Jamie St. John Is Devoted to Cultivating Healing Therapeutic Relationships

MHSA Stipend grad is a substance abuse therapist in an all-women's addiction program as well as a therapist in private practice

December 1, 2017

“I like feeling useful. I feel grateful to be making meaning out of my own story by helping others,” says Jamie St. John, noting, “I'm paying forward the kindness that others have shown to me.”

Jamie says her decision to become a social worker may have been influenced by the fact that she grew up with a sibling who was born with a disability, which means she’s been interacting with social workers and other helping professionals since childhood.

“I also have a family history of eating disorders, so I became curious about the dynamics of this issue as a student,” Jamie explains. “As I participated in my practicums as an MSW student, I encountered adolescents and adults with trauma, addiction, and eating disorders over and over again. This niche seems to have found me,” she reflects, “and it became the area of the field I pursued as I entered the work force.” Additionally, while in college, she was a behavior therapist for children with autism spectrum disorder, which inspired her to widen her scope of practice to include mental health.

MHSA Stipend Recipient

Jamie was a recipient of the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) Stipend at the University of Southern California. “I had a wonderful experience in the program and was grateful for the additional training in recovery from severe and persistent mental illnesses,” she recalls. “Many of the clients I encounter in my specialty area—trauma, addiction, and eating disorders—have major depressive disorder, severe anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, psychosis, and personality disorders,” she says, pointing out, “Our system of care is not set up to adequately help people who are struggling in these multi-faceted ways more often than not.”

Learn more about the MHSA Stipend Program

The knowledge and skills Jamie acquired in the MSW program continue to be valuable. “The training I received gave me insight into how these disorders interact with one another, and I realized that eating disorders and addictions are simply symptoms of a greater issue,” she says, “which can include a co-occurring mental health issue. I also learned about the importance of patience, community support, and approaching treatment with these individuals with Maslow's hierarchy of needs in mind during the program.”

Innovation to Help TAY Leads to Dean's Award

While at USC, Jamie undertook “a side project” at her practicum site that ultimately became a web-based searchable database for Transition Age Youth (TAY) services in all of San Diego County. For this, she received the Dean’s Award for Excellence and Innovation. After she graduated, she developed a comprehensive case management program to assist TAY with their transition from the pediatric system of care to the adult system of care.

“This population often falls into the cracks as they age out of the pediatric system, because adult programs and services are often not developmentally welcoming and appropriate for young adults ages 18–25,” Jamie explains. “So, the goal was to ease this transition and to help these young adults develop full and productive lives while getting the support they need with their mental health challenges.”

Full-Time Substance Abuse Therapist

Today, Jamie’s full-time job is as a substance abuse therapist at Soledad House Recovery Program in a long-term, all-women's addiction program. “Working with women is an honor and a challenge because of the depth of work and vulnerability that occurs in such a treatment program,” she says.

“I bring the mental health, eating disorder, and trauma recovery piece to the program, because so many women who struggle with addiction also struggle with these issues. Many addiction programs do not offer this full spectrum of care, especially once people leave the residential level of care, so it is amazing to watch women learn how to not only stay clean and sober, but how to heal from trauma and develop healthy relationships with themselves and one another over time,” she observes.

In her position, Jamie says, “The biggest challenge is realizing that no matter how much training we receive and experience we gain, we cannot ‘save’ anyone. Some of these women are going to die from their addictions, and I have to deal with multiple client deaths each year due to the severity of my clients' addictions. This was a hard reality to face early on.”

Additional Group Private Practice

Besides her 9-to-5 job, Jamie is also a therapist in private practice. “I enjoy being able to offer continued care to my clients who would like to continue therapy for their eating disorders, addiction, and/or trauma when they discharge from the treatment program,” she says, “Healing from trauma takes a strong therapeutic relationship, and at times, longer-term therapy. Private practice affords me the ability to provide this.”

Jamie acknowledges, “It is definitely challenging to fit this in in the evenings and on Saturdays!” But, she adds, “I manage the two jobs by being very careful about how large of a caseload I take on in private practice. I set a strict number of available slots and I stay within this boundary.”

Still, she admits, “Self-care is often the first aspect of my life to become imbalanced, so I try very hard to stay aware of this. And because I am trained in EMDR, I also work with many trauma survivors so it can be challenging to not feel saddened by the world we live in at times.”

Read about other CalSWEC MHSA Stipend and IV-E Stipend Recipients

Extensive Skills, Modalities

In her work, Jamie relies heavily on her training in an extensive assortment of skills, knowledge, and modalities, from cognitive behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and trauma-focused CBT, to addiction, mood and anxiety disorders, and PTSD. Having such a comprehensive toolkit so early in one’s career, she’s heard, “is unusual.” But, she affirms, “This field is simply where I'm meant to be, or at least I've been told that over and over again.” So, acquiring all the training and skills she could seemed only natural.

“I grabbed onto the foundations of some of these modalities prior to getting my MSW, and once in my graduate program, everything came together; I continued to pursue in-depth training and practiced these clinical skills across multiple settings. I tend to use all or at least most of them each week!” she says.  

“But the truth is that being trained in specific modalities will only take a client so far,” Jamie emphasizes. “The most significant healing comes from the therapeutic relationship developed with the client, especially for clients with trauma. I cultivate patience, empathy, and hope for all of my clients, no matter how much they struggle. I listen to understand versus respond. I think that makes the biggest difference,” says Jamie.