This month, we are honoring Heather Fotion, manager of Northbound’s Collegebound® and Careerbound® programs. Heather is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and helps clients live a life free from the disease of addiction by empowering them to reintegrate back into either work or further their education during treatment at Northbound.
Heather has been working in the behavioral healthcare field since 2011. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and her Master in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Southern California.
Heather has a wealth of experience working with clients from diverse backgrounds and has been integral to Northbound’s clinical growth.
What appealed to you about working in treatment and how’d you get started?
I realized I wanted to work in treatment during an undergrad course in Education—the capstone project of the course was to begin to make changes to the educational system. It was a group project, and my group chose to work with a program called “The Beat Within”—we would partner with Juvenile Halls across the San Francisco Bay Area and use creative writing to empower the young men and women who were in juvenile hall.
Each week, we’d give the youth a writing prompt, collect their responses at the end, and ask the kids to ‘process’ what came up for them throughout the time writing. We’d then collect their responses, give written feedback, and publish their work and our responses in a newspaper of sorts.
Just seeing the kids feeling empowered despite what they were going through was phenomenal. I knew a lot of kids were in there for drug charges and I knew instantly that I wanted to work in treatment.
I later got my masters and started working in treatment. I loved my work, and about that same time, a family member disclosed they were struggling with heroin addiction.
At this point, a lot of things in my life started to make sense. My personal life, my professional life, and my education just melded together and I haven’t looked back. That was originally what got me into it. I can’t see myself working in any other field.
Doing this work is a truly sacred honor. Seeing our student’s excitement and the pride that they get when they ace a test or do really well in a job interview is the highlight of my week. They begin to feel a sense that there’s something more to life than what they’ve been doing up to this point.
Heather Fotion on graduation day from USC’s Marriage and Family Therapy master’s program
What brought you to Northbound?
I was at a point in my life where I was really unhappy in my work environment. I felt like I had done a good amount of work on myself personally and spiritually and my work environment wasn’t mirroring the serenity that I was getting in my personal life.
I knew about the focus on organizational health at Northbound, the clinical sophistication in programming, and the mission to assist each client in celebrating one year of continuous sobriety. Those three things were very important to me personally and professionally—I wanted to be a part of that work. While interviewing with Paul and Mike, I heard a lot about the idea of organizational health.
They referred to Patrick Lencioni’s work on an ideal team player being someone who is hungry, humble, and smart, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of the culture at Northbound.
My experience interviewing, and then becoming a part of the team here shows me that I have become a part of a culture where my values in my personal life are aligned with my work. That is a great feeling because I know that ultimately, the client’s best interests are kept in mind at all times. Today, my life is congruent – in work, personally and spiritually.
What’re some of the things you help clients with through the Collegebound® and Careerbound® programs?
The Collegebound® and Careerbound® programs are really the places where our clients get to begin living their life free from addiction and alcoholism. In detox, they get to feel better, in their CORE programs, they learn about themselves, and in CollegeBound® and CareerBound®, they learn to live free.
All of our interventions are focused on empowerment, building self-esteem and self-efficacy, and developing a sense of community. We do this through assisting our clients to think critically about how the integration of school and or work will help strengthen their sobriety.
When I meet with each client who is interested in becoming a part of the program, we discuss how their substance abuse has impacted work and/or school in the past, what’s worked in their recovery previously and what hasn’t worked.
From there, the clinical team and I put together a plan of action. For Collegebound®, this plan could include transcript review, academic withdrawals from previous universities, assisting clients with academic enrollment and developing better study skills.
For clients in CareerBound®, we help them with writing a resume, following up with job applications, interview skills, and ultimately balancing their recovery with school and or work. Balance can be hard to anyone!
Heather Fotion with CEO, Michael Neatherton
In terms of school, we typically recommend one class at the beginning, so that they can put their toe in the water. We try our best to recommend classes that multiple Northbound students can take at the same time, so that they can build community, friendships, and have a real college experience.
Some of our students attend AA meetings on campus before class, which is another way that they can expand their recovery community and fellowship.
By taking a real college class, on a college campus, while sober, our students get to experience a great sense of empowerment, and hopefully success! This process is a great self-esteem builder.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job for you?
Seeing our clients learn to live free, and realize that everything they need is already inherently within them.
Recently we just went through midterms, and a couple of our clients are going through them for the first time sober. One of our young men just got a solid A on his midterm that he thought for sure he failed, and came back to the group and was just thrilled. All of our students cheered him on…it was awesome.
It’s those kinds of moments where they are really fearful, and they walk through their fear anyway. They put all the things they’re learning in their core programs into practice out in the real world and get a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment and they just light up. This is what I work for. It’s what makes it all worthwhile.
Do you have any suggestions for anyone who’s looking to go back to school early in recovery?
I tell our clients that recovery comes first, no matter what. I can say the students who are working a strong program, creating a space for spirituality and connectedness with a higher power, working with their sponsor, going to therapy and their case management sessions get to have more resources to work from.
Using all of these resources to their advantage is very, very important to building the foundation they need prior to engaging with school. And that’s one thing that I’ve seen with our students who are doing well, do. And then just having fun with it, and realizing that it’s part of the experience.
Northbound Treatment Services is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) and a member of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) and the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP).
We offer various levels of care, evidence-based therapies and 12 step support to help individuals overcome their addictions, develop sober lifestyles and achieve long-term recovery following treatment.