An Interview with Jonathan Appelhans, Life Coach at Promises

Jonathan Appelhans helps recovering addicts become more effective in how they manage their daily lives – how they plan and structure their days, how they meet their obligations to their own physical, emotional and spiritual needs. But he also walks through these things with the client, and they discuss how these things work into the bigger picture of ultimately being where, and who they want to be. With his guidance, clients find support, and ultimately, empowerment to answer their own difficult questions regarding the most practical aspects of their recovery and transition: I feel like I’m being overwhelmed with unrealistic expectations, how am I going to keep this all together? I’ve worked my way into such a hole, how can I ever get out of it? Recovery isn’t always simply a process of putting the pieces back together, but in some cases, making them fit for the first time. “Our clients have faced high levels of anxiety for a long time, and the way they coped before (with drugs and alcohol) wasn’t working,” Jonathan says. “We help them build a new foundation for how to organize, prioritize and then strategize how they will move toward a maintainable stability and manageability in their daily lives.” For Jonathan, who humbly describes himself as a “small fire crisis manager,” there’s no such thing as a “typical day.” Depending on the needs of the clients at Promises intensive outpatient facility, his days may include strategizing with a client to meet the obligations of a professional licensing board, preparing a client for a more effective (or even their first) employment search, working with a client to create a realistic budget, or accompanying a client to the bank, school, or almost any other place that has been a large piece of unresolved stress for them in the practical sense of their recovery and transition. As Promises Life Coach, Jonathan sees clients in the intensive outpatient program for up to eight weeks at the IOP, for individual and group sessions. Although life coaching is not a mandatory part of treatment for every client at Promises, many clients are referred to him by their primary therapists or substance abuse counselors. Many clients volunteer to take advantage of the opportunity to get back on track in one or more areas of their lives and ask to work with Jonathan.

From Defeated to Empowered

Often, clients come to Jonathan feeling defeated, guarded and down on themselves. Right up front, in their first intake session, Jonathan explains how his role differs from the rest of the treatment team. He explains, “I do not provide therapy. I’m here to talk about the things the client wants to change, not how others want or tell them they have to be. My goals are simple: to help clients reconnect with the great qualities that are already in them and offer the most effective and appropriate support in helping them become who they really want to be.” After the initial intake, Jonathan creates an individual service plan for each client that addresses any deficits in such things as; life skills, time management, work-life balance, and financial, education and career planning. If clients are struggling with a specific issue or goal, Jonathan may walk them through it “in the field” – for example, by taking a client to school admissions, to the bank, or maybe even shopping for clothes to interview in – all the while discussing the process, the how and why these tasks aid in their specific recovery. Equal parts challenging and supportive, Jonathan varies his approach depending on the needs of each client as an individual. “I never push clients beyond what I believe they are capable of or what they say they want for themselves,” he says. “I come up with ideas with them, not for them – from the ridiculous to the impossibly perfect – until clients find that sweet spot somewhere in between that actually works for them in the best and most effective ways. Sometimes my clients surprise themselves and push even further, and into what they used to regard only as what other people wanted for them!”

Scaling the Mountain One Step at a Time

The prospect of life in recovery can be daunting for people first transitioning from residential drug rehab into a new life outside of treatment, even if they return to familiar environments. When many arrive at Promises, their shoulders droop, their feet shuffle, their eyes are dull. The first things Jonathan usually hears are, “I can’t,” “what’s the point” or “it doesn’t matter.” They are overwhelmed and frightened. Jonathan tells them, “We don’t have to climb the mountain today. Let’s not even look at the mountain. For right now, let’s focus on the six inches right in front of our faces.” Within a few weeks, clients are scaling that mountain. And it shows in their appearance as well as their behaviors. Although every problem can’t be solved before they leave treatment, clients are often more engaged, moving with purpose, and begin showing up even when they don’t have to. “Clients become more proactive and start to gain momentum,” he says. “As smaller successes become more frequent, they build the confidence to tackle the next challenge.” The work Jonathan does with his clients is serious and demanding, yet he makes sure there are always places and times to laugh. To help motivate clients to get active, Jonathan will use his lunch hour to offer “Lunch with Coach,” and play tennis with them at a park a few blocks away. Recognizing that many clients have creative talents to share, he donated musical equipment, and sets the “stage” with microphones, keyboards and drums for the Artist’s Meeting, which he helped launch soon after he started at Promises. The Artist’s Meeting is held every two weeks, and was created for Promises Community members, not only to play songs, but to read poetry, tell funny stories, or just share anything creative with others in the sober community.

‘No One Has to Feel Alone’

Jonathan joined Promises in April 2010 and has had the freedom ever since to shape a life coaching program that effectively and cohesively meets clients’ needs. His interest in addiction began more than two decades earlier in nursing as a Marine Corpsman in the U.S. Navy. As a specialist in ortho/trauma, Jonathan saw patients through surgeries for a variety of severe injuries. What many had in common was intense pain for long periods of time, which sparked surges in drug and alcohol abuse. The impact of the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse was something that surprised him, and he developed a sensitivity to it that he carried with him beyond his years in the military. Jonathan also worked for many years in the music industry. During his college years, he was a radio show host who interviewed up-and-coming bands, and after college, he worked in many aspects of the music industry, developing a specialization in artist management. Seeing many friends and colleagues in the industry falling prey to addiction, and through his continued involvement in the field of health care and social services, he was afforded opportunities in the field of substance abuse, among them becoming a substance abuse counselor. Prior to joining Promises, he had a number of positions in the field of substance abuse – all intense learning experiences in different treatment environments, including working with the dually diagnosed, troubled teens, drug dealers, gang members, parolees and the homeless on Skid Row, eventually being given and successfully managing his own clinical substance abuse treatment aftercare program for a number of years. Throughout these experiences, Jonathan never forgot one key element to so many affected by addiction: just how alone people can feel. “So many people feel so alone,” he says. “I believe that part of my calling is to help people understand that they aren’t alone; that there is real support available, and from educated, motivated, and dedicated professionals who really want them to succeed, not just in recovery, but in their lives! If they’ll just imagine for a moment that things can be different, there’s hope.”

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