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John Nelson: Substance Use Counselor

Meet John

John Nelson int1

When the intensive outpatient substance use treatment hub at Maine Behavioral Healthcare in Biddeford opened in July, John Nelson, LADC, took the position of substance use counselor in addition to his job as a per diem crisis response worker. The IOP (Intensive Outpatient) team is small – just four members – but they have already seen their census rise from two to 14. John helped develop the Integrated Medication Assisted Treatment (IMAT) curriculum and now assists in IOP facilitation. This includes daily counseling sessions, assessments and a men’s early recovery group and evening IOP group. “We have an incredible team,” he said. “Everyone pitches in and we help each other.”

The program treats anyone with substance use problems but is primarily designed to treat Opioid Use Disorder. When asked what inspired him to pursue this line of work, John talked about the myth of untreatable addiction. “There’s a ton of suffering going on and a myth that addicts can’t be treated; can’t get better. That is totally inaccurate. Addicts who get treatment get better. The success rate is comparable to that of treating other diseases like diabetes, heart disease, or asthma.”

John has a long work history in the field that includes 13 years with the Mercy Hospital detox program, 12 years with a psychiatric hospital in Boston and 18 months as a licensed alcohol and drug counselor in the York County Jail. His belief in the power of treatment comes with some moving examples. For instance, John shared the story of a young man at the York County jail who had been held in solitary confinement for most of the year. He had schizophrenia, substance use disorder and was uninsured. “Through teamwork with the MBH PRIDE Program, we were able to utilize our resources to get him in front of a psychiatrist and into an ACT team,” explained John. “Now he has a job and is living in the community. That sort of thing is only possible when you have an agency like MBH where many resources work together to treat the whole person.”

Although John shirks the spotlight, Maine Behavioral Healthcare wouldn’t be able to provide excellent service without caring staff. “John is highly respected by his peers for his dedication, hard work, humility and compassion,” said Randi Bruneau, LCSW, Biddeford Substance Use Treatment Clinical Manager. “He will always make client needs a priority and exemplifies the standards set forth by our system values. They are not just words to him.”

“I love this job. I love the clients,” John said. “In the throes of their addiction they are one person, but after treatment you would never know they had a past like that unless they told you.” John admitted that not everyone has a success story, but it’s important to stay with them through their struggles. When someone does overcome their addiction, being a part of their recovery is a privilege. “Their substance isn’t their problem, it’s their solution to the co-occurring disorders -- or life situations -- that frequently precipitate substance use,” John said. “We’re here to offer them a better solution.”

To learn more about the substance use treatment programs offered at Maine Behavioral Healthcare, click here.