Joshua Johnson: Mentoring Counselors, Saving Lives

A few months ago, Joshua Johnson, clinical director of the Addiction Services Council, got into a conversation with a plumber who had come to the council’s building near downtown Cincinnati on a repair job. He learned the plumber had once been a client of the council.

“He said he had graduated from here years ago and that it had changed his life,” Johnson said.

Johnson was pleased to learn the plumber had received treatment from the agency for his addiction, but he was not surprised that it had turned his life around.

Johnson, who earned his master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Xavier in 2012, knows that agencies like his are faced with an overwhelming number of Americans with addiction problems, now at 20 million and growing.

But he chooses to focus on the positive: An even greater number of people are in recovery.

“The opioid epidemic is a lot of work,” he says. “We often just see the tragedy but forget there are a lot of people in recovery. We are working on improving the systems, and a lot of people overcome it. There are successful outcomes.”

Now Johnson is bringing his positive outlook—and his counseling skills—to Xavier as both an adjunct professor and a mentor for graduate counseling students who work with him on class projects or have chosen the council for their practicum or internship assignment.

 Xavier’s comprehensive program prepares us to enter different settings, from non-profit and private practice to hospitals, schools and the public sector for addiction treatment, mental health training and crisis intervention. It’s a well-rounded program.

He teaches a course titled Treating Addictions and is able to bring his experience as a counselor and clinical director to the class. Johnson was hired by the council six years ago after he completed an internship he got through Xavier while studying for his master’s.

Graduate counseling students are required to complete a two-semester internship at an area agency. Like many students, Johnson’s internship at the Addiction Services Council transitioned into a full-time job.

“Me and another colleague at Xavier were both hired right out of the internship,” he says.

“Xavier’s comprehensive program prepares us to enter different settings, from non-profit and private practice to hospitals, schools and the public sector for addiction treatment, mental health training and crisis intervention. It’s a well-rounded program."

As clinical director, Johnson oversees a team of counselors and is responsible for relationships with local boards and agencies that provide treatment. But he also stays involved in his preferred role of helping people recover and has a caseload of clients he manages who are in treatment.

The council also offers outpatient treatment and accepts walk-in clients, manages a help line, and operates a Quick Response Team that works with police and emergency personnel to follow up with people who are revived with Narcan, so they can be treated if possible.

“We hope to keep them alive,” he says. “Our agency is referred to as the front door to recovery in Hamilton County.”

But one of the favorite parts of his job is helping prepare the next crop of mental health counselors at Xavier. Last year, he was the visiting “client” for a group of students in Rhonda Norman’s Consultation and Supervision Counseling class, who decided to research the opioid addiction epidemic.

They chose the name Phoenix Rising for their group consulting project. The name reflects the goal of addiction treatment and recovery—to rise from the ashes of addiction.

The results of their research may go a long way toward achieving that goal. Their needs assessment report for the council laid the groundwork for expanding the agency’s treatment services in response to the spike in opioid deaths. They recommended hiring additional staff, including a doctor or nurse practitioner to prescribe medications on site, in order to create an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) that includes medical treatment.

Norman says the class provides students with valuable experience in consulting and research and, with Johnson's project, was an excellent example of how service learning can impact the community.

“Working with Joshua, our students wanted to make a contribution and were very motivated to go above and beyond what was asked of them because they knew their research was going to be used in support of the vision of the new opioid program,” Norman says. “Joshua gave our students more than a consultation project to work on—he gave of himself, and in turn gave our students an extremely meaningful and impactful experience.”

Johnson says their report helped justify the council’s need for expanding and improving services. “Their project (provided) evidence on medication-assisted treatment and the planning and implementation necessary if our agency was to run an IOP here,” he says.

Johnson is hopeful the Council can find grant money for the new outpatient program using the Xavier students’ report, because he knows firsthand that treatment works. With too few detox centers in Cincinnati to provide treatment for all who need it, Johnson believes the council can help more people by providing medication-assisted treatment to them as outpatients.

“I think there are better outcomes with treatment, either inpatient or outpatient,” he says. “There’s not enough treatment available, but their research helped lay the framework for us. Now we need to find the funding to make it happen.”