Even Lauren Holley admits there are aspects to her work that still amaze her.
As a dual diagnosis treatment therapist for Tri-County Mental Health Services, Holley works with Northlanders who have been diagnosed with both a mental illness and substance abuse. Like many issues addressed at the community mental health center, dual diagnosis is surprisingly widespread, impacting everyone from high school athletes to older adults.
“It can be marijuana or alcohol,” she noted of the substance. “But today it may often be a high school football player with an injury or an older adult with a spine problem who gets hooked on pain pills.”
Although it’s tempting to judge substance abuse, those who fight mental illness often resort to substance use as a way to cope. “This is a judgment-free zone,” she noted. “One thing we do instead is work toward getting them to observe their feelings rather than avoid them. Awareness is helpful for the healing process.”
Whether physical or emotional, pain is not something many deal with well. “No one teaches us about emotions and pain,” Holley observed. “Many often turn to substances to cope. That’s one reason it’s really neat when you see someone experiencing positive results.”
Holley brings her own perspective to the work. She earned a bachelor’s degree from William Jewell College and a master’s from Avila University. A licensed professional counselor, she previously worked four years with Tri-County as a caseworker before entering private practice. All of these viewpoints help her appreciate Tri-County’s range of services.
“When I was a caseworker, I thought I asked all the right questions,” she recalled. “But I was watching the Healthcare Home team, and I’m constantly impressed with how they catch things like neuropathy in someone’s feet because of diabetes.” Other programs include weekly group therapy, case management, the outpatient CSTAR program and psychiatrists.
Holley lives in Brookside but has a strong Northland attachment besides Tri-County: she’s a native of Liberty and her father is William Jewell basketball coach Larry Holley. “My dad is a coach, and my mom was a teacher,” she laughed.
That may also explain her draw to therapy. After earning her bachelor’s degree from Jewell, she worked for a while in sales. “I was on a call and a customer needed help,” she recalled. “Of course, I helped, but then a light bulb went off. I’m supposed to be a therapist!” Holley recounts this as a pivotal point in her life; she had finally found her calling.
But most of all, Holley wants to share a message for those who struggle with both substance abuse and mental health. “Help is available and recovery is possible.”