This month, we spoke with Thomas Nicholson, a Recovery Support Specialist at Hartford Healthcare. Thomas shares his thoughts on how the right technology can help patients feel seen and heard.

By: Michelle Voegtle, M.Ed., LPC, and Director of Clinical Programs at TryCycle

Why are Recovery Support Specialists (RSS) so important in the recovery process?
Sharing our lived experiences in the professional setting can be an effective bridge for clients. Sometimes the person providing treatment and care, whether that be a counselor or physician, may not have lived experience, or if they do they may choose not to disclose this. As an RSS, we are on a similar journey with our clients and we’re able to share that together.

Tell me about the tools you use as an RSS helping people in early recovery?
Definitely TryCycle! It’s a very powerful tool and it has really helped people get connected. As clients started to use it there was interaction, trust, and relationships were built. Clients talk about how they used it over the weekend or when they were struggling, and they share with each other how helpful it is. Clients like that people get back to them when they reach out on TryCycle; they feel heard. Also, when clients have hard times, they can go back and look into their TryCycle journal entries when things were good. They can remember what that was like, learn from how they were coping, and know that better times will come again. Positive aspects are just as important – it’s a tool clients turn to when things are difficult, but also when things are going well! This really creates teamwork between RSS and the clinical staff as we all work together to support a client on TryCycle.

How would you explain TryCycle to a client using it for the first time?
I describe it to clients as “your” tool. I make sure clients know that any of the data they share in TryCycle is a way to help us create dialogue. TryCycle is geared to the individual and it’s a form of check-in. Reflective journals are an important component of recovery that help build awareness for clients and allow staff a clearer picture of how clients are doing in their recovery. The type of data and information gathered via TryCycle, can inform clinical staff in adjusting recovery plans to support clients more effectively. Of importance, clients have choices with TryCycle. Clients can choose to share feelings, they can choose voice, text, or they can leave areas blank. A lot of times it is letting clients know you’re there. And they’re so appreciative that someone not only hears them but also responds.

How is TryCycle a part of guiding clients in recovery?
I found with clients, more honesty comes out, and honesty is an important part of recovery. Especially when you’re new to treatment, it can be hard to share in a group setting. But we get to know them through TryCycle and then they begin to open up. Clients build awareness through TryCycle about things that are bothering them and then they bring this to group. TryCycle has been especially good for young people, ages 18-25, who interact with their phones. Knowing someone is there, it’s a huge component for clients. We have an after-hours crisis number to reach a clinician, but sometimes TryCycle is a way someone can express themselves and release themselves in the moment. This process can prevent feelings from escalating and becoming a crisis. With TryCycle, clients can get out what they need (emotions, feelings) at their own pace and on their time. This gives clients some control, which they often lack early in recovery. Clients get to decide how and when they want to express something in their journal and then we build relationships by responding.

What have you learned about yourself through working with people in early recovery?
Keeping self-care is important, we can’t give what we don’t have. I have some background with mental health, but mostly substance use. After working as an RSS, I am able to listen more, pause more. And using TryCycle with my own clients, helps me gauge how people are doing. I meet people where they are, and people are at different spots all the time! It helps me learn about my own lens of recovery which impacts how I work with clients.

Why do you believe TryCycle works?
TryCycle builds healthy expectations and boundaries for clients. It connects them to a clinical and recovery support team, helping clients develop a network versus relying on one person. That’s important in recovery. Clients feel heard. TryCycle is convenient and accessible. It’s not an intrusive tool or process, allowing clients to share as much/little as they choose. They feel safe and “a part of.” For example, clients will often provide feedback to us about making the tool even better, more personalized. And the desktop version and Spanish version, thank goodness they have that. It’s important for diversity, equity, and inclusion that clients have many ways to access and use TryCycle.

What would it look like if you didn’t use TryCycle with your clients?
Because TryCycle helps to identify risk levels and opportunities to intervene with clients, it allows for relationship building among clinicians across sites. If we didn’t have TryCycle, staff at different sites would probably not connect on the same level. We cover each other’s clients when we are on call and TryCycle provides a structure that helps us effectively collaborate in providing quality care for all clients. We are all growing and learning, developing skills through cross-site work on TryCycle!

What is important to you that we haven’t talked about yet that you would like to be heard?
I appreciate that TryCycle doesn’t feel like a vendor, it feels like a partnership. I feel my voice can be heard. TryCycle takes the shame away, awareness increases, and it helps guide me in my work. The data I have access to allows me to get more curious. I love that we expanded it across Hartford Healthcare, it’s important to see. Taking a base that was working and not being afraid to push boundaries. We have strong, documented tools that work and the autonomy to build and grow from there. This program is organic, there is growth, adaptation and responses, and improvements. My clients have suggestions that can be heard, and we can grow and be heard together.