How Semi-Independent Living Programs Help Advance the Nashville Community: An Interview with Ashley Danner
Executive Director Ashley Danner discusses Brightquest Treatment Center’s semi-independent living program in Nashville, TN, including how the facility organizes the best care for its clients, how the program functions as an empowered community in and of itself, and how it can benefit the larger Nashville community.
The opportunities for mental health treatment and rehabilitation have been evolving in powerful ways that, for many, can pave the way to an empowered and fulfilling life in recovery. But while the possibilities and the culture of treatment have come a long way, there is still a common misconception of mental healthcare that clients are out of control and fully dependent on the boundaries imposed by doctors and hospitals.
But the Executive Director of a new treatment center in Nashville, Ashley Danner, challenges this perception. “Through illness, trauma, or circumstance, the individuals who come to BrightQuest are actively seeking support to experience for the first time or return to healthy well-being, positive relationships, successful day-to-day functioning, and living a fulfilling life.”
BrightQuest Treatment Center has been a beacon of hope for people with moderate to severe mental illness in San Diego for 40 years. In 2018, BrightQuest brought its revolutionary model of care to Nashville under Danner’s leadership. She has been a part of BrightQuest’s team of compassionate and experienced clinicians since 2009. During that time, she has worked in many different positions to directly support clients on their recovery journeys and to advocate for greater understanding of mental illness. In truth, mental health treatment is not a one-way street with doctors always in the driver’s seat.
We want clients to “do” treatment. We don’t necessarily approach it that they are “receiving” treatment. To be part of a therapeutic community means to be part of the process and an active agent of change.
I spoke with Ashley Danner to learn more about BrightQuest’s semi-independent living program in Nashville. We discussed its day-to-day operations and its benefits for the sake of individuals who might need this kind of program, their families, and the larger community where these programs are operating and growing.
How Does BrightQuest Organize the Best Care for Its Clients?
Experts in the field of behavioral health are constantly working to solidify the best treatment options and care practices, and how we approach mental health care has changed drastically over time. Even today, treatments are always improving and evolving.
One of the most important advancements in the field of behavioral health in recent history has been in the individualization of care. This is made possible by the wide variety of available treatment options, the number of experienced care providers available, the ability to work with clients in immersive programs for long periods of time, and the attention to clients’ personal goals and motivations.
Another monumental evolution in behavioral health care has been shifting our focus to helping clients to transition into thriving, productive lives during and after treatment. The ideal treatment paradigm is not one that completely removes a person from their life, but one that allows them to navigate treatment on a parallel course with their evolving life skills and lifestyle. They learn to cope and be healthy in the context of real life and its real challenges. The semi-independent living program is the embodiment of this opportunity.
As Danner explains, “We really want to make sure that the clients are in the least restrictive environment as possible while also being flexible and meeting their needs as they go through the recovery process.” In order for a client to be considered fit for semi-independent living, program staff must observe a significant level of stability and autonomy. They must be able to get up in the morning, manage their personal and home hygiene tasks, manage their medications, manage their daily schedule and appointments, and participate positively in the home community environment. At BrightQuest, prospective clients undergo more than two days of in-depth assessments that help clinicians to understand what level of care is most appropriate and any other special treatment that may be necessary.
If someone is not yet ready for the responsibility of the semi-independent living program, then admission staff may place them in the BrightQuest residential treatment program. This is the route for individuals with more severe mental health needs and for those who need more structure, supervision, and practice in self-awareness and self-care. As Danner describes, “The residential treatment program can be used for brief intervention or stabilization, or it can provide longer-term structured support. Most clients enter the program at the semi-independent level of care and stay there for the majority of their treatment stay.” There, too, clients have a critical level of support to help them cope while they are still practicing to stand on two strong, confident feet.
