S4 E13: Scott Davis On Treating What’s Underneath

Released January 4, 2022

Many times, when people seek treatment for trauma, they are addressing something that happened to them recently. However, there is often something that lies underneath that also needs to be addressed. Chief Clinical Officer of Meadows Behavioral Healthcare Scott Davis makes the case that true recovery can only be reached when everything is addressed, not just the part a person is comfortable with. But how do you get a person to open up to meet them where they are?

Podcast Transcript

Scott Davis: The first thing that military guys will come in and say is, “Well, I’m just here for military trauma.” If you’re at this level of care, you’re not here for that. We will address that, but that will be something we address later after we’ve got the foundational pieces. And so, we have to explain that to them when they come in because they’re like, “No, I’m here for combat trauma or this type of trauma.” If outpatient isn’t working in the military unit, it’s because there’s something else. 

Dominic Lawson: Welcome to Beyond Theory, a podcast powered by Meadows Behavioral Healthcare that brings you in-depth conversations with firsthand insights from the front lines of mental health and addiction recovery. I’m Dominic Lawson. 

Many times, when people seek treatment for trauma, they are addressing something that happened to them recently. However, there is often something that lies underneath that also needs to be addressed. Chief Clinical Officer of Meadows Behavioral Healthcare, Scott Davis makes the case that true recovery can only be reached when everything is addressed, not just the part a person is comfortable with. But how do you get a person to open to meet them where they are? 

Let’s get out of the abstract and see how this applies in the real world. It’s time to go Beyond Theory. 

Scott Davis: So, my name is Scott Davis. I am the Chief Clinical Officer of Meadows Behavioral Health, and I’m glad to be here. 

Dominic Lawson: I’m so glad to have you. Welcome to the Beyond Theory podcast, Scott. All right, if you would, just kind of share your background. 

Scott Davis: Well, originally, I’m from Texas. Probably around my 30s, I’d been working with protective services in Texas. Decided to go to graduate school, went to graduate school — University of North Texas — Got my master’s in education with a specificity in community counseling. From there, I was doing an internship at a place called Sante Center for Healing, and they hired me out of my internship. And I worked there for approximately two and a half years then decided to go into private practice. Did private practice for about a year. I got really bored with private practice because I may have some intensity issues. And then went to a place called Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch. So, I went all the way up to Amarillo, 40 miles outside of Amarillo, and worked at the largest boys’ ranch in Texas. Twenty-six homes, about 500 kids, and I was one on the counselors out there, specializing in addiction and trauma. And so there, when we’re looking at how things going to develop out there as that, they sent me to quite a few trainings. I was already certified in challenge courses. I did some training with neurofeedback. I was an EMDR practitioner. 

So, I advanced in that and did work around the association and trauma, childhood trauma, things like that. So that really set me up, and then decided to come back to the Dallas area after being out there for almost three years and went to work back for Sante. And from there was case manager, a program director, where I did program directing for the eating disorder program that they had on campus. And then after that, I was the clinical director for a place called EnterHealth and was there for about nine months. Would you like to hear the story about how I get to The Meadows

Dominic Lawson: I would, I would. I want to ask some follow-up questions about some other stuff. I want to ask you about your work with children, because we’re seeing a lot of childhood trauma these days or we’re talking about it. Kind of tell me about that work if you would. 

Scott Davis: Well, a lot of the work that we were doing was with a well-known child psychiatrist, Dr. Bruce Perry. And he works a lot with one of our other senior fellows Dr. van der Kolk. He was doing work with Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch. And so, because we’ve been seeing a lot of kids that were coming in with neurological issues and neurological delays. So, we would see issues with their gait, with the way they walk, fine motor skills. They just weren’t having those, what we would consider appropriate or normal or normative. And with that, we start looking at what the reasoning is. 

And so, it was then we started looking at trauma and what these children had gone through. And severe neglect, abuse — things like that will tend to delay the brain’s ability to hit its normal past or its normal age appropriateness. And so, these kids were coming in and they were 10, 11 years old and they’re acting like they’re five or six, or sometimes two or three. And so, Dr. Perry was able to give us words and let us know exactly what was happening. And we were able to at that point, heal some of that damage that they’ve been done. 

And so, we were taking kids that, that were fairly damaged in their ability to kind of work with the rest of the world. They were labeled as ADD conduct disorder, all those things that you get when you’re a child and weren’t doing well in school. And we’re all going to turn that around. And, so, we had a lot of techniques. We used equine therapy, we used neurofeedback, we did a lot towards, just to establish in activities that were pattern, repetitive, that were shown to heal the brain. 

