Drug Addiction Recovery Discussion: Laurie Watter and Peter Lazar, LCSW
Laurie Watter: Hi, there. Welcome to Therapy Thursday with All Points North Lodge. I'm Laurie Watter, Director of Family Relations, and coming to you from New Jersey. I am pretty excited about my guest today who's coming to us from New York. Definitely a prominent face in the city, around the city. Many people associate him with Freedom Institute. He's been there for quite some time. Peter Lazar is an LCSW, and a clinician, a consultant, and a coach. And he'll be joining me shortly. Hey, there, Lana. Good to see you. So it's kind of a muggy day here in New Jersey. I'm kind of getting antsy to get back out to Colorado and catch up with everybody out there, see what's been going on. Spend some time at the lodge, which is always fun for me. And there's my sister, like a loyal sister. I look forward to seeing who actually signs on that's not my family, but usually, my sister and my daughters manage to say hello. And I'm just waiting for Peter to pop on with us. Hey, Jeremy.
Laurie Watter: I gave him instructions myself, so I'm hoping that everything works out okay. So I've known Peter for some time out in New York. I've known him in New York. And I'd have to say that when I think about really needing an answer to a question and not sure who to reach out to, he's really the name that comes to mind. He's a great resource, a really, really smart guy, and somebody that's easy to collaborate within the area of treatment, mental health. He's a great referent to provide services to couples, and families, and individuals that are struggling with substance use and mental health issues.
Laurie Watter: So let me see if we could find where he is. Let me see if I can get him to connect another way. Because he's really got to do it through Instagram live and I may jump off and see if I can help him through there. Let's see if he connects. There he is. So, Peter, you just need to hit the Instagram live. There you go. We're just waiting for him to connect. Hey, there.
Peter Lazar: Technology.
Laurie Watter: Technology, I know. I already gave you all these wonderful accolades and you missed them.
Peter Lazar: Can you do it all over again?
Laurie Watter: I am going to do it all over again. So this is Peter Lazar, live, LCSW, coming to us from New York or Westchester?
Peter Lazar: I'm in Westchester County, just north of the city.
Laurie Watter: I did tell people that you are an amazing clinician, consultant, and coach, and I was also saying how... And I think I could speak for a lot of people, not just myself, but when we're looking for somebody who's a really great resource to brainstorm with, bounce ideas off of, and really get some really good advice in industry, I think many people would say that your name comes across as the person to reach out to. But, personally, and this is not because we're on Instagram live, but this is the truth. When I think back to some of the really best moments that I've had working in this field, one of the best moments I've had was when we went to brunch together in, I don't know, was it Rye?
Peter Lazar: Likely. Yeah, my private office.
Laurie Watter: Yes. And I got to see this whole different side to you. Not that you aren't always the perfect gentleman, but you were, I just saw that-
Peter Lazar: I hope I was then, too.
Laurie Watter: You were. The whole experience was so enjoyable, and actually getting to spend time with just you alone. Usually when I see you were with other people in a crowd. And everything about that, the meal, and the conversation was so lovely and you were such a gentleman. And it was really, it was just such a fun time. So I'm glad I got to have that experience.
Peter Lazar: Me, too. Thank you.
Laurie Watter: So I know that there's been a lot happening over the last few months, and we're all talking about the things that are happening through COVID. I know that one of the things is you got a dog.
Peter Lazar: Yes, I did. Yes, it wasn't a COVID dog, though. We'd been planning on getting a dog for about a year now. And then when we decided, "Well, we're home. We may as well make it happen." So we did. It took a little doing because everybody was adopting dogs.
Laurie Watter: It's a little bit of a COVID dog. I know it does seem like the perfect time to get a dog when people are around and able to spend time together. But I had also said that a lot of times people associate you with the Freedom Institute. You've definitely been with them for a long time. I know you're taking on a new role with them now.
Peter Lazar: Yeah, I've moved out of the clinical outreach role and as I'm developing my private practice and my consulting business, I've moved into a consulting therapist role. So I'm there facilitating their early recovery group.
Laurie Watter: So has that started?
Peter Lazar: Yeah, that's been going on for quite a long time.
Laurie Watter: Ongoing?
Peter Lazar: Yeah, so that hasn't changed for me. I get to remain a part of the clinical team there, which is very special to me.
Laurie Watter: That's great. Do you want to tell us a bit about that group?
Peter Lazar: At Freedom Institute, which is based in New York, New York. Of course, everybody's virtual now, but Freedom is the country's oldest independent, not-for-profit outpatient program. It's been around since 1976. And they asked me to facilitate one of our early recovery groups several months ago. And, basically, it's for people who have approximately less than 90 days of continuous sobriety and kind of getting their sea legs back when it comes to figuring out how to handle emotions and life in general, without a medication such as drugs and alcohol.
Laurie Watter: Do you find that the issues that people are coming up with now in struggling in the early times of recovery different with COVID? Do you feel like they're pretty much the same?
