How Attending Conferences Enhanced Our “Safe Space” in Treating the LGBTQ+ Community

At OPI we are committed to providing safe and affirming spaces for our LGBTQ+ young adults and their families.  We recognize that best practices for a young adult who identifies as LGBTQ+ are going to differ from their straight/cisgender counterparts because of a number of factors and that our awareness of those needs should be constantly evolving.  We also recognize that everyone’s experience is individual! Through diverse hiring practices, open and out staff members, LGBTQ+ process groups and social clubs, we are able to model for and provide holistic support to our participants identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

Part of our continued commitment to working with an LGBTQ+ population involves ongoing continued education at a variety of conferences and action summits available in L.A. and across the country.  In the past year, many members of our staff have attended LGBTQ+ Affirmative Conferences, trainings, or events in Massachusetts, Utah, and California to enhance our clinical skills and expertise. In the past month, we sent representatives to two local events, the EDGY Conference (sponsored by Penny Lane) and ETA Summit (“Eat, Think, Act” luncheon coordinated by La Fuente).  Some of our takeaways are as follows.

Alisa Foreman, Clinical Director at OPI, attended the ETA Summit and said, “We decided to be gold sponsors because we, at OPI, strongly support the LGBTQ+ community and pride ourselves on making OPI a ‘safe space.’  We have worked with many LGBTQ+ participants and are eager to continue to learn more about how to truly respect and support one’s journey towards their authentic identity.” Missy Martin, Director of Life Coaching, noticed that while we recognize a person’s internal journey, we must also be aware and versed in their societal context, the messages they have received about themselves from others, and how those messages shift and fluctuate based on time, geography, and other factors.  As an out lesbian member of OPI’s staff, I truly believe in the intention and honesty present in Alisa’s and Missy’s words. I take pride in being part of an organization that backs up those words with action.

OPI, specifically, is in a unique place to actively support our LGBTQ+ participants for several reasons.  For one thing, as we are situated in California, an informed consent model is utilized with regard to transgender individuals seeking medical treatment.  La Fuente’s ETA Summit did a wonderful job familiarizing clinicians and lay people alike who might not know about this model. Historically, a mental health professional was responsible for providing clinical recommendation before a client could explore medical options.  Under an informed consent model, the patient has agency over this and other pieces of their medical decision-making. Alisa Foreman said, “I was interested to learn about the ‘gate keeper’ vs. informed consent model and how that impacts an individual’s sense of control over their own lives, bodies, and identities. As an MTP, I do not want to be the ‘gate keeper’ for someone else’s true identity.”

ETA Summit also left me thinking about how I can better serve our LGBTQ+ participants by remaining knowledgeable in areas that might not apply to my own queer experience (remembering that I do not know everything) – for instance learning about and remaining familiar with dating apps that are also used to seek drugs.  As members of the LGBTQ+ community are more prone to relational difficulty and addiction because of a variety of developmental and social factors, this is particularly relevant with our young adults. Even more specifically, our participants who identify as gay men are at risk to become part of a growing movement of “chemsex” or sexual encounters under the influence of drugs (particularly/often crystal methamphetamine) as a way to dampen internalized shame about their desires.  Keeping my ear to the ground and being aware of the dating apps our participants are using, as well as being alert for certain acronyms (for instance PnP – Party And Play) can help me to counter harmful/toxic messaging, and keep our residences and offices safe, as our participants deserve them to be.

OPI also sent representatives to this year’s Edgy Conference – Penny Lane’s 10th annual gathering of panels and speakers intended for those who work closely with LGBTQ+ persons and their families.  The theme this year was “Building A Brighter Future.” One of our primary takeaways was a growing awareness of similarities between young adults who identify as transgender or gender-expansive, and young adults on the autism spectrum.  OPI Life Coach, Brittany Williams, summarizes, “I was intrigued by the workshop we took on the correlation between gender variance and the autism spectrum since we’ve had participants in the past who identified with this and had spectrum-like tendencies. It has caused me to be aware of possible patterns and tendencies that may have been overlooked because of their diagnoses.”  We were also interested in the continued conversation of how clinicians can best support clients going through any coming out process (with a recognition of how that process shifts, changes, and recreates itself over the course of a person’s life).