Dominic Lawson: Quick follow-up to that but imagine that you work with the parents of some of these children. And in having those conversations with them, what was that like? 

Scott Davis: Any time you’re dealing with the parent, especially even now when we’re dealing with parents of adults, it’s always hard to look at our parenting role and know that we’ve done something wrong. And some of the parents were receptive because they had seen, because of the way they’d been living or the way that they had done something that can harm the child. They are all willing to look at that. And then there was also, your parents are lot more resistant because they were still in that lifestyle. They were still doing those things that cause them that issue and also contributes to the child’s being abused and neglected. 

So, it really depends on the parents. How much are they willing and of course at one point, they would drive me in to Amarillo and I would counsel with parents. I would do counseling with parents, and that was part of my job, role out there. Because their parents were asking the facility, “I’ve seen this change in my child. Can you help me be a better parent and go through some counseling?” And so, I was actually doing some adult counseling at that point as well, one time, when we got to go into Amarillo and work with parents. 

Dominic Lawson: Thank you for sharing that. And that led to your journey here to The Meadows. Can you talk about that? 

Scott Davis: Yes. Well, I was working at Sante and at some point, I decided that I was going to be a clinical director. I wanted to be a clinical director. One of those things, I’d been a therapist for about nine years and didn’t really want to be anything else until there’s a point where people start yelling, “You should be the clinical director, you should be the clinical director!” Finally, you just start going, maybe I should be the clinical director. So, I applied for a position with another facility. And with that, I met a recruiter, and the recruiter – well, I didn’t get the job, and the recruiter kept my name. 

And she kept on giving me places that would be a good fit. And she was asking me, would I be willing to move here? Would I be willing to move there? And I said, “Ma’am, I don’t understand this.” And I’m from Texas. I said, “Texans don’t leave Texas.” I said, “Otherwise, we’re not Texans anymore.” And she kind of laughed, and I said, “No, I’m actually serious.” I was like, “Texans don’t leave Texas.” And she’s like, “Is there any place you would go?” And I said, “Well, there’s this place in Arizona called The Meadows.” I said, “I basically read everything that they’ve put out as far as their Senior Fellows.” And I said, “If they ever call, I would love to go there.” 

And of course, in the back of my head, that was just a pipe dream. It was just one of those things that, when somebody asks you, where would you go? I’m like, “Oh, I’d go to The Meadows. So about six months later, she calls me and says, “Well, how do you feel about Phoenix?” I’m like, “Oh my god, I hate Phoenix.” Hot. Because It’s already hot in Texas, why would I want to go anyplace hotter? And she says, “What about if there was The Meadows?” And I’m like, “Okay, tell me more.” And she’s like, “Well, I’ve talked to them about you, and they seem, we want you to apply.” And I’m like, “Okay.” 

So that was basically how that began. It’s like you put that out to the universe and suddenly the universe talks back to you. So, I went through quite a few interviews and ended up as a clinical director at The Meadows. 

Dominic Lawson: And now, the universe has spoken again and now you’re the chief clinical officer. 

Scott Davis: Yeah, that was a little bit surprising. I know it’s a matter of a timing thing, and we were looking at what would be the next role. And, of course, you’re thinking, the next step-up is executive director. And of course, I was complimented and very excited about when Sean and Allan, our CEO and COO, spoke to me about the position and we’re like, “Yeah, we think it’s about the time The Meadows had a chief clinical officer, and we’d like you that to be you.” And I’m like, “Okay, I don’t know what that is, but I’m sure it will be great. And so, yes, so now I’m the chief clinical officer. I’m very excited about that. 

Dominic Lawson: And what is it that new role entails for you? Talk about that a little bit. 

Scott Davis: Well, it’s a role that The Meadows has not actually had before, so there’s a little bit of ambiguity in that of not knowing what this is going to be. Some of that role, in talking with, the need is, out there is really, we have some great Senior Fellows, and we have great programs. And the programs have a certain way that they are working. And they have curriculums that they go by. And what I’ve noticed for most facilities, this is common for all facilities is that they don’t always have a lot of cohesiveness between what their intensions are, what their curriculum is, and how to help the patients. 