Peter Lazar: It's interesting, I think it's a little bit different. Obviously, a lot more people are isolated, and addiction is a disease that feeds off of isolation. It wants to separate you from the people, places, and things that are healthy for you. So that certainly is a challenge that people come into our virtual room with. By contrast, some people are not isolated. Many of them, especially during the serious quarantine part before we started phasing back in, many of our clients were "stuck in the house with their family." And, very often, the family is a chief activator of all sorts of issues. The family dynamic that is. So with Freedom, they have a wonderful family therapy team that's relational in nature, and that's their training, relational family therapy. And so they really are good at focusing on the relationship within the family system as the client. And so that's very helpful for our clients who are "stuck in the house with family."
Laurie Watter: Yeah, I know that that really was a challenge for a lot of people and an opportunity for families to really see how unwell some of their family members were. And in just doing some background research on you, I came across an interview that you had done with, was it Dan Pierce?
Peter Lazar: Yeah.
Laurie Watter: On DBT, and just interesting to listen to you talk a little bit through the model of DBT, but talking about the family in that interview, as well. The kind of the way in which we often see, in addiction, that everybody's finger is pointed at the person using substances. And really when we can take them out of the center of the circle and work with the whole system, the results are usually much better. So it was really funny. I was looking for some... I actually was going to text John Lieberman and just ask him for just a little-
Peter Lazar: Who?
Laurie Watter: John Lieberman.
Peter Lazar: Oh yeah, okay.
Laurie Watter: And ask him for a little fun fact on you, which I'm sure I probably would have gotten many. But I just started Googling you and seeing what I could come up with. And I did see that, which was, I think, actually a great interview on DBT, definitely something to learn from. But I know that you have a lot of interests. I also know you do have a practice up in Westchester. Do you want to talk about what that practice consists of, what the clients are there that you like to see?
Peter Lazar: Yeah, sure. So I have two offices, actually. One's in the city, in New York City, and one is in Westchester County, of course. The majority of what I'm doing right now is virtual, just like many of my colleagues in private practice. So I have secure Zoom. I've secured Zoom that's password protected and are my clients can reach me that way. We can do our sessions that way. But the focus, the clinical focus, of my practice is really around not just substance use disorders. That's something that I've been doing for the better part of 20 years. But I also like working with families, partners, children of, when I say children, adult children because I don't work with young kids, of people who are struggling with substance use disorders. Sometimes I'll get into couples' work, which is great. And outside of substance use disorders, of course, like many of us in private practice, we can work with people who are having issues with depression or anxiety.
Peter Lazar: And especially now in the age of COVID, I'm experiencing a lot of people who are having sort of these existential crises around, what's happening with my life? What do I do with my life? Why is this happening to me? And I try to get them to focus on, or reframe it in such a way that they're asking themself the question rather than from a victim lens, why is this happening to me? But rather why is COVID happening for you? And what do you want to leave this pandemic with when it's all over? So I'm really trying to reframe that into an opportunity focus and say, "Well, this is a great opportunity for you to look at your life and imagine the things that you want to do, because eventually this is going to be over. Eventually, COVID will be over."
Peter Lazar: So like a lot of us in the field, in private practice, we really are walking with our clients through their individual experiences of the pandemic. And then also I have a string of people who come to me with work-related issues. And that was kind of a Freudian slip because very often people find themselves recreating their family of origin issues in the workplace. And so I help people navigate the dynamics at work and very often, it speaks to what their role was in the family. And very often they're playing that role at work and even trying to recreate their family system at work, and very often in a self-defeating way. And so I kind of call it career suicide prevention. That's part of what I do, as well.
Laurie Watter: But that's great, that's really interesting. Because you could see where that would happen, where you would just create the system that's familiar to you and let it play out in another part of your life.
Peter Lazar: It happens very often, yeah.
Laurie Watter: Yeah, and the whole experience of COVID, I really do look at life very similarly, like, really, what is this teaching me? And there's so much that we could learn from what this experience through COVID has been. And I think very early on it was really about slowing down, taking notice, simplifying things, just breathing. We didn't know where this was going, or how it was going to play out, or how long it was going to last.
Laurie Watter: I know that that very first weekend we went to a wedding in the city around March 14th. And by that point, it was already known that we shouldn't be in the city. We shouldn't be at a wedding. It was a family that we cared very much for, and we made the decision that we were going to go. We were going to stay in the city. We decided to take a car in and take a car home. And the service attendants were standing therewith, rather than glasses of champagne, they were standing there with trays of hand sanitizer. And I took one and my husband said, "Oh, no, thank you. I'll use my wife's." Then I was like, "No, take your own." Because at that point we couldn't get any, the shelves were already empty.
Laurie Watter: But it was really just an opportunity because it was so anxiety-producing, like, "What is going on with the world?" And just kind of taking that breath and slow down and say like, "There's a lesson out here for all of us." I know that out in LA, my kids were like, "Wow, there's no traffic. And the air is clearer." There were some gifts to this crazy time that we're going through.
