April 2022: This month, we spoke with Taylor McCafferty, an Outpatient Clinician at Midwestern Connecticut Council of Alcoholism (MCCA). In this interview, Taylor shares how she is using digital health technology to help clients maintain recovery on weekends and in supporting their transition from treatment to community.
By: Michelle Voegtle, M.Ed., LPC, and Director of Clinical Programs at TryCycle
What are your thoughts on the use of technology in a clinical setting?
I think it’s important. I grew up in a generation of technology. Some of the best ways to approach people are through technology. And it’s not just my generation, it’s society as a whole. It’s one of the best things we can use. There’s anonymity behind the screen. Sometimes things you need to say are so much easier with the assistance of technology. It can take away some fear during a time when clients are learning how to communicate.
Can you tell me about your role at MCCA and how you’ve been using TryCycle with your clients?
Yes! I’m a clinician that works with outpatient clients. I have some individual clients but work mostly with groups and any clients that I work with are introduced to TryCycle. I need to know about my clients, not just during group or individual sessions. We use TryCycle to prepare for the weekends. My clients are checking-in to let me know how they’re doing when they’re not in group. It helps me get a fuller picture and allows me to touch base on what is important to them in between sessions as needed. Most of my clients are in treatment three days a week with their last day being Thursday. Before TryCycle, I wouldn’t know how my clients were doing on Friday or over the weekend. TryCycle helps to provide a fuller picture of a clients’ recovery. I tell my clients, what we talk about in group, may not be what was specifically happening over the weekend. I need to know what’s going on with you. It’s not my job just to make sure that you’re ok the hour you’re here or an hour after you leave here, my job is to make sure that one day you can function without me when you’re no longer here in treatment.
When you first heard about TryCycle, what was your reaction?
I am definitely an online-focused person, just the idea of having an online component I was excited about!
It won’t necessarily make recovery easier, but it’s a new approach. Everyone is on their phone and social media, and this can help people! Sure enough, we’ve had no issues getting people using the TryCycle app. And the things that clients reflect upon in the app are phenomenal. They’ll do some reflections on their own at night and they don’t even realize they’re breaking it down on their own! They are working on recovery. Clients are taking positive actions after reflecting and using TryCycle.
It sounds like TryCycle has been very helpful to clients. What about as a clinician, do you feel you get to the “meat” of therapy in group since you’re started using TryCycle?
Yes. In the Outpatient Wellness Group there are a lot of different backgrounds to a lot of different people. In some ways, there’s no way to satisfy everyone in group once a week. With everyone checking in on TryCycle, I can find a theme, and this helps me in planning because I know what topics to approach.
How about checking in for groups? Could you use TryCycle as a new way to check in at the beginning of groups?
In smaller groups, yes, I use TryCycle as a way for clients to check-in during group. They talk to each other to see how others are using it. The ones using TryCycle more regularly and those who use the journaling aspect – they talk to the other guys and tell them, “You don’t understand it helps so much to talk it out.”
You have a policy that allows clients to stay on TryCycle 30 days after they’ve been discharged, what impact has that had?
I like that our clients stay connected to us in this way. With TryCycle, it’s so much easier to get a client back into treatment if they’re having trouble. And others are very mindful in prepping for discharge, they use TryCycle to make notes about their own plans. My job is to prepare clients for life after treatment. In the weeks leading up to discharge, they will begin to check in with what they have in place for when they are no longer coming to groups. They let me know about social supports, housing plans, or needs they may still be sorting out. TryCycle increases the clients’ awareness and helps them stay organized while preparing for discharge. As clients utilize TryCycle, it helps me have a clear picture of their readiness and how I can prepare and support them during the transition from treatment to the community.
Tell me about how you intervene with clients and engage them on TryCycle. Have you found that certain types of interventions work better than others?
