Chesterton Tribune

Drug counseling: 'We peddle hope'

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Duneland has never strayed far from its agricultural artisan heritage. Many Dunelanders still make a living by their hands, they think of Porter County not as The Region but The Heartland, and in their families self-sufficiency is as valued as an heirloom.

So Dr. Jeanne Trifone learned six years ago when she established the Duneland Counseling Center in Chesterton. Trifone was born and raised in Chicago, worked there for a number of years as an educator, then—after earning her doctorate—took a position in East Chicago as a therapist at the TriCity Community Mental Health Center. But when Trifone moved to Duneland she rapidly found herself to be an “anomaly.”

“Most people I’ve met in Chesterton have never met a therapist before,” Trifone says. Why should they have? In Duneland “you solve your problems within the family or within the church community.”

Therapy, counseling, interventions: these rub against the grain of generations of custom. Some Dunelanders simply feel uncomfortable confiding in a stranger. They may see therapy as a sign of weakness or worse of instability. They may fear being judged. “There’s still a stigma here about getting treatment,” she says.

Sometimes, though, the world has a way of crushing the most in-dependent spirit. Sometimes a family lacks the resources or the skills—it may lack the distance—to confront, much less to solve, a problem. A case in point: drug abuse. Good parents—great parents—may find themselves helpless to intervene, and alone and besieged in their own home can only watch as their child drowns. “It’s a myth that parents have all the answers,” Trifone says.

Her goal, the goal of the Center, is to throw a lifeline to these families. “What we do here, quite frankly, bottom line, we peddle hope.”

Whatever else it is, drug abuse is a symptom, she says, the symptom of a “disconnection” somewhere in a child’s life. Unresolved grief. Loneliness. Stress. Low self-esteem. “Using is a way of coping with anxiety. It’s called self-medication, whether you’re doing it with prescription drugs or alcohol or some other substance. What we’re all trying to do in our lives is to manage anxiety. What we’re trying to do at the Center with kids is to normalize the anxiety in their lives.”

Every disconnection has its own history, however. It occurs in a particular environment and is the product of a particular set of circumstances. The point of therapy is to trace it to its source and then treat the source. “When kids use substances, it isn’t just a kid problem. It’s a system problem. I take the long-term view of changing the system. I never just ‘fix’ the kid. We work always in the context of the family. I wholeheartedly believe that kids don’t use without there being issues on both sides.”

For many parents the challenge is less to recognize the existence of the problem—the signs are likely to be clear enough if they look for them—than it is to muster the courage to seek help. Often the fear of their own inadequacy is greater than their fear for the child, at least until some crisis leaves them no choice but to act. But those misgivings are misguided, she says. “Part of the stigma is that parents are afraid to come in because they’re afraid they’re going to be told they’re bad parents. But we’ve never met a perfect parent. So we’re not going to attack a parent. We’re here to take you from where you’re at to where you want to go.”

Peddling Hope

Film stars and rock stars can afford a few months at an in-patient drug treatment center. Few others can. “Now you’re talking real money,” Trifone says, “and you’re talking health insurance. And most programs want you to pay. And if you can’t pay, you’re up the creek. You have to be a family of means and that basically knocks out most of Chesterton.”

Yet to the extent that out-patient therapy takes the long view on a problem long in the making, it can be as effective anyway, so long as families have the patience and the will to do the work. That work consists at the Center of four preliminary sessions over a period of two to three weeks, in which the counselor meets first with the family together, then with the child separately, then with the parents separately, and then again with the family together. In these first sessions, she says, “we identify the problem from each person’s perspective. No one has to agree. Every perspective counts.”

Then the hard work of therapy properly begins, in weekly 50-minute sessions. Over time, Trifone says, “we develop an alliance with the individual, an alliance with the parents, and an alliance with the family. We empower them to be families and individuals but we’re also available as long as we’re needed, even a year or two later. That’s the wonderful part of being in this community long-term.”

On rare occasions, Trifone adds, “a child is addicted and unwilling to participate in out-patient sessions. Then we’re going to coach the parents a lot more intensely about what their options are.”

Three therapists practice at the Center, one of whom is on call 24 hours a day. Each has a confidential voice mailbox. And generally parents can schedule the first preliminary session within three to seven days of making the call.

But parents must make the call.

Trifone understands why some do not. They’re embarrassed, paralyzed, worried about what they may learn. Or life may merely have swamped them. Jobs, bills, the other kids in the household: all of them compete for parents’ limited time and energy. “Any of us has issues that we could address, but do we really want to address them today? . . . If they’re also worried about getting laid off or having enough money for the mortgage, or it looks like they may be headed for bankruptcy, Johnny coming home late at night might not be a priority. We’re not here to ask why people haven’t brought their child into treatment. We have a great compassion for the stresses of life.”

Parents, when they do make the call, will probably be surprised and encouraged by their child’s response. “Typically the motivation of the kids is higher than the parents ever thought,” she says, “which is a relief to the parent. Most of the time kids themselves actually feel a sense of relief that their parents are finally willing to ask for help. It’s very rare that a kid will adamantly refuse to come in.”

Parents may be surprised by something else as well. Despite the sullenness so common in adolescents and teenagers—their apparent disdain both for the culture and the company of their parents—they are much more desirous of meaningful contact with adults than they give adults any reason to believe.

“In over 20 years of working with kids,” Trifone says, “I have yet to meet an adolescent who ultimately doesn’t want a better relationship with the adults in his or her life. I have yet to meet a kid who comes in just to attack their parents, which is their parents’ greatest fear. They basically talk about what they miss in that relationship.”

Given time and effort, families do “bond and work through,” she says, some 80 percent of them. Hope is there for the asking. “It’s our job to work ourselves out of a job. We’re in a rare profession. Ethically, it’s our job to work ourselves out of a job.”


The warning signs of drug abuse:

•Continual disobedience of rules.



•Sudden outbursts, verbal abusiveness.

•Dramatic attention-getting.


•Extreme negativism.

•Hyperactivity, nervousness.

•Sitting in parking lots.

•Avoiding contact with others.

•Change of friends, usually negative.

•Sudden popularity.

•Constantly associating with older social group.

•Jumpiness if touched.

•Disorientation of time and space.

•Unrealistic goals.

•Inappropriate response.


•Constant expression of boredom.

•Risky or self-destructive acts.

•Wearing of many layers of clothing.

•Constant washing.

•Attempts to run away from home.

•Loss of eligibility for extracurricular activities.

•Increasing noninvolvement.

•Theft, assault, vandalism, carrying of weapons.



Posted 6/28/2002