Shining a Spotlight on Mental Health Leaders
Megan Stokes is not a clinician or a mental health practitioner. She is not a researcher nor is she an academic specializing in the field of psychology. In fact, her professional background lies in government relations, specifically state legislation and working directly with lobbyists. So how did Megan Stokes find her way into the mental health industry, and more importantly, why?
“After working in government for as long as I did, I got burnt out. I took time off and had a child, and during that time, my cousins were experiencing some real mental health issues that weren’t really being addressed in their schools,” she says. “Suddenly, I was introduced to the world of residential treatment programs, schools and wilderness therapy initiatives. Ultimately I was just really impressed with the work being done, if a bit flabbergasted that so many people are completely unaware that this world even exists.”
As Megan began looking to re-enter the workforce, she was simultaneously struck by how little the world seemed to know about teen mental health treatment, and the resources that exist for this population. “I realized that this population requires advocacy, and that the field of mental health, particularly as it pertains to therapeutic schools and programs, could use someone in their corner shouting from the rooftops,” she says. “I just felt so strongly that these wonderful programs could reach more people if they got more active and intentional with advocacy on both the state and federal levels.”
As Megan began looking for work, she discovered that NATSAP was hiring a Director of Government & PR and hit the ground running. “What I immediately found fascinating when I got hired was the lack of competitiveness in this robust community of programs and facilities,” she says. “There is a connectivity and openness around best practices that really primes this corner of the mental health industry for innovation and growth, and I wanted to be a part of that, and to empower NATSAP to lead the charge on that front.” Megan’s former and beloved boss Cliff Brownstein retired in 2016, which left his Executive Director position open.
“The board decided to take a leap with me,” Megan Stokes states, “I had no association management experience. But what I did have was that connection to the members and I think that ended up being a deciding factor.” Megan has made connectivity the cornerstone of her own best practices as Executive Director of NATSAP. She regularly hands out her cell phone number and ensures that she is having personal conversations with all the members throughout the year. She also stays in touch with not only the student body, but also the programs themselves, making sure she is up to speed on all the program offerings amongst NATSAP members and what makes them unique, whether it’s Virtual Reality Aversion Therapy or Goat Yoga (a service that Paradigm Treatment Centers recently added to its roster).
Megan always wants to know what drives each kid who is in need of services. NATSAP won’t give specific recommendations, but Megan will stay on the phone with parents as long as they need, to ensure that they are armed with the most comprehensive information possible, so as to make the best decisions for their children. “It’s a bit overwhelming at times,” she says, “but what feels really great is when parents follow up with us sharing great news about their child’s progress.” NATSAP serves as both an advocate and resource for innovative organizations which devote themselves to society’s need for the effective care and education of struggling young people and their families.
As such, their research network, which is run by the University of New Hampshire, serves as a database in which outcomes for both individuals and programs are measured and recorded. “This isn’t just a great marketing tool, it means that if anything goes sideways, we have the ability to determine what went wrong, where, how and why,” Megan says. “This is a time of change for a lot of programs. We’re seeing so many expansions, more and more residential facilities are working with insurance, so we want to deal with issues that are most timely and relevant to our client body, be it social media use after treatment or the impact of legalized marijuana.”
When asked what she appreciates about NATSAP member Paradigm Treatment Centers, Megan says, “I love the fact that Paradigm is Joint Commission accredited. That extra layer of oversight is so great to have and so important. It means that Paradigm is living and dying by Joint Commission standards, which are evidence-based. I also just love how Paradigm approaches therapy as something that happens beyond the couch. Clients can do goat yoga, go surfing, or tour the city and feel like they are integrated and a part of something. That is very special.”
For more information on NATSAP, please visit www.natsap.org