An Interview with Susanne Tarleton, Director of Outpatient Services
By Meghan O’Dell
With nearly 24 years of experience working in the addiction treatment field, Susanne Tarleton brings a wealth of knowledge, creativity, and heart to her job as the Director of Outpatient Services at Promises Treatment Centers. A licensed clinical psychologist with a doctorate in clinical psychology and a certification in drug and alcohol counseling, Susanne has been an integral part of the Promises treatment team for 11 years.
After working as a clinical psychologist at St. John’s Hospital and Cedars-Sinai, Susanne was introduced to the founder of Promises, Richard Rogg, and was asked to be the Clinical Director of Promises in Malibu, a position she held for ten years. “I could do things at Promises that I couldn’t do in hospitals, and that was very inspiring for me,” she said, explaining that she also developed the equine therapy program at Promises, which was the first in the region. “We started the equine therapy phenomenon, and now it’s standard treatment at many treatment centers.”
One of the reasons Susanne became a psychologist is that she started seeing so many other symptoms in addition to substance abuse, such as depression and anxiety. She wanted to learn more, which led her to specializing in dual diagnosis. Susanne also trained in trauma work, including EMDR and somatic experiencing. Many people who suffer from addiction have experienced trauma and turn to alcohol and drugs to self-medicate, so identifying trauma is an integral part of treatment.
Last year, Susanne was presented with the opportunity to become the Director of Outpatient Services in West Los Angeles. “They wanted the program to have a strong clinical foundation, so I was excited to accept,” she said, explaining that she’s been in this position since July 2009. “We recently moved into a wonderfully spacious building, which is very conducive to giving clients the space they need to recover. I think the environment has so much to do with how people heal,” she added.
In Outpatient Services, clients experience the next stage of recovery—the transition back to work, home, and life in general. They are taught life skills and can participate in yoga, a nutrition group, and a life coaching program. “We are preparing people for what comes next,” Susanne explained. “Clients are assigned a primary clinician just as they are in residential treatment, and they also have a family therapist,” she added. “We’ve really expanded family therapy, as addiction doesn’t just affect the individual—family members need to be just as involved in treatment.”
Susanne notes that the most important element is the client’s connection with the individual therapist. “While group is also important, clients form a connection with their therapist or counselor and that connection is what helps them throughout the program,” she explained, adding that feedback surveys show that the clients agree. “But the connection with peers and the 12-step community is also very important,” she added. “Our mission is to help people connect with ongoing recovery, because as they step down, they need to be more engaged with the outside world. They need to build a life outside of meetings, but they also need to integrate the 12-step model into their lives and use the resources we equip them with.”
Many times clients want to extend their time in the outpatient program. “They form a connection and a bond, and I think it’s because we treat the individual and give special attention to their specific needs,” Susanne said. “The staff is like a family, and the way we communicate and interact is key to helping clients. It also makes clients feel supported and comfortable. The clients know that the staff is very skilled and professional, but they’re also very human and accessible,” she added, noting that Promises provides a great deal of structure without being rigid. “That compassionate understanding is very attractive, and people will tell us Promises is like no other place they’ve been,” she said, adding that the creative, individualized treatment at Promises makes it stand out among other treatment centers.
Susanne noted that the outpatient program doesn’t just treat Promises clients—people from the community or those who have been through other treatment programs are welcomed with open arms. “Some people think we are simply the next phase of treatment for Promises patients, but we’re much more than that,” she explained. “We also have a lot of fun—we take recovery very seriously but we also know that life needs to be fun; it needs to be celebrated.”