity and empathy she feels for afflicted people.

She has understood, “The disease of addiction doesn’t discriminate and no one is immune. All walks of life from anonymous to famous are recovering together. The more individuals feel safe to break their silence, the louder the community gets towards normalizing sobriety.”

Evidence based Therapy

A research-oriented person, Michelle Smith says, “The approach I use in all of my clinical services is evidence-based practices. I incorporate practices that have been rigorously evaluated in experimental evaluations – like randomized controlled trials………and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).”

CBT is a process that can help patients find relief from consistent problematic, recurring feelings. The CBT model is based on the premise that our thoughts affect our emotions and ultimately our behaviours, and our behaviour can be rectified once our thoughts are on the right track.

Admittedly, Michelle is proud of doing such a socially relevant work in today’s turbulent post-Covid scenario.

Balancing her Professional and Family Life

A survivor herself, “with a co-occurring diagnosis of my own,” Michelle Smith is working on practising detachment in her professional life. Sometimes, it is natural to feel overwhelmed by the problems of her patients, she admits.

Nevertheless, she has learnt it the hard way that maintaining work-life balance is absolutely imperative. She has learnt to curb her excessive involvement in her job at the cost of family time. She stresses, “Work is just one part of life. Sure, it’s an important part, but it is still just one part.”

A person who loathed to invest in her own wellness, Michelle used to believe that self-care was selfish. Until she realized that prioritizing ‘me-time’ and family-time was hardly an indulgence, rather it was something vital to one’s own wellness.

She shares an interesting analogy to support the previous statements. “Imagine, I begin each day with a cup of psychological energy. Before implementing boundaries, time management practices, and outsourcing, that cup would be empty before arriving home to my family each night. They wouldn’t get the best of me. They got whatever was left in the cup, often feeling so depleted.”

Slowly, with determined practice, she learned to be more intentional with her “cup” of psychological energy, so that she could give her best to the people she loved the most – her family.

“Time blocking activities and projects while remaining laser-focused and intentional with my time has been a game-changer,” she asserts. She has learnt to be present in the moment, and has realized maintaining her own health and happiness is essential. “We should feed our passions, build relationships and enjoy our lives” is Michelle’s mantra.

Her Philosophy for Growth

Michelle describes herself as a purpose-driven person who’s capable of role modelling pro-social behaviors. In other words, an individual that walks the talk.

Asked if she had any regrets, she says the only regret she has is she didn’t make the switch from government service to her own venture in behavioral therapy much earlier.

The most important quality of a transformational leader, she believes, is being open to learning from others. She has been successful in positioning herself as an expert in the addictions and behavioral health community, because of her willingness to learn. Michelle advises, “Surround yourself with people who are committed to constantly learning and growing……take messy action. Done is better than perfect.”

Firmly believing “If you’re the smartest person in the room – you’re in the wrong room,” Michelle’s ability to absorb knowledge and skills have stood her in good stead.

As a social worker, Michelle Smith chooses action over procrastination any day.

She cautions against letting fear hold back a person from dreaming big. Michelle knows her mental health services are required by the community, and if she holds back due to hesitation, many people stand to lose. “You’re doing a disservice by not sharing your ideas and gifts with the world,” she concludes.

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Visit Recovery is the New Black Website.

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