John McGeehan, MSW ’06, can pinpoint the origin of his interest in social work: Tokyo, Japan. Though originally from Connecticut, McGeehan lived in Tokyo throughout his adolescence. It was there—as a member of the international community—that he first learned of the dearth of resources available to teenagers struggling with substance abuse, as well as the stigma attached to turning to someone outside the community for support. Both then and now, the consequences of drug abuse in Japan are some of the harshest on the planet. Individuals caught with drugs can be detained for up to 30 days with little to no contact with their families.
McGeehan saw an opportunity to help, so while completing his undergraduate degree in psychology at California State University, San Bernardino, he received his Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor certification and began commuting between Tokyo and California as a substance abuse interventionist. From 2001 to 2005, he worked as a consultant with international high schools in Japan, helping families of students find therapeutic boarding schools and wilderness programs in the United States that would provide more concrete and holistic treatment services than those available in Japan.
Through this work, McGeehan began to notice a strong pattern among his clients of comorbidity of substance abuse with conditions such as ADHD, anxiety disorders, executive functioning disorders, and learning disabilities. “I began to see complexities beyond what I’d been trained in as an undergraduate,” he shared. “Most adolescents present with dual issues beyond mere substance abuse. So it was important for me to understand what the root of some of this was.” McGeehan realized he needed to return to school, and chose NYU “to help broaden my general awareness of areas of concern beyond substance abuse.” He was accepted into the NYU Silver School of Social Work’s 18-month accelerated program and graduated in 2006.
In 2009, after several years of intervention work and consultancy services with the Aspen Education Group (a continuum of adolescent and young adult therapeutic programs) McGeehan founded The Dorm, offering clinical coaching for adolescents, young adults, and adults and supportive housing for individuals over the age of 18. The Dorm focuses on dual diagnosis—mental health conditions along with substance abuse—as well as primary mental health. Recognizing that every individual’s treatment needs are unique, The Dorm employs a web of licensed clinicians (social workers, family therapists, and psychologists) as coaches. Clients are assigned their own clinical coaches, who operate in a mentoring capacity and take the social work concept of “meeting the client where they are” quite literally. As McGeehan explains, “Clinical coaches meet with the client wherever is necessary, whether that is in the community, in a 12-step program, or in the home.”
For clients requiring a more intensified outpatient experience, The Dorm Residence provides an independent living experience for young adults over 18 years of age who are pursuing secondary education or vocational opportunities in New York City. The Dorm Residence—comprised of studio apartments—can serve as a placement to help clients reintegrate back into the city after inpatient treatment, or as an opportunity for clients to begin living outside of their parents’ homes while still receiving sophisticated, clinically informed wraparound support. The Dorm collaborates with clients’ other service providers to ensure a cohesive treatment model. As McGeehan explains, the Dorm Residence is not a sober living community, but an opportunity for independence with support: “Each of our clients has an individual life-care plan, and we have a key to their unit and are aware of their schedules, but they’re on their own.”
The average length of treatment at The Dorm is between six and 12 months, after which clinician support is phased out, but clients have the option to continue living in their apartments. The majority choose to stay in their units, which has created an organic supportive community of current and alumni clients. And because all of The Dorm’s coaches are licensed clinicians, a good portion of the program’s costs are eligible for insurance reimbursements.
For MSW students struggling to nail down their career trajectories, McGeehan urges, “Don’t try to define it too much. The beauty of this field is that it can always evolve. I see a lot of people come out of school with a specific goal in mind. But the nature of the license we have as social workers is that we can evolve in so many different areas. And we live in a city and country that really embraces it, now more than ever. The sky is truly the limit.”
For more information on The Dorm, visit thedorm.com
By Penelope Yates, MSW ’15