Peter Lazar: I had a tree bloom outside my house that I'd never seen bloom before. I had no idea. So there you go.
Laurie Watter: Right, taking notice of those things. It's kind of crazy. The other thing, which I've actually known about you, that came up when I was looking for different topics, was there's another Peter Lazar who's a musician.
Peter Lazar: Apparently, yes.
Laurie Watter: And I was like, "No, no, that's not the guy I'm looking for." But I know that music is a huge part of your life, as well as the work that you're doing consulting for... Are you consulting NATAP?
Peter Lazar: No, I'm consulting for the Trusted Provider Network. They're a group based in Louisiana. It was founded by Christopher O'Shea and Jimmy Mooney who are veterans in the addiction treatment space. So the Trusted Provider Network, which is now headed up by Trevor Colton and Dick McWilliams, they, in conjunction, with Chris and Jimmy are putting together an online platform that will touch all points in the mental health industry. It's going to be a platform for industry professionals. So not for the consumer, not for the clients, not for patients, but rather for industry professionals, which will connect all industry professionals in all of the mental health spaces. So employee assistance, hospice, addiction treatment, mental health, you name it, it's a platform that's going to connect all of these people in all of these programs at the various levels of care.
Peter Lazar: And so one of the things that really separates it from... Well, it's unique, it doesn't exist. This kind of platform doesn't exist anywhere, at least on a national level. So that in and of itself is unique. Also unique to this platform will be the fact that you have to qualify to be a member. So you have to be a licensed and credentialed mental health professional or facility in good standing, state-licensed, state credentialed. So you're not only vetted at the beginning to make sure you qualify, but you also will be reviewed throughout the course of your time on the network. And if you lose your license, you will lose your standing in the network. So what that does is it helps individual practitioners who are looking for other practitioners across the country or treatment centers that may use the network for continuing care planning, for example.
Peter Lazar: With this platform, they can find professionals throughout the country and have a better chance at making a solid and trusted referral through this network. That's just one piece of it. So it's not just about the referral network. It's also about the fact that, and this is something that I think is really cool, the Trusted Provider Network is now one of the largest, not the largest, provider of continuing education programs. So they're doing workshops. They had one yesterday with a thousand people signed up. So treatment centers can do these workshops, various associations, like the hospice association, can do these workshops. Individuals can do these workshops and really show off their expertise of their practice, or their program, or facility. And so it's a great way for individual practitioners to get credentialed and, more importantly, to get educated about specific topics in their field. And at some point very soon, we're also going to be able to connect people in virtual networking events, as well as supervision groups.
Laurie Watter: That is very exciting. Somebody was asking on here, it's animation, or like social media for mental health networking. But it sounds like there's a lot of social media platforms where people introduce their treatment centers and facilities that they're working for. This sounds like this has been vetted, so we know that the people that we're associating with are really doing the right thing in treatment.
Peter Lazar: That's right. Yeah, and an interesting feature that we have on the website is you can actually double-check to make sure that an individual or a facility's license is in good standing. So if you were to go to my profile and click on my credentials, New York licensed clinical social worker, it will take you to the New York State website to show that my license is in good standing. And if it's not in good standing, obviously, at some point I'm going to be off the network. But let's hope that never happens.
Laurie Watter: That's really important to know because, I think for many of us, that's really the challenge in this industry, is really staying abreast of programs that are doing the right thing, that are ethical providers, that are licensed in their fields of expertise and on and on. And we're always very cautious in who we're communicating with and sort of keep our networks small at times so that we can stay on top of what's happening. And this sounds like a great way to do that.
Peter Lazar: I'm noticing in one of the comments they've mentioned business development. It will help folks who are doing consultative business development, such as yourself because when I was doing this kind of work, we would get calls from people and say, "Who do you know on Long Island?" And Long Island is 900 square miles, we may not know a specific professional on Long Island, or up in Syracuse, or out in Dubuque, Iowa. So what this is going to do is for folks in the clinical outreach world, that'll be a great tool, much better than Psychology Today, that'll enable you to actually find professionals in specific areas. And, again, distinguishing that from the aforementioned another website, you'll have a better chance at making a solid referral because their license will have been verified, and also will be more specific about what their specialties are.
Laurie Watter: That's really great to know. And I'm so happy that you're part of that because I feel like that's a lot of where your reputation comes in, is a really bright guy, well-versed in this industry, ethical provider, always there to help somebody else. And I've learned so much from you over the years and in many conversations, even with other clinicians, saying like, "Who would know the answer to that?" It's like, "I think Peter Lazar." So I feel like I kept you much longer than I said I would. I'm so happy that you came on today. And can you just let people know where to find you? Do you have a website or an email?
Peter Lazar: I don't have a website yet, although I am working on that. But people can reach out to me at my email address, which is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laurie Watter: That's great. Thank you so much for doing this with me today. I appreciate it.
Peter Lazar: Thanks, Laurie. It was good to see you.
Laurie Watter: You, too. Take care.