Family Tradition in the Helping Professions

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Working with families is one of my biggest challenges, simply because there are so many factors and dynamics involved in each situation.

Tim Helmeke
Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

With his broad educational background, Tim Helmeke brings a wealth of talent and skill to his role as addiction counselor at Hazelden Betty Ford in Plymouth. However, up to eight years ago, being a counselor wasn't even on his radar. His original passion was to be an architect.

Tim HelmkeTim received his degree in architecture from Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and then went on to complete his degree in Industrial Management at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wisconsin. He gained his architecture license shortly afterwards. His focus was on leading teams - first on the nonprofit level specializing in school, churches and hospitals primarily in Africa and India, and then on the corporate level. And the plan worked well for several years. But in 2008, his career path shifted dramatically.

"I had worked in nonprofit architecture, but at the time, I was working for a large corporate architectural organization, based in Minneapolis, that specialized in completing lifestyle centers, high-rise apartment buildings, and various other large-scale building projects," said Tim. "When everything crashed in 2008, my job ended, and I was forced to look at a new path. I decided it was a good time to move in a different direction."

While he felt a strong affinity for architecture, Tim realized he wanted to work more directly with people. He comes from a family tradition immersed in the "helping professions" - with parents, relatives, and family friends actively involved in both the spiritual care and health care fields.

"I still love architecture - in fact, I have a Sears Tower made out of Legos on my desk today," he said. "But it's a better fit for me to be of service to others; that's where I get the most fulfillment in my life."

Finding his own recovery from alcohol and drugs at age 22, Tim has a deep empathy for adolescents who are struggling with the same issues that he went through. In his commitment to "give back," it seemed appropriate to be able to offer this group "something beyond attending AA or just sponsoring them."

And although he was familiar with Hazelden Betty Ford through attending local AA meetings, he wasn't aware of the graduate school until he started doing random searches for master's degrees in addiction studies. He enrolled in the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School, and in May 2011, he graduated with his degree in Master of Arts in Addiction Counseling-Advanced Practice.

The Graduate School offered the unique opportunity to gain knowledge and experience - both at the same time - through classwork and being an intern on the patient units. Tim completed internships at Hazelden Betty Ford sites in Center City and Plymouth. Today, he continues his work with adolescent boys, ages 12-25, on the Pioneer Unit at Hazelden Betty Ford in Plymouth.

"I enjoy connecting with the kids - many of them who come here are 'externally motivated' which means that they are forced to be here. Working with this disposition can be difficult, and my hope is to give them an honest opportunity to find an 'internal' reason to get well," said Tim. "It's not glamorous work, but it's got so much meaning and purpose. I know that the work I do makes a difference, on a day-to-day basis, with these guys."

And his days are full - from meeting one-to-one with each of his patients or facilitating conflict resolution sessions with parents and their child, to participating in team meetings, making phone calls to update parents, or providing a daily check-in for patients who need extra support.

"Working with families is one of my biggest challenges, simply because there are so many factors and dynamics involved in each situation," said Tim. "However, both our culture here and other staff members provide a tremendous framework of support. This, in turn, enables us, as counselors, to provide support for parents in crisis and equip them with the education and tools they need to make changes within the family unit, so that their children can make changes in their lives."

In addition, he leads a group session every day from 10:30a.m.-12p.m., focusing on Step 1 and answering questions about treatment and the patterns of addiction and behaviors that lead to ongoing use.

"On the average, we have about 7-9 patients per counselor, and the majority of our youth have some level of a co-occurring disorder diagnosis," said Tim. "In their individual treatment plans, there may also be therapies indicated for addressing anxiety, depression, bi-polar symptoms, or substance-induced psychosis. The mental health staff here at Plymouth is great and integral to our team."

In his free time, Tim enjoys outdoor activities including camping, downhill skiing and traveling - especially to favorite spots in northern Minnesota, Florida, Idaho, and out to the mountains. An avid runner, he ran two marathons last year - the trail run in Duluth and the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in October. He's hoping to complete another marathon this year, perhaps in Bemidji, MN. For the time being, though, his focus is shifting again. He and his wife recently had twin daughters who are doing well and keep both of them very busy.

Through it all, he is aware of the importance of self care.

"Self care is vital, not only for creating balance in our work and personal life, but also in helping set positive examples for our youth," said Tim. "The work our team is doing now in process improvement is very exciting. It should help us develop better processes so that we can have a more efficient work week."

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