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2010 Outstanding Clinicians Awards: Stephanie Steinman

January 1, 2010
by root
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Stephanie Steinman defines her work with adolescents well beyond the limits of the one-on-one relationship with a client. She refers to her role as a bridge between youths and parents who each want to be heard but can't seem to clear the lines of communication.

For Steinman, family involvement in the process of adolescent treatment is not a nuisance-it's a necessity. “The family's first approach often is, ‘Here's my kid; can you fix him?’”

She began her career in a residential treatment setting in Seattle before moving to the outpatient Gateway Recovery addiction and mental health treatment center that is part of the University of Wisconsin medical system. Though she has yet to reach her 30s (she's presently on maternity leave after having her first child in November), Steinman already has mapped out long-term career plans, having enrolled in a PhD program and expecting to complete it within the next two to three years. “I want to stay in the field and work with adolescents,” she says confidently.

Position: AODA counselor

Organization: UW Health-Gateway Recovery Clinic, Madison, Wis.

Age: 29

Quote: “I decided I wanted to be a therapist in the 8th grade, when we had a job section in our social studies class. My uncle was a school counselor, and friends of the family were psychologists. I thought, ‘What if I could be the person to help kids with what they go through?’”

Comment from a colleague: “She thoroughly researched the evidence and efficacy of experiential treatment for adolescents and developed a sound program that continues,” says Michael Waupoose, director of the clinic where Steinman works. “Her work with adolescents is solid, compassionate and firm.”

Administrators at her facility remark that Steinman already has developed a voracious appetite for relevant research that uncovers best practices in youth services.

She aggressively pursued for the clinic a UW Health-sponsored grant to incorporate an experiential component into its adolescent intensive outpatient program. The IOP now includes a weekly “experiential night” on Thursdays in which youths learn communication skills, teamwork and mutual support. A typical exercise in such a session might be “Spider's Web,” where clients as teams are asked to crawl through an apparatus but have to brainstorm about how to negotiate the task without breaking the rules or leaving a teammate behind.

When colleagues learned of Steinman's success with the experiential therapy, they enlisted her help in facilitating a team-building session for managers at an organization-wide retreat.

“The adolescents she works with see her as an advocate who holds them accountable with compassion and understanding,” concludes Michael Waupoose, director of the clinic.

Currently Steinman is working toward bringing more elements of promising clinical approaches such as mindfulness therapies and Dialectical Behavior Therapy into the program. But she adds that improving adolescent outcomes is not just about incorporating new techniques, but also maximizing existing resources.

“We could work better with the schools and really work with kids, instead of just seeing them expelled,” Steinman says. Moreover, she adds, the helping professions don't always take good care of their own human resources, leaving their workers susceptible to early burnout.

“I surround myself with people who remind me that I need to take good care of myself,” says Steinman. Yes, this clinician seems considerably older than her years.

Addiction Professional 2010 January-February;8(1):12-13