Both EDGY and the ETA Summit left OPI participants renewed in their existent core understanding of each person’s identity as unique, non-fixed, and non-linear.  “We will not act as gatekeepers. We will hold space for those who have been (and continue to be) othered. We will respect and listen to the experiences of our LGBTQ+ young adults.  Some of us will be allies, some of us will be mentors, and some of us will be mirrors. All of us will be informed.”

Author: Britt Kusserow


Anxiety in Schools: New Podcast Series from Rogers Behavioral Health

Worry, fear, meltdowns, inability to concentrate, refusing to go to school. Students’ outward behavior can often indicate an internal struggle with anxiety. And as the most common emotional disorder affecting kids today, anxiety is having an impact on thousands of classrooms nationwide.

But how can you know when students are dealing with anxiety? And what can you do to help?

New resources from Rogers Behavioral Health

To help manage school anxiety, Rogers has released a comprehensive set of educational tools, helpful handouts, anxiety-reducing exercises, and the new “Anxiety in Schools” podcast. In this six-part series, Rogers’ medical experts share ways school professionals can identify at-risk students, practical tips for addressing anxiety in the classroom, and clues for knowing when it’s time to seek professional help.

Listen to the podcast and access a library of additional resources to help students at

How Does Screen Time Affect Kids’ Mental Health?


The National Institute of Health estimates that kids spend an average of five to seven hours a day using screens for entertainment, which is equal to or even greater than the total time spent in the classroom. This has increased two and a half hours a day from just 10 years ago.

Surveys are showing that they also face more anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles than previous generations. There are a number of factors thought to be contributing to this, but screen time is a major one, according to Peggy Scallon, MD, medical director of the FOCUS Adolescent Mood Disorders program in Oconomowoc.

“There are huge implications for youth,” Dr. Scallon says. “What are they not doing when they’re on screens? What experiences are they missing out on?”

The distractions of the screen mean less time for homework, physical activity, family interactions, and face-to-face time with peers. Without these necessary social interactions, kids are growing up unprepared and unable to cope—sometimes creating an unhealthy environment for their mental well-being.

“We know that anxiety and depression are correlated with high levels of screen time,” Dr. Scallon says.

The content on the screen matters just as much as the amount of time spent on them. Teens grow up looking at airbrushed models on Instagram or seeing friends doing something fun without them. Dr. Scallon warns that some then perceive their own life as unglamorous in comparison.

Bullying is another issue, which has changed significantly since parents themselves were kids.

“Kids may be bullied while sitting on the couch next to their parents who may not even know it, and the kids can’t escape it,” Dr. Scallon says. “They carry these phones with them 24/7, so they are experiencing near-constant social scrutiny.”

Gaming addiction and screen time

Around 91% of kids growing up today play video games. Dr. Scallon says that kids who spend too much time playing games, at the detriment of other activities, can also show signs of addiction.

“These games are very compelling for kids, and they often engage in gaming at the expense of other activities.” Dr. Scallon says. “And when kids use screens excessively, it can lead to anxiety, depression, family conflict, or another mental health disorder.”

As explained in an earlier blog with Dr. Heather Jones, supervising psychologist for Rogers’ FOCUS Adolescent Mood Disorders program, kids can create a cycle of avoidance by using games, TV, or phones to avoid dealing with the challenges of anxiety, depression, or another mental health disorder.

“In the short term, I might be distracted by the games, but this leads to increased feelings of depression in the long term because I’ve sat around all day without getting anything productive done,” Dr. Jones explains.

How Rogers handles screen time with kids

When a child or teen comes into one of Rogers’ residential programs, one of the big adjustments for them is getting used to much less screen time. It doesn’t always go over well at first, but Dr. Scallon says that this soon changes. “They will tell us openly ‘I feel so much better without having my phone,’” she explains.

When spending too much time with screens is the issue, it can be difficult coming up with a plan to reintegrate the electronics after treatment. Rogers asks parents to set limits on device use, remove certain devices from the house, and to lead by example.