Interventions, where I use the TryCycle app to ask my clients open-ended questions, these are responded to the most. Clients will say, “Wow you really got me thinking.” Clients say how much they appreciate TryCycle! I do a lot of consistent, but quick, interventions with clients who have highs and lows. I may send them a quick text to let them know I hear them. We focus on very specific things and apply them to TryCycle, creating a positive feedback loop, keeping clients engaged. And over time we can see a trend of improvements in those lows especially, with them lasting for shorter periods of time or being less severe. By typing out their thoughts and reflecting on their coping skills, they often end up using coping skills more often and more effectively even outside of TryCycle.
What has the reaction been from clients on using a brand-new technology?
Honestly, there’s been more buy-in than I expected at first. Once they get into it (the app), they get into it! A lot of it is word of mouth. Clients try the TryCycle app and then say, “Oh, it felt better than I expected it would.” When they first come into treatment and are doing something they don’t necessarily want to do, it may sound like they have to add one more thing. But they quickly realize it’s not much of a chore. I’m using TryCycle more than I thought I would and that’s not a bad thing!
How has TryCycle changed how you engage with clients?
It has helped, especially with clients who have issues with attendance or speaking up in group. Some clients may feel anxiety checking in to group. If they check in on TryCycle, I may ask them if it’s ok to bring the topic up in group. Some clients want to be pushed and others want to be more anonymous. Sometimes clients will tell me what they want me to know about and then I can work with them toward being able to bring it up themselves. It allows me to bring topics up in groups that I wouldn’t otherwise know about.
What have you learned from or about your clients since using TryCycle that maybe you wouldn’t have known without it?
I learn about their home life. I had a client that had communication issues with his brother, but he never brought it up before until he started using TryCycle. Our group check-in questions are very specific so they may not think it relates. Now they have the freedom to share, and I can now have a full picture of their recovery.
What have you learned about yourself since using TryCycle?
I learned that I like to talk and with TryCycle, there is a private feedback option. With this, I learned to take time to think about how to word my response. This has helped me in my groups. It helps me think about how I want to say something. In school, we learn the jargon, quick approaches, and we assume others know what you mean. TryCycle keeps things simple and I’m realizing how much more easily digestible it is for them.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are very important, does TryCycle work for a variety of clients?
TryCycle does an amazing job because it is so simple. There are basic questions that anybody can understand and go through. Especially the open-ended journal, clients can use that as they want. Clients can answer specific questions or just journal if they need to. Some clients use TryCycle as a way to directly provide feedback in response to what was covered in group. Others break down their day (holding themselves accountable). And then there are clients that approach the app like creative writing. There are so many different ways that TryCycle works for people. I introduce it the same, but people can take it and use it so differently in a way that works for them.
How does TryCycle help reinforce recovery principles?
Preparing for the weekend, clients use the app to check-in during group to develop a plan for maintaining their sobriety. Over the weekend, clients use TryCycle to apply what they have been learning, setting themselves up for success. Using TryCycle over the weekend reinforces for clients that they are working on recovery even when they leave group. Recovery still happens on weekends. One area that’s important is the acronym HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) – we find that clients won’t necessarily reflect on that unless their attention is brought to it as part of their TryCycle check-in. When in early recovery it’s sometimes hard to remind yourself of the things to look out for. That’s why relapse happens so easily. Clients can experience relapse drift where they may not realize how much stress they’re under until they look at that. TryCycle really helps clients to focus on important relapse indicators, to assess their current state, to build awareness, and to utilize support to prevent relapse.
How does TryCycle complement the work being done in therapy?
When clients check in about their stress and give specifics, we can tie that back to group. I’ll say, remember we talked about stress management techniques, what techniques are you using? If it’s something I know we talked about, I will give them a reminder and ask them how they’re applying it.
What are your expectations for technology in the clinical setting in the future, say 5-10 years from now? What do you hope to see/use?
I’d love to see what we come up with! It will never replace face to face, but it’s a very powerful tool.
About MCCA: Midwestern Connecticut Council of Alcoholism, Inc. is the primary provider of substance abuse prevention, evaluation, and treatment services for individuals and their families suffering from alcohol and substance abuse. MCCA’s mission is to provide HELP and instill HOPE for individuals, families and organizations working to overcome and prevent addictions.