Paula Rice-Sherman, the new director of our Phoenix House Orange County Adult Services, opens up about her past work experiences, her goals for the program, and how helping clients recover gives her deep satisfaction.
Phoenix House: Welcome to Phoenix House. We understand you are a relatively new member of the Phoenix House team. What inspired you to join us?
Paula Rice-Sherman: I used to be a director for the Female Offender Treatment and Employment Program. We always worked alongside Phoenix House, so I knew a lot of people who worked here. I held Phoenix House in high regard as it was always a quality, ethical, driven organization.
PH: What is your experience working with adults?
PRS: I’ve been doing this for 23 years. I started working with an organization in North Hollywood in the San Fernando Valley for the intake department and admissions. I left to be director of the Substance Abuse Service Coordination Agency (SASCA) Region IV and later, the director of the Female Offender Treatment and Employment Program (FOTEP) in Region III for Walden House for nine years. I also worked as the director of operations in Orange County for Chapman House and helped them get CARF-accredited. During my work as the SASCA director in 1998, I was working with the in-prison population; it was then that I met Liz Stanley Salazar, currently the vice president & director of clinical services at Phoenix House California. It was in 1998 that my work began to focus on treatment services, in addition to case management.
PH: How do you plan on changing or improving our Phoenix House Orange County Adult Services?
PRS: Thus far, I’ve already made a lot of changes and improvements. I plan on continuing to bring new, enhanced ways of delivering evidence-based practices within the program. For instance, I have taken women’s services to a different location on our campus. I put them in their own building, and created a gender-responsive, trauma-informed program. Another change that I’m working on is intensifying services for shorter stays. Already men can stay in the program for 90 days, walk away and have a great foundation on how to change their lives. Even short-stay clients can develop a solid foundation and leave knowing they can be successful. To help short-term clients achieve lasting recovery, our staff must work extremely hard from the day clients arrive in the program. Furthermore, we must continue to hire counselors with strong credentials and educational levels, staff who will deliver the best possible care.
PH: How do you keep up in this ever-changing field?
PRS: I go to conferences, webinars, seminars, workshops, and even Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) meetings to keep up with everything. I try to stay up-to-date on what I have learned. For instance, I’m pretty good at improving access to and effectiveness of services by shortening wait-times, improving client experience in treatment, etc.
PH: Is there anything valuable you have learned from working with the adults thus far?
PRS: I am continually reminded that adults, no matter what their age, are resilient. They can find what they need to recover within themselves. It’s a bit like that old saying about “teaching an old dog new tricks.” People think you can’t, but you can.
PH: What is one thing you look forward to most in conducting your work?
PRS: Cultivating program services that people will want to attend and complete.
PH: Any exciting upcoming projects in the foreseeable future?
PRS: The grand opening for our new adolescent music studio will be held on November 4, 2013; the celebration will include guest speakers and surprise guests. In December, we will have a grand opening for our Gender Responsive Women’s Program and our Intensive Outpatient Program for adolescents with guest speakers and a fun day. We will also be having a family Thanksgiving with all the clients and their families.
PH: What is one thing you hope to get out of your current position, on a personal level?
PRS: The greatest thing I experience on the job is that I get to see a lot of people change their lives. Not everyone succeeds, but people do change. Many people start their personal journeys after entering a substance abuse treatment program for the first time. They ask questions. They might ask about one thing and I would ask them for something else, making them promise me they’ll do X or Y. It’s always something that won’t put them in danger, but will benefit them. Then you see a little light go on in their eyes, and they think, Yeah, I can do that! I always hope they succeed. This is the greatest gift I get from my job, regardless of whether I get a paycheck. My life’s passion is to help others who have never been offered help before, who have always been considered hopeless and helpless. They are NOT; there is hope for everyone.
If you or a loved one needs help for a substance abuse issue, Phoenix House is here for you. Email us or call today at 1 888 671 9392.