And so, hopefully, there is some place for me to help with the intentionality of that, and to bring more cohesiveness to those programs. And really, to meet the needs that they have because we have so many talented people. And with the timing of everything, you don’t always have time to accomplish all the things that you would like to, as far as making sure that things work the way they’re supposed to. And so, anytime I can help with implementation or research or basically with those facilities, that’s something I’m going to do. And then, the others just to make sure that our Meadows Models is kept center throughout our programs. 

And when we’re talking about the Meadows Model, it’s about making sure that our Senior Fellows, the work that they do, is not lost, does not get sidelined out there, but remains front. And really, as a guiding force with all of our programs. And so that’s one of those things. And then, of course, anytime that I can work with our staff on mentorship or supervision, that’s something that I’m going to be excited about as well. 

Dominic Lawson: You talked earlier about cohesiveness and now you’re talking about the Meadows Model. And that’s one of things I’ve always loved about The Meadows, as far as the Meadows Model being across board, whether they be at one of our facilities, whether it be virtual IOP, that Meadows Model is always just a standard that everybody seems to want to reach. Just kind of talk about a little bit in detail about the Meadows Model or, at the very least, your commentary on it. 

Scott Davis: Well, The Meadows Model, most of the time, when we’re talking about the Meadows Model, we’re talking about Pia Mellody’s Model. And of course, I love Pia’s model because Pia started at The Meadows as a nurse. She was the director of nursing. And what she did is, she just kind of notice that most of the people that they were treating had addictions, but they also seemed to have some certain commonalities. And being a nurse, she started putting in the symptoms. They all seemed to have these symptoms. And then she was connecting that with they all seemed to have this trauma in common. 

And so, there were some commonalities there. And she started just like any good nurse diagnosing some issue, was diagnosing and then looking at the issue, how they could fix it. And so, when you look at the model of immaturity, that’s basically, and we look at that as what the Meadows foundational model is. That’s what she was talking about: symptoms and ways to fix them. And, most important is to give the patients a common vocabulary, so that they can start identifying their own issues in kind of the same way. “I‘m codependent, but I seem to have these issues with intimacy and that comes from my childhood and this is what happened.” 

The Meadows Model goes further than that because when you’re looking at the Meadows Model, depending on what campus you’re talking about, the Meadows Model is not going to be just the foundational work of Pia, it’s also going to be for looking the Gentle Path. It’s a foundational work of Patrick Carnes, and the work that he did, and how that builds with the model. And then if you’re looking at one of our other facilities, Claudia Black Center, she and Pia worked very well together. 

And when you looked at Meadows Main, half the program is, when you’re looking at the family program, a lot of that is Claudia Black’s stuff that she’s written. So, when The Claudia Black Center came around, it’s like, well, it’s not necessarily Pia’s program, it’s Claudia’s program. And so, she’s writing the curriculum for that. And so, when we look at that Meadows Model, it’s not going to be all of Pia’s work, but it’s going to be a little bit of Pia’s work, and a lot of Claudia’s work, and then a little bit of van der Kolk’s work. And that’s the way The Meadows Model is now, it’s not just Pia’s works but it is van der Kolk’s work, it’s Patrick Carnes’ work, it’s Stefanie Carnes’ work, it’s Dr. Schwartz’s work. 

 So, we’re looking at how we can integrate those and build all that together and be very intentional about what we’re doing. Because they all, in some ways, fit together, and that is kind of the difficulty when we’re looking at all these different models of all our senior fellows is, how do they work together. And so, Meadows main really kind of put those together and then all the other facilities are also putting those together as well to make sure that we’re all well informed, we’re all doing good trauma work, and we’re really staying true to some of the precepts of the Senior Fellows that’s going to set down for us. 

Dominic Lawson: Thank you for sharing that, Scott. I really appreciate that. I want to ask you this because I know you’ve worked with the military population as well from PTSD, SUD, things of that nature. Can you talk about that work a little bit? 

Scott Davis: Well, most of my work, it started when I was with Sante Center for Healing, because we were getting military folks in, and always wondering, looking at military especially, when they’re bringing people into a center that is not military. That usually means that, somewhere along the way, the outpatient programs that they’re using aren’t working. And that’s not necessarily because they don’t have good programs, because the military has excellent programs to help veterans and help their military folks. The issue that comes in is that, sometimes just like we find in our current system of healthcare, mental healthcare, is that you need a little something more. And so, they start realizing that some of their people need something more, because it wasn’t just about the combat. It wasn’t just about what they experienced in the military. There was this, some of these other things that were holding them back. And so, that’s where all that working with the military started was just them looking at the foundational pieces of how we grow up, and the messages that we receive. 