Dr. Scallon adds, “It’s absolutely important for parents to model good behavior and etiquette for screens and devices, to limit their use, and to prioritize their relationship with their child. One of our biggest challenges in planning for discharge is working with kids and parents to limit and monitor the use of screen time in order to maintain health and wellbeing.”

Rogers treats children and adolescents struggling with mental health disorders including depression and mood disorders, eating disorders, OCD and anxiety, and addiction; in addition to a unique program that addresses mental health concerns for kids with autism spectrum disorder.


Spotlight: Positive Peer Culture (PPC) at The High Frontier

The High Frontier provides a fully integrated therapeutic and experiential milieu conducted within the framework of Positive Peer Culture (PPC), a values-based and process-oriented model utilizing a system of cognitive strategies and interventions. PPC strives for long-term change by teaching and internalizing core values of pro-social and positive behavior such as altruism, responsibility, acceptance, self-worth and autonomy.

By “integrated” we mean that all aspects of the therapeutic and social milieu revolve around the core concepts of PPC and that the individual, group and family therapy sessions are integrated into the milieu of PPC. In other words, all types of social interactions, including therapy sessions, formal education and even recreation share a commonality of purpose: to teach a positive value system based upon the concepts of altruism, responsibility, self-worth, acceptance and autonomy. Formalized group therapy sessions act as a teaching catalyst for the therapeutic work that permeates a student’s social day and serve the milieu.

In Positive Peer Culture, the students are an integral part of the helping process and are fully incorporated into the social and experiential milieu. The development of altruism, responsibility, self-worth, acceptance and autonomy, and the internalization of these qualities, requires the student to be an active part of the helping process. These qualities are developed as the treatment process exposes and provides insight into the student’s previously unsuccessful efforts to discover and develop identity, status and a self-concept based upon negative behaviors.

Integrating the students into the experiential and social milieu recognizes and capitalizes on the fact that students are modeling their behavior most strongly after other peers. Students are asked and taught to become of service to their peers and to take a meaningful role and responsibility in helping others. As they learn how to be of value to others, students develop the self-worth necessary to establish and maintain more positive and productive relationships, behaviors and goals.

Novitas Wrestles With Behavior Challenges


Novitas Academy believes that sports and healthy, energetic, extra-curricular activities play a very important part in one’s mental health. As you may know when people are actively engaged in physical exercise their body releases endorphins that can make them feel happy and more content.

Competitive sports and regular exercise can help those who battle depression, or many other forms of mental health challenges, to have a better outlook on life. Walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or hiking – are commonly recommended to relieve or prevent depression.  Many people who participate in sports in addition to having other treatments say that it feels good to be able to do something to fight their depression themselves.

Did you know that sports are a great outlet for behavior issues as well?  Yes, Novitas Academy has had many students that have profited from being in competitive sports. Participation helps curve their poor behavior choices towards their peers because it builds their self-respect and in return they seem to treat others better.  Sports offer them the opportunity to be active and to meet other people and focus on building those relationships.  A more productive student, whether in the classroom or on the gym floor, is a happier, more confident student.

For instance, it is wonderful to see how much change occurs in our young men’s behavior during wrestling season. Our students that take wrestling at our local high school have the unique opportunity to be coached by one of our Novitas staff that has coached there for over 20 yrs. He also coaches for the local high school in golf and tennis. Wrestling is a tough sport and they not only get a hard workout but they have that connection both on and off campus with their coach. More respect is even observed from our other students that have supported their classmates at their wrestling matches and other games.

Our clinicians practice active, Adventure-Based Therapy just for this reason. The students have mastered many challenging backpacking trips and day hikes. Accomplishing something difficult makes us feel achieved. Isn’t that a great feeling for all of us?!

Located in Emmett, Idaho on 30 acres of majestic river front property, Novitas Academy is a unique therapeutic boarding school for boys ages 14-18 and grades 9-12 accredited by AdvancED.  Novitas is a relationship-based program that strives to help our students build their self-esteem and self-confidence through discovering and nurturing their strengths, passions, and dreams.