GUEST POST by Shale Marks, LCSW, CADC
SunCloud Health’s core philosophy met the artistic world on the evening of April 20, when staff therapists attended the performance of “Contact High: A New Musical” at the Northbrook Theatre.
Sally McQuillen, LCSW and I were honored to meet the cast and creators of this new musical drama, which focuses on the lives of high-school students who are caught in a web of mental health issues that include opioid addiction.
Participating in a talk-back after the show gave us the chance to answer questions from the audience about opioids, recovery and other mental health challenges. Conversations like these are a crucial part of SunCloud Health’s mission, as we actively seek ways to contribute to the community’s understanding of mental health.
A young opioid addict with nowhere to hide
As I sat watching the musical, it struck me how deeply the character named Jean struggled with her addiction. She seemed to ache for connection, not only with herself but also with friends and the community. Like many young people, Jean seemed like a leaf blown by the wind, desperately searching for comfort – yet suffering the extreme discomfort of her disease as it dragged her from one moment to the next. She sought a resting place in a world where it seemed there was no friendly direction, no safe spot to hide.
It struck me that Jean is exactly the kind of person we hope to reach at SunCloud Health. The ache in her heart is the same ache that echoes in the hearts of all of our patients. It reminded me of the commitment we’ve made to our clinical philosophy, which is a tapestry of principles that hold our team accountable to our patients and each other. Our philosophy empowers us to perform what we think of as “soul surgery” for the people we serve.
The healing value of empathy
At SunCloud Health, we are guided by an agreement that places empathy at the core of everything we do. Our agreement states:
“We agree to search for non-pejorative or phenomenologically empathic interpretations of our client’s, our own, and other team members’ behavior. We agree to assume we and our patients are trying their best, and want to improve. We agree to strive to see the world through our patients’ eyes and through one another’s’ eyes. We agree to practice a nonjudgmental stance with our patients and one another.”
As we work with people in group settings, we challenge their belief systems, providing the care, compassion and attention they may have missed in their formative years. We welcome them as therapists who acknowledge our own humanity and fallibility and are ready to guide them as they move forward in recovery.
If we as a community could truly touch empathy, I believe there would be a deeper understanding of the underbelly of addiction. So often, conditions such as PTSD, depression and other mood disorders are the driving force behind substance use. Our ability to acknowledge and treat these conditions is often the first meaningful step toward healing.
Sally and I felt honored to discuss these issues with everyone who came out to see “Contact High” – and we thank show creators Kyle Reid Hass and Jeremy Swanton for inviting us to be part of this unique production, which will soon make its New York debut. I feel certain that this new musical will open hearts and minds with every performance.
At SunCloud Health, our hope is that we can continue to contribute to the community in an authentic way, addressing the power differentials that exist between therapist and patient, government and citizen, parent and child so that we can all move a little bit closer to humility, compassion, empathy and healing.