And oftentimes, what we see with our current folks from the military and the folks that I worked with in the beginning from Sante is that they would come to us because the military had somewhat, they join the military just to have another family. Except this family was supposed to fill the needs that the family didn’t meet in their original family. The problem was is that the military is an entity. It’s not a family. And you start to look at those relationships and you can build that family. But oftentimes, a family that we build is the one that we came from. We have this propensity to want to resolve those issues. 

And so, we tend to bring people to us and identify people even if they aren’t our mother, our father, our sister, our brothers. But we tend to identify them that way. And when we start identifying people that way, we tend to fall back into those old habits that tend to get us into bad places. And so, most of the people that were coming to us and the people that are currently coming to us are in some type of bad place with the military, or they are going to lose their career, or they’re using, or something like that. And most of the time, our approach is to first address those underlying issues of the trauma that they had growing up in their family system. 

And then we start working on the adulthood trauma. So, a lot of times, the first thing is the military, and guess what they come in and say is, is well “I’m just here for military trauma.” If you’re at this level of care, you’re not here for that. We will address that but that would be something we address later after we got the foundational pieces. And so, we have to explain that to them when they come in because they’re like, “No, I’m here for combat trauma or this type of trauma.” Like I said, if outpatient isn’t working in the military units, it’s because there’s something else. 

And so, when we’re looking at the treatment, as far as where I started with Sante and the current work that we’re doing with The Meadows, it’s to something else that we’re going to be addressing. 

Dominic Lawson: Scott, let me ask you this because I know the military population is maybe a little different from other populations that you treat. And you talked about that childhood trauma, familial trauma, not just combat trauma. How do you build that rapport with the military population in order to reach that part of treatment, if that makes sense? 

Scott Davis: Well, that can be very difficult because you’re used to dealing with military folks in the military system, that when they come to our system, they struggle a little bit. The first thing that seems to make the transition a little bit easier is, our food tends to be a little bit better. And it seems like a very trivial thing, but at the same time, it’s like military does has this idea of running on their of stomach, so the first thing is, we get you in there and we get you a good meal. 

And they’re like, “This is really good.” And then the other part is that our peer community is very inclusive. And specifically, with military, is like we have a good number of military folks there. So, they’re there and they kind of set the tone as well of like, “No, you can trust these people, they’re going to take care of you. And so, we rely on that peer community. And then it really is, we have hired, we have therapist that are actually ex-military. And that has been beneficial for us because they understand that culture and they understand what the military folks are dealing with. And so, they can kind of speak that language to them. And so, that has been extremely helpful. And then really, it’s just meeting people where they are. 

Most of our therapists, because of, they’re known for being person-centered, they really want to be able to make that connection. And so, we have groups, but our groups are assigned by issue. So whatever issues they come in with, they’re going to get assigned to our group that has similar issues that they do. So that helps them kind of settle in and then helps them kind of start to trust. 

We also look at ways that we can make those connections by the questions that we ask. And, about a year ago, it was two years ago. Two years ago, we went in and threw out all the questions that we asked in the beginning, because we weren’t getting the connections that we wanted to with our military folks and with our regular patients. And we revamped our introductory questions that we ask to help with that connection. And what we’ve seen is, with that, our AMA rates have gone down by a point and a half, because of better connections are being made. And our surveys have gone up because of that. I’m saying that they feel more connected with their groups and with people in general. 

Dominic Lawson: One of things I love that you say has got two things is that you talked about meeting people where they are and making that connection. And I think we have a lot of therapist or aspiring therapist and clinicians who, how many [times] do you hear that? I think that was very important to say. I was reading an article not so long ago about emotional freedom technique. And I got a meeting with you as well and you’re going to talk about that a little. Kind of share with us a little bit about that if you don’t mind. 

Scott Davis: Without going into, because I don’t want to try and explain my way around. And when we talk about The Meadows, the Meadows Model or we’re talk about how we deal with all those types of issues. In most, our freedom technique actually, prior to them going into Survivors we sit down with them in a class, and we teach them how to help themselves, and how to be able to self-regulate. And so, it is part of our regulation system that we look at. Because what we’ve found is that you can have the best curriculum out there. You can have the thought leaders in the process and in doing all the best work as far as your curriculum and lectures and all that goes. It is great. But if nobody hears it, it doesn’t matter. And so, one of those that we use is emotional freedom technique. We also use our CES or Cranial Electric Stimulators. We use neurofeedback. We use tai chi. We do yoga. We do acupuncture and meditation. And all these modalities are one, they’re part of what our Senior Fellows have kind of said, these are really good techniques to use. But also, the intentionality in that, it’s kind of reduce that arousal in the brain, so that the brain can be open to taking in more things. 

