Jessica Johnson, the Clinical Director of Atlanta Detox Center and Atlanta Center for Mental Health, grew up only minutes away from where she works. She considers the centers’ very existence to be a win for the community. “I was really excited to see this treatment resource open in this community,” she said. “I was in college when I went through treatment, but there weren’t centers like this around here then.” Johnson grew up in a home impacted by addiction, that she describes as having high degrees of volatility.
She developed severe bulimia in adolescence, but maintained her status as a gifted volleyball player. During college she tore her ACL playing volleyball, and had a hard time staying away from prescribed benzodiazepines. Johnson entered treatment at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. Her experience proved to be transformative. Originally studying mass communications, Johnson decided to pursue a double major after treatment. “I maintained that communication major and added a psychology major, because I knew that treatment worked,” Johnson said. After undergrad, she had the opportunity to continue playing volleyball, or to take a scholarship from Clayton State University, earning a Master’s of Science and Clinical Psychology. Johnson chose the latter. In an adjunct professor position, Johnson taught about the efficacy of treatment programs with and without trauma. She also began working in a private practice, Odyssey Family Counseling, where she counseled recently released offenders, adolescents and couples.
Johnson’s ability to use trauma-informed counseling strategies has played a major role in her career. She credits having lived her own “double life as a teenager,” and experiencing sexual abuse for informing her work with adolescents. She continued her trauma-informed approach, accepting a position as the program director at Atlanta Mission, a homeless shelter with clinical programming and trauma education. Now at ADC and ACMH, Johnson works primarily with adults who have Substance Use Disorders. Through a thorough diagnostic process, Johnson and her team often find that many people with Substance Use Disorders also have PostTraumatic Stress Disorder. “Our diagnostic process is based on history, and not just how someone is presenting now,” she said. “We always ask ‘Wait, what was going on before the drug use?’”
Johnson said one of the most rewarding parts of her job is helping adults with substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders recognize that it is never too late to start over. “I like to remind people that PTSD is curable. It is not noted as something that people have to live with,” she said. “Today I don’t have any of the residual symptoms of PTSD, and that’s achievable for everyone.”