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Diana Clark found her passion in her second career and now helps family members of those battling substance abuse get the support they need. (Photo courtesy of Turnbridge )
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Diana Clark always knew that she wanted a job that would allow her to help people. She has found her calling as a family outreach specialist at Turnbridge, a residential addiction treatment program in New Haven. Through that work, she co-founded the Family Hope & Cope Support Group with Liz Wilson, a therapist in Madison.
“The group is about gaining hope that there is recovery and many of our members have people who are doing well,” says Diana, who grew up in Guilford. “We utilize therapy and cross-talk is allowed. It’s parents supporting parents with a facilitator.”
The group, which meets the first and third Monday of the month at the Congregational church in Madison at 7 p.m., draws 15 to 18 parents at each session. During the time together, parents not only offer support to each other, but they learn strategies for remaining healthy themselves while coping with a loved one’s substance abuse problem.
“It’s a group that’s open to the public and you don’t have to be from Madison,” says Diana. “It’s the most welcoming group of people they will ever meet.”
While Diana is now working in a field that she is passionate about, she didn’t pursue her master’s in psychology until her 30s. Her first career was in law. She went to law school and after practicing, she found that being a lawyer was not the right fit.
“I went to law school initially because I saw myself as wanting to be helpful to individuals,” says Diana. “What I was good at was I was a good advocate but a lousy adversary. I felt like what I wanted to touch people a little more personally.”
Diana knew she wanted to help people and after seeing her goddaughter struggle with substance abuse, she was inspired to take her career in a new direction. While getting her master’s put her on the path to her current career, she worked in several settings along the way.
She started as a counselor in a middle school, but she found one-on-one counseling wasn’t a perfect fit. Diana then began her work in the field of addiction as an interventionist. She flew around the country to help families facilitate interventions for loved ones struggling with substance abuse.
“We found that interventions do work—they do go to treatment—but the family members are then left with the fallout and how to love the person who was struggling,” says Diana. “I then developed several workshops for families and wrote a book, Addiction Recovery: A Family’s Journey.
“What we noticed is when family members, particularly parents, engage in a recovery program themselves, not only do they react in more measured ways to their loved ones, but it helped increase the odds that loved ones will access treatment,” adds Diana.
The creation of those workshops led Diana to her work with Turnbridge. Twelve years ago, during a conference, she met the founder of Turnbridge. After explaining her approach to treating the families of those suffering from substance abuse, they began working together.
“Turnbridge doesn’t just treat the individual, we treat the whole family,” says Diana. “What I was interested in doing, Turnbridge was interested in having me do with them. I will praise program to moon because they are receptive and their treatment process shifts as research shifts.”
Since that meeting, Diana has led monthly workshops for the families of those being treated at Turnbridge. She has also served on the board full-time for the past two years. Throughout her time with Turnbridge, she has continuously adjusted and redesigned her curriculum as science advances and new research becomes available. She was worked with countless families over the years.
“I can’t tell you how good I feel about work I do,” says Diana. “I am in the really fortunate position of loving my work and feeling like I’m making a big impact. I must’ve gotten 25 texts on Mother’s Day from families I’ve worked with and it feels great. It’s a real gift to find your calling at any age.”
While Diana loves her career, she does admit it can be very stressful at times. Diana actually commutes to Connecticut from Vermont for her work at Turnbridge and with the support group. She enjoys her time in Vermont as she lives in a quiet town in a “homestead setting,” where she relaxes by creating fiber arts.
Diana’s work at Turnbridge also led to the Family Hope & Cope Support Group in Madison as one of Turnbridge’s missions is to give back to the community by providing no-cost community support groups.
“We want people to understand the disorders and get support because it is such an isolating disorder for parents,” says Diana. “Parents are the quiet victim in the opioid epidemic.”
Through colleagues, Diana connected with Wilson, who also had a desire to begin a support group for families of those battling substance abuse.
Diana enjoys their partnership, noting that “Liz is a true therapist who brings years of calm and compassionate, and is a non-judgmental voice in the room.”
While Diana did not find her fit as a counselor in schools, she has since brought her passion and experience into the classroom, though parents, not students, are her audience. She hosts workshops for school systems that teaches parents strategies on dealing with the struggles of teenagers.
Diana has had firsthand experience with the pressures teenagers face as a mother of two children. During her workshops, Diana discusses teenage behavior and the science behind it, including neural and emotional development.
Diana has also spent much of her time researching the shift in parenting behaviors from wanting children to be functional to wanting children to be happy as well as the repercussions of the shift.
“On one hand with this shift, the parents are overpraising and running interference, but on the other hand, parents are more connected with their kids—we talk more than in my generation,” says Diana. “Seeking of the grand happy confuses youth. If we focus on productivity and living a purposeful life, the byproduct is going to be happiness, but we’ve made happiness the goal, so substances can be a really easy way to get there.”
While every child is different, Diana noted several warning signs that should lead to seeking professional help. Warning signs include a deepening of mood that lasts a couple of weeks or more, failure to shower, dropping out of activities they once enjoyed, or a dramatic change in eating or sleeping habits.
Diana encourages anyone who has a loved one with substance abuse issues to also get help for themselves. The Family Hope & Cope Support Group is free and open to the public.
“Loving someone with an addiction is really hard—it’s really terrifying and I hate the thought of people doing that without a support network,” says Diana. “As sad and as difficult as this disorder is, there is support out there and I see miracles every single day.”
The Family Hope & Cope Support Group meets on the first and third Monday of the month at 7 p.m. in the parlor room of the First Congregational Church of Madison, 26 Meeting House Lane. For info, call 802-236-0145.
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