IU Health West Hospital

Addiction therapist: “Recovery is about thinking it is possible”

We are IU Health

April 07, 2020

She isn’t the kind of therapist who feels she needs to experience it to understand it. But Trisha Palencer, Director of the IU Health West Addiction Treatment Recovery Center has walked the road to recovery. During the COVID-19 pandemic the center continues serving patients for addiction services and taking new patients via telehealth.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

She was sitting in her blue PT Cruiser parked downtown on Pennsylvania Street right near University Park. It was a moment of truth. Trisha Palencer could take her own life or she could seek treatment. She chose to seek treatment.

It was seven years ago. Palencer was 23, and had completed her undergraduate degree in sociology, criminology and psychology. She was starting her master’s degree in addiction counseling and was working at a homeless shelter.

“I have struggled with chronic depression and anxiety and have a significant history of trauma,” said Palencer, the director of the Addiction Treatment Recovery Center at IU Health West. She said her struggles that started when she was about 12 included self- harm – cutting and burning. “I’ve had suicidal thoughts and planning. My family is not from here. I’d gone through break-ups and work stress and didn’t have the coping skills to deal with it.”

Her journey began in the spring of 2013. She left work early because there was a presentation planned about high-risk patients. It was the closest she’d come to a plan of action to end her life. There was a stash of painkillers, a flask of alcohol, and stockpile of razor blades in her car.

“When they talked about ‘high risk’ I thought they were describing me. I left and thought, ‘I’m supposed to be helping people and I can barely help myself,’” said Palencer. “I didn’t think I had problems with drugs or alcohol. My only motivation for seeking treatment was to get a grip on self-harm.”

Through outpatient counseling Palencer found a therapist who helped her turn her life around.

“The way she talked to me influences the way I talk to patients now – ‘the bad news is you have this stuff to deal with; the good news is you’re not that special. Lots of people have stuff and we can treat it,’” said Palencer. “I was there to get better, to learn to confront and talk about my trauma I had to learn to process and talk about my emotions.”

This spring marks two milestones for Palencer – She turns 30; and the IU Health Addiction Treatment Recovery Center celebrates its first year.

“I wasn’t supposed to see my 30th birthday. I wasn’t supposed to make it this far,’ said Palencer, who has been married to Ryan for five years and is the mother of Everett, 2. “I tend to be a clinician that doesn’t need to be through recovery to understand recovery. I think it’s just about thinking it’s possible. We don’t go to a cardiologist and make sure he had heart problems before he can help us.” But what her experience has reinforced is the need for patients to have a safe place and an informed person to help guide them through recovery.

Through the IU Health Addiction Treatment Recovery Center physicians, nurse practitioners, therapists, peer recovery coaches and nurses work together to help break the cycle of addiction. During the COVID-19 pandemic the center continues serving patients for addiction services and taking new patients via telehealth. Patients should call the clinic number at 317.217.2711.

“The focus of treatment here is to let people know that they are important and welcome and that recovery is possible. We offer a joint medical and therapeutic approach that allows us to treat the whole person when they’re ready – even same day appointments,” said Palencer.

The program includes group psychotherapy and education, and individual and family therapy. The goal is to help individuals improve their relationships with others as they work toward recovery.

IU Health recently received a $1 million pledge to the IU Health Foundation by Indianapolis Colts Owner & CEO Jim Irsay. The gift will be used by IU Health to increase access to addiction services to people in need across Indiana.

A 2018 study conducted by Indiana University found that two in three Hoosiers know someone who is struggling with addiction. The Treatment and Recovery Program at IU Health West is one of three regional addiction treatment recovery centers across the state. Completion rates within these programs are above the national average of 40%, with some programs showing completion rates above 90%.

Palencer remained in treatment for well over a year. Today she continues to seek treatment as needed.

“It’s a chronic illness,” said Palencer. “I don’t think treatment is an episode of your life. It’s various levels of care throughout your life.”

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