Interview: Compassionate clinicians offer hope at Sovereign Health of Los Angeles’ Addiction Treatment Program

Q&A with Donna Hugh, LMFT, CIP, Program Director, Sovereign Health of Los Angeles

Interview: Compassionate clinicians offer hope at Sovereign Health of Los Angeles’ Addiction Treatment Program

Donna Hugh, LMFT, CIP

Program Director, Sovereign Health of Los Angeles

Despite the advancements that have been made in the understanding of addiction as a chronic brain disease, people with substance use disorders have continued to face stigma that prevents them from seeking and receiving the treatment they need. Fortunately, drug and alcohol abuse and addiction are treatable conditions that can be successfully managed with evidence-based treatments, education and compassionate care. Providing education on the disease model of addiction can help to reduce the stigmatization of substance use disorders. In doing so, we may also continue to make progress in addiction treatment. It is important for those who have substance use disorders to receive treatment to help them recover and strive for the better life that lies ahead of them. We asked Ms. Hugh to discuss some of the biggest challenges in the treatment of addiction and the Addiction Treatment Program offered at Sovereign Health of Los Angeles.

Q: How do you think the addiction treatment program at Sovereign Health of Los Angeles will continue to move forward to provide patients with the best care possible?

We provide patients with education on the disease of addiction, which affords the patients and their families an understanding of what occurs within the brain of an addicted individual. This understanding assists in eliminating stigma of addiction and the shame that goes along with it.

Q: Can you walk us through the process of treatment for substance use disorders at Sovereign Health?

When patients initially arrive, they go through the intake process with a clinical coordinator. Patients with substance use disorders spend time being observed in detox until being cleared by a physician. Typically, patients are in detox for three to five days, depending on the drug/alcohol that was abused and duration of abuse. Patients are given a biopsychosocial assessment — an extensive questionnaire to get to know more about the patient and his or her psychological status at that time. This assessment will determine whether the patient is assigned to either a mental health or dual diagnosis treatment track.

Individuals with chronic mental illnesses are often the most difficult to treat due to the lack of readily available supportive services. Patients within the mental health track are provided with additional education about mental illness and are taught coping skills. Because some mental illnesses are caused by trauma, the patients are taught about the process of their trauma and methods with which to cope on a day-to-day basis.

Case managers work with patients from the moment they welcome them walking through our doors. Patients will begin to understand that their discharge begins immediately upon arrival. They will have a solid aftercare program when they discharge. Aftercare consists of: appointments with psychiatry, psychology, a physician and an outpatient treatment program.

Q: How does the addiction program help people recover long term?

The addiction program at Sovereign Health of Los Angeles helps patients recover long term by involving the families and loved ones. Families and loved ones can participate in family group on the weekends. We are currently working on our weekend-long family event to facilitate the best and most thorough educationally supportive program.

Q: What is unique about the treatment of substance use disorders at Sovereign Health of Los Angeles?

Each employee has compassion and a firm understanding of the disease of addiction, so that all patients are treated with respect and dignity regardless of their level of difficulty. Employees are trained to facilitate the “Matrix” treatment model. The Matrix model is an evidence-base intensive outpatient program. The facilitators are trained to understand that addiction is a brain-based disease that has no correlation with willpower or strength of character.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges to treating patients with addiction, and how does Sovereign Health address some of these issues?

The most profound challenges in treating addicted patients are overcoming the stigma of addiction and shame, and fully understanding the disease model. The disease model of addiction clearly emphasizes the physiological characteristics of the brain while actively using as well as the brain in remission. The disease model of addiction also describes addiction as a disease with biological, neurological, genetic and environmental sources of origin. The traditional medical model of disease requires only that an abnormal condition be present that causes discomfort, dysfunction or distress to the individual afflicted. At Sovereign Health of Los Angeles, we also teach dialectical behavior therapy skills, mindfulness and meditation, process groups, cognitive behavioral therapy and art therapy directed toward trauma.

Q: What future do you envision for your patients and what message would you like to convey to people with substance use disorders, who may be unwilling to admit that they have a problem or to seek treatment?

Our patients will experience state-of-the-art treatment facilitated by compassionate clinicians. Patients must know and understand that there is a better way to live, that there is a better life for them and that they can achieve everything they have ever dreamed of achieving.

Q: As the misuse of prescription drugs increases among young people, what do you think are some effective strategies for reaching young people who are abusing prescription drugs?

It is critical that there is clear and honest communication telling young people the ugly truth about addiction and the consequences of using. Recreational prescription drug use frequently ends in overdose and death. From 1999 to 2014, deaths quadrupled in the U.S. from overdoses related to prescription opioids alone. More than 165,000 individuals also died as a result of prescription drug abuse during that same time period.

Open communication without judgment is a basic modality to help young adults and others to understand that they are not alone and that there is a better life for them without drugs and alcohol. Education that aids and enables individuals to practice healthy coping skills while uncomfortable or stressed can make the difference between relapse and recovery.

To learn more about the Addiction Treatment Program offered at Sovereign Health of Los Angeles, visit For more information and inquiries about this article, contact the author at

Donna J. Hugh, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and Certified Intervention Professional (CIP), is the program director at the Sovereign Health facility in Los Angeles. Ms. Hugh received her master’s in clinical psychology from Antioch University in Los Angeles and her bachelor’s in psychology from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ms. Hugh has extensive experience in treating individuals and groups from a range of socioeconomic and diverse cultural backgrounds, including homeless individuals and families, gang members, adolescents and individuals with addiction and co-occurring disorders. She specializes in residential dual diagnosis and addiction treatment, crisis assessment and intervention, short- and long-term psychotherapy, treatment planning and expressive therapies. She applies all of her education and experience into helping patients recover and continue a better life after treatment.

For questions and inquiries about this interview, please contact the author at

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