Employee Spotlight: Rachael Reeder, Director of Loudoun County Youth Shelter

Why did you want to work in behavioral healthcare?

I’ve always been passionate about psychology. I like trying to understand not only how people work, but how they and their families operate within our society. Mental illness and addiction have been a major part of my own family experience, which contributed to my desire to impact the care systems we have in place.

As part of my studies, I interned at two adult in-patient hospitals. Though it was very intense, it was equally rewarding. I also learned something that would stay with me throughout my entire career; treat the person in the same way you would want your family to be treated. That seems so simple, but it is so incredibly important. Not only should we have the same level of empathy for clients that we would for a family member, but we should also have the same focus on their potential. Everyone who comes to Grafton has incredible potential.

What is your background?

With respect to my education, I majored in psychology at University of Maryland and went on to the graduate school to get my degree in social work. Since then, I honestly feel like I’ve had experiences in every option that exists in behavioral health care. My career spans the entire continuum. I’ve worked with young children, teens and adults. I’ve worked in in-patient facilities, with individuals who have severe mental illness and outpatient facilities, with families, and every level of care in between. Both my education and my work experience have helped me to gain a perspective on both the individual and how that individual fits within the broader social system.

What type of training, guidance and support have you received that help you to do your job?

I’ve been lucky to have worked with wonderful peers and mentors such as Dr. Jack A. Apsche. Dr. Apsche specialized in treating children with trauma. His approach was one of the first to integrate mindfulness. He worked with kids who everybody else said couldn’t “do” mindfulness. His response to that was, “Want to bet?”

That attitude reminds me a lot of Grafton, as a matter of fact. We not only welcome, but are often successful with individuals with some of the most challenging problems. We don’t worry about forcing someone into a mold. Instead, we individualize care, thinking creatively and with alternative therapies, to meet their unique needs.

It’s also very helpful to have a strong leadership team here at Grafton; one that provides support, guidance and encouragement. For example, our Chief Operating Officer places an emphasis on clinical leadership and stands firmly behind clinical recommendations. He has helped to increase the focus on individualization. While youth entering Grafton may have some similar symptoms or behaviors, the reasons for these vary greatly and require different interventions. He has also worked to ensure the family is engaged and empowered, which, in turn, helps their child progress not only while they are with Grafton but also once they return home.

Why are Grafton’s clients unique?

It comes down to diversity. Grafton has a large network with nearly every demographic represented in it. At the Berryville campus alone, you will see the littlest kids to full grown adults. Some of them have intellectual disabilities, some are on the Autism spectrum. We have clients that have been at every level of care before they came here. But that doesn’t count them out from being successful at Grafton; far from it, actually.

What makes Grafton’s approach person-centered?

We need to be individualized or we won’t be successful because there is so much diversity represented here. There is a growing focus on collaborative problem solving to determine needs that are not being met and are, therefore, causing the behaviors. Trauma might cloud or complicate what these needs are; it’s our job to uncover them. And, we don’t have a mold for “this is how it has to be done” – that leads to some pretty creative solutions. We also invest in creating programs to meet the changing needs of clients. The STAR and Sex Trafficking program are just two of many examples of this ongoing evolution.

What does utilizing a trauma informed approach mean at Grafton? How has it affected your work?

We talk a lot at Grafton about “comfort vs. control;” it is a tenant to which everyone in the organization adheres. I have seen nothing like it anywhere else. I’ve worked in other organizations that were striving to become trauma informed, but the emphasis and ownership at Grafton is different. It is just a different way of thinking about clients and their experiences and it changes the whole perspective.

So, if that means following a person all over the campus as they are having a meltdown rather than physically restraining them, then that is what we will do. We look at the long-term outcome vs. short-term expenditure of resources. It’s not easy, but if we say we believe it, then we have to do it. The data we have carefully collected over the years prove that this trauma informed approach is the right one.

I really like knowing that, when I leave the kids in the evenings, they are safe. I can only imagine that a parent leaving their child in our care would feel a far greater sense of comfort in that.

Do you have a favorite story from your time at Grafton?

I had a client come to Grafton about a year ago with a combination of Autism spectrum and intense anxiety. He struggled a lot, at first, to make the adjustment from being at home to being in a residential facility.

We focused on making his programming as predictable as possible, including the staff members with whom he worked. He also made use of all of the alternative therapies — from music therapy to animal therapy and beyond — in order to explore some of his anxieties more deeply.

I saw him recently as he was delivering mail to the Berryville campus, which is one of his jobs as part of his therapy. He seemed so much more confident!

What would you say to a family considering Grafton for their child?

From sitting in our management meetings, I can tell you that the “treat our clients like we would want our own child to be treated” motto is truly how we think.

There are many changes happening at the state level that are creating the need for increased family engagement. At Grafton, we couldn’t be more enthusiastic about this; it’s actually something on which we have been well ahead of the curve. We want parents to be involved with the team and involved in decisions for their child.

We also have a very open system. For example, we don’t have visiting hours or phone call days. That’s not easy on our end, but it’s important. Parents can come any time, well beyond even normal working hours.

What makes Grafton a special place to work?

Let me put it this way: just a few months after I got to Grafton, I was still receiving job opportunities. But I took myself off all of those lists. I no longer felt like I needed to keep my options open. Since then, I haven’t applied or looked for another job. I’m not seeking something else; I don’t feel like something is missing.

I feel supported even when things are really tough. To be able to say that at an organization that does this incredibly challenging work is pretty impressive.

Grafton is also very generous with training. Before I arrived here, I’d never worked at a place that would pay for not only the training itself, but also hotel and other travel costs. Since I started, I’ve been to three trainings in Richmond for high fidelity wraparound services. And those trainings have helped to prepare me for my new position in Loudoun County.

I think Grafton does a really good job of developing employees, too. There are different champions for different skills sets all of whom help people to move forward in the organization and in their careers. That is unique about Grafton; I haven’t seen it emphasized as much in other places as it is here.

And it really is an integrated health network. Because we have all manner of services, from short-term placements to family services, there is a lot of opportunity here that is not available in an organization with more specialization.

For example, I had not been actively pursuing the opportunity in Loudoun County when my leadership approached me about it. They said, “We envision you as being successful in this role, what do you think?” That was a huge confidence booster! Grafton encourages people to move outside their comfort zones – both clients and employees.

Learn more about Rachael from her recent blog post.