“Maybe someone is interviewing for a job for the first time or they’re experiencing the loss of a parent or grandparent.” In such circumstances, stress levels are high, and there is a need for truly effective coping skills. Danner explains that, in the semi-independent living program, “[Our clients] are still functioning in an environment where they’re expected to get up out of bed and clean their house and go grocery shopping. But they also have that extra layer of support with their peers and the staff that work with them in the house so that they can weather those kinds of life challenges successfully.”
How Is the Semi-Independent Living Program an Empowered Community In and Of Itself?
Participants in the semi-independent living program are there because they are ready to bring together life’s rich challenges and their toolbox of effective treatments and coping skills—a toolbox that is robust enough to help them navigate life well into the future. This program is a critical period of transition, during which they still have the support of compassionate staff to help them work through the challenges. Support staff visit the house throughout the day to ensure that clients’ schedules are running smoothly and to help with any problem solving around the house. Clients also participate in therapy and group sessions every week as a part of their individual routines. Staff and peers also living in the house and working their own journeys of recovery and expanding independence come together to create a therapeutic community.
“Because we have a level of care that’s not 24 hours a day and because we believe that therapy is happening at all times, even outside of the sessions in the group rooms,” explains Danner, “the best way to integrate these concepts is to have a specific and defined set of rules of engagement. All staff and clients, as community members, contribute to the creation of the rules of engagement and hold their peers accountable to those agreements.” House members are responsible for their own self-care, as well as chores and shared tasks, grocery shopping, and preparing meals. Moreover, they are expected to support each other in the recovery community:
It’s not uncommon if someone is really struggling for the entire community at some point to be activated to support a client. So, let’s say someone is having a hard time getting out of bed and getting to group. We might bring the whole group to them at the house and provide that community level of support.
Or if a client is really struggling with a basic activity of daily living, their therapy session might be that we need to get their room organized because they might feel better if their living environment is organized and clean. We definitely operate on the idea that our external environment is a representation of our internal environment.
In other words, clients are learning how to depend on themselves and others, to support others, and to contribute actively to their wider community. These lessons are not just fundamental to recovery in mental health terms; they are fundamental to the building of our communities at large. And we can always use more positive and practiced contributions to help strengthen our neighborhoods, our cooperative relationships, our community resources, and our local leadership.
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How Do Semi-Independent Living Programs Benefit the Nashville Community?
“There are so many components of each day, each minute, each hour that require our clients and our staff to be active participants,” Danner says. “It’s not a place where people bide their time. They are successful, and they’re actively engaging in working towards being the best version of themselves: the best family member, the best employee, and just being able to live a productive and meaningful life in society.” The program is designed to promote higher responsibility to oneself and to the community. Danner maintains that “It’s not just about mental illness. We’re not just focusing on: here’s your diagnosis and this is what you need so that you don’t have symptoms. It’s more about how to live a well-rounded and fulfilling life.”
In Danner’s experience, “It’s actually very common for clients to take the skills that they’ve learned and stay in the local community because they’ve integrated so well and have connections. They’ve practiced for an extended period of time in a supportive environment and are taking those skills into their own living environment and staying connected to the community.”
“In our Extended Services Program, clients can still come to us for psychiatric services, individual therapy, family therapy, and groups. Because their job is here. Their sponsors are here. Their friends are here.” At this point, clients are setting an example not only for others who are pursuing a similar recovery path, but also for community members at large—an example of how to actively support the community and promote cooperative agreements. Clients are volunteering and helping to clean up the community. Eventually, they taking on employment to be contributing members of society, bringing their positive skills and mindset to life. “We function as a little mini-community within a larger community.”
Danner says of BrightQuest, “We want to set the bar for other providers that are in our area and be a trusted referral source and a contributor to furthering education.” She hopes that BrightQuest’s presence and advocacy in Nashville can help to dissolve the stigma of mental illness and substance use disorder treatment, paving the way for wider focus on and responsibility to mental health. Large-scale healing starts on the individual level, and BrightQuest Nashville is building that community bridge from the one to the many.
BrightQuest offers long-term residential treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned program and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.