And what we know about trauma in general is that trauma is experienced in a very high arousal part of the brain. And so, if you can lower that arousal in the brain, the brain can make that trauma into working memory, where it isn’t some place that the patient gets stuck, but it’s a place where the patient can have feelings about and emotions about. But they can move through that and move past it and be able to put it in the working memory. And that’s really what we’re trying to do with trauma. Because people think that you can kind of take trauma away. 

You can use EMDR, or you can use Somatic Experiencing to take the trauma, right. But those techniques which we also have at The Meadows, don’t take the trauma away. What it does is, it puts it into a different framework for the brain to process it. Because really, the brain just wants to make sure things don’t happen again, make sure that bad thing doesn’t happen again, so it keeps on reliving it. And to get back to the original question, which was talking about emotional freedom technique. That is one of the techniques that we use a lot to really help the patient and to kind of give them a tool that they can use. Plus, we use that to be able to reduce that arousal in the brain. So, a lot of our staff has that training and uses it on a daily basis. Whether it’s in a group setting, whether it’s in an individual setting, or whether it’s getting them ready for Survivors. Because Survivors tends to be more of what we call exposure, or we talk about exposure therapy. So, it’s very regimented. But they’re going to need regulation to that as well. So, we want to regulate them through that as well. 

Dominic Lawson: As we wrap up here on the Beyond Theory podcast. I want to say thank you so much for coming. 

Scott Davis: You’re welcome. This is great. Like I told you before, I want to get on here and talk with you. 

Dominic Lawson: Would you be willing to come back? 

Scott Davis: Of course. 

Dominic Lawson: Okay. I wanted to ask you this because, as we’re in the midst of the new school year for a lot of places across the country, and you’ve worked with the childhood trauma and things of that nature. We know a lot of kids at school, children are kind experiencing some of those traumas. I guess as a parent, what are some things that we should look out for as the school year kind of progresses, and everything is going on? Talk about that a little bit. 

Scott Davis: Well, as we’ve seen with COVID and with the uncertainty that a lot of kids are reactive to that. And even in my daughter, and my daughter is like, she’s fixing to go ASU for the first year. And to hear her friends talk, which are teenagers, and they’ve got their whole lives ahead of them, and their level of worry. So, if they’re worried, I have no doubt. And of course, we’ve also been hearing of children being worried. So, I think, for the best thing as a parent is just to be open and talk about it. And we might have to also look at how we’re regulating that news, because they’re hearing the news, but it’s not being filtered through the parent. 

So, the parent, if there’s news or there’s things that are happening, or there’s information coming, we as parents have to be very vocal about what they’re seeing and how that world may be going through this. But at the same time, you’re safe here. We’re safe at home. We have safety here. And we also need to look at what the boundaries are. When we’re looking at boundaries, oftentimes, boundaries create safety. So, if I have a “well boundaried home,” meaning that everyone is safe, everyone’s going to be taking care of, physical needs met, those are all looking at all boundaries. 

If there’s boundaries that are met at home, and those boundaries issues have been met at home, then the child is going to feel safe, no matter where they go. And so, if that home situation is safe. Then they are able to take in what we call novelty. And novelty is like the unusual things that happen to us on a daily basis. If we have a good basis home life, then we’re more likely to be able to take in those, that kind of craziness, that kind of, we encounter the outside world. So really, it’s creating that nice home space. And the way that we do that is making sure they’re, not only making sure that they’re fed and clothed and all those good things, but also, that we’re listening. They were communicating. And that we’re also setting boundaries with our children to make them, because boundaries really do equal safety.   

Scott Davis is the Chief Clinical Officer at Meadows Behavioral Healthcare. He has experience treating patients and military personnel who have substance use disorders, sex addiction, eating disorders, and trauma. In addition, he has training in such modalities as neurofeedback, brain mapping, EMDR, and more

Beyond Theory is produced and hosted by me, Dominic Lawson. You can discover more, including videos of some of our conversations, at BeyondTheory.com

For more information on Meadows Behavioral Healthcare, go to Meadowsbh.com

Finally, thank you for listening, and I hope you join us next time for another episode of Beyond Theory.