Black History Month: Q&A with Linda Hudson (Part 1)

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

We continue our Black History Month series introducing the Central City Concern Imani Center with a two-part Q&A with Linda Hudson, CCC’s Director of African American Services. Last week’s post introduced the roots of the Imani Center. In part one of our interview, Linda shares more about the unique experiences many African Americans encounter in mainstream treatment programs, how the Imani Center breaks through them to enhance their clients’ chances of recovery success, and more. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Part of the purpose of the Imani Center was to provide services that address barriers “uniquely experienced by African Americans in mainstream [treatment] programs.” Can you talk a little bit more about those barriers are?
One of the main things we see is the effect of treatment curriculum taught in many traditional programs, which has been created and maintained from the viewpoint of the dominant culture. So when an African American patient comes in with different experiences and different perspectives, and they try to fit the client into that curriculum, there’s often some tension there. If it doesn’t relate to the individual, or if they have a difficult time understanding it, they get labeled as “resistant” or “not a good fit.”

Or if an African American person enters treatment with a background of trauma—and so many African Americans carry the trauma of discrimination and racism—it’s easy to get triggered. A lot of those curricula and even treatment staff don’t have that cultural lens to understand that the client has had some horrible history that they may continue to carry every single day. So a person with consistent trauma can get triggered very easily.

An African American client might enter a treatment program, perhaps loud and boisterous with a lot of PTSD and trauma, and they’ll probably make people in the group uncomfortable. They’ll get labeled as aggressive, so they don’t do well in treatment. Black people in treatment get kicked out of programs more often and they don’t graduate as often. Many African Americans encounter this in traditional, predominantly white, treatment programs.

How does the Imani Center avoid those barriers?
A lot of our clients have never been able to sit in a treatment program and really be themselves: say the things that they would love to say the way they want to express it. At the Imani Center, clients don’t have to feel like they need to use the perfect vernacular, to choose their words. Here, they can say things the way they want to, and we can understand it and work with them. And of course, we can work on refining some things to get their needs met if they want that.

At the Imani Center, clients are allowed to be who they are in a safe place. They get to talk about racism and discrimination, and they’re talking with staff who understand what they’re talking about. We’ve been there ourselves. We know how it goes and we know how it feels. And we the staff are in position to share how we have gone through and gotten to where we are; we can share with clients how they might be able to navigate it and better themselves to get to where they want to get to.

And I want to be clear that traditional programs are in no way bad. They are absolutely necessary. But some of our people just haven’t been set up for success in those environments, and we’re hoping to change some of that and help them heal in ways that they can start getting their needs met in an appropriate manner and understand how to navigate through the system.

Who are the faces behind the Imani Center?
I’m the director of African American services. Joanna Smith is our lead mental health counselor. JoAnna and I are the only Qualified Mental Health Professionals (QMHP) at this time. We have recently hired another QMHP who will be on board soon. Yvette Davis is an Addiction and Mental Health Counselor, and Jammie Trimble is a Mental Health Counselor. Walter Bailey, Bonnie Johnson, and Richie Denson are our three peer support specialists. Karen Fahie, the Imani Center Office Manager, keeps everything organized and running smoothly.

We heard from Sonja Ervin in last week’s post that during the planning process, the African American community voiced that they greatly valued Black leadership and Black individuals who have the credentials behind the work they do. Aside from the lived experiences, there is a high level of education under the Imani Center roof. What message does that send? How does that aid in what the Imani Center hopes to be?
Yeah, people sure do want those credentials behind your name! [laughs]

Joanna, Yvette, and I all have Master of Social Work degrees. Joanna and I are Qualified Mental Health Professionals (QMHP), which means we can do mental health assessments and diagnose. Yvette is also a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor which means she is credentialed to perform alcohol and drug assessments. I’m dually credentialed, which means I can do both mental health and addiction assessments. Jammie and Yvette both are Qualified Mental Health Associates, which means they can work with mental health clients, but not diagnose. Jammie will be taking the Oregon Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) test shortly.

The three peers support specialists have gone through the extensive Certified Recovery Mentor training. Walter and Bonnie are former counselors. Walter is also a Qualified Mental Health Associate (QMHA) and Bonnie, a CADC l. Richie is currently enrolled in an A&D counseling program. And they all have firsthand experience to varying extents with addictions and mental health struggles.

My goal is to get everyone dually credentialed. Nowadays you don’t find many people struggling with just one disorder. They’re so often co-occurring: mental health and addictions. Most mental health clients use drugs to self-medicate; most people who use drugs develop mental health disorders. We have to be able to work with both at the same time. You can’t work with one and then the other. It’s called integrated treatment. And along with our CCC primary care clinic, most of our clients are getting the best of the best care.

As treatment program staff, we need to be at our best so we can best help those we’re serving. I encourage our staff to take care of themselves. Stay home if you’re sick. Take time off when you need it. Working with our clients is challenging. The disease of addiction and mental health disorders are so complex and we need to be at our best.

That’s why I’m so grateful that we were able to create the Imani Center. It’s not a traditional program. We do individualized treatment. We do it according to what the client needs. What does he need? Oh, he needs to be in the MH group and the criminality group. What does she need? She needs to be in the women’s group and the relapse prevention group. All based on their needs and history.

Aside from not having had success in traditional treatment programs, is there a “typical” profile of a person coming to Imani? What makes someone a good fit for Imani?
I don’t know how to answer that… there are so many types of people who come here!

The big thing is if they are willing and able to show up and do the work. We don’t sugarcoat anything here. We’re going to do work here. This is an alcohol and drug addiction and mental health clinic. Someone who is tired of doing things the way they’ve normally done because it’s not working for them. Let us show you a different way of getting your needs met. You also need to be able to get along with others. We have a complex group of people. We empower and encourage people to monitor themselves.

Many years ago when I started in this field, the word “manipulation” would be thrown around so much about clients. “They’re manipulative. They’re manipulating.” But if I needed to get my needs met, I need to get my needs met! Addiction is a very selfish disease and in many ways, mental health issues are not far from that. And if you constantly label people manipulative, you can’t empower them to be better.

So we do not use that word as it pertains to clients here. Instead, I encourage my staff to think of people trying to get their needs met the best way they know how until they learn how to do it differently! That means they have to unlearn all the things that they have learned on the streets and through criminality, and then learn a different way. And that takes a long time to do.

But if you’re willing and able and you and show up and get along with others, then we can work with you.

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Part two of the Q&A with Linda Hudson will be posted on Thursday.