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Dr. Greg Hobelmann of Ashley Addiction Treatment: 5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness

Once you can accept that there are areas that need to be changed, you have to seek the help needed to make those changes. Some people might be able to do this on their own, but most likely, you’ll need help from an outside source. And there are tons of resources available depending on what you’ve found to be an issue.

As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Greg Hobelmann.

Dr. Greg Hobelmann is Co-CEO/President of Ashley Addiction Treatment in Havre de Grace, Maryland. He oversees the medical and nursing staff for both the inpatient and outpatient clinics. This year, Greg celebrates 10 years of recovery.

Prior to his current role, Greg served as Vice President and Chief Medical Officer. He first joined Ashley as staff psychiatrist after completing his psychiatry residency at Johns Hopkins. He also completed an anesthesiology residency and pain medicine fellowship at Johns Hopkins in 2006 and obtained a Master of Public Health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His treatment interests include addiction and chronic pain. Prior to arrival at Ashley, he worked as an interventional pain specialist.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I was drawn to medicine early in life because my father was a physician, and he was my hero. Following medical school, I chose anesthesia and pain medicine as my path. At the time, it was simply what I chose, but I would find later on that my decision would come full circle with the work I do today.

After medical school, I began working in a private practice for pain management. Then a short few years later in 2008, I developed an addiction to alcohol and opioids. My journey to recovery didn’t begin until 2009. I ended up in treatment twice before I was successful. After my first treatment, I began working at Ashley Addiction Treatment as a staff physician. It’s here where I fell in love with the treatment of substance use disorders and helping others find their own unique path to recovery. But I relapsed and had to leave Ashley to go through one more round of treatment before finding sobriety in 2011.

At that time, I had a suspended medical license and had to work hard to completely reinvent myself. It was a rough path back, but I knew I wanted to be a clinician and provider, so I went back to school to obtain a Master’s of Public Health. I also completed a psychiatry residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore before eventually coming back to Ashley in 2016. I’ve been here ever since and feel as though I have a personal and professional reason for being here and for doing the work I do. My previous experience in pain management really compliments my work today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

When you enter into medicine, you first learn to treat individuals. So for most of medical school and my residency, that’s what I did. Learning to treat larger populations of people didn’t come along until I had the opportunity to go back to school and get a Master’s in Public Health. However, that probably wouldn’t have happened had I not had an addiction and gone through my journey of recovery. So, going through everything I did — good and bad — actually helped me get where I am today. Now, I feel that I have bigger goals than I thought possible. Our industry really needs that larger voice in order to impact this vulnerable population that’s in desperate need of help.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

I was pretty clueless as a third-year medical student on the hospital’s wards. To me, the hospital was a new environment, and it takes a while to get indoctrinated, so to speak. During my surgical rotation, I was left alone to talk with a patient’s family whom had a lot of questions I wasn’t prepared to answer. Now, they seem like simple questions, but at the time, they were asking things like whether or not their father was going to have a foley catheter (a thin, flexible tube placed in the bladder to drain urine) post-operatively, and how long he would be in the hospital. Not knowing what to do, I answered every question as if I was an expert…and got every answer wrong. Needless to say, the surgeon was not pleased in having to clean up that mess. It was a great lesson for me that saying “I don’t know” is perfectly acceptable when it is the right answer. I now say it all the time!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

The first person who comes to mind is John Lipsey who was the program director for psychiatry at Johns Hopkins. After achieving sobriety, I had a huge uphill battle in order to get back into medicine. At the time, I had a suspended license and this “history” that loomed over me. It was a big ask to be accepted back into a residency program and get my credentials back. But John went above and beyond to help me get into that program. He helped me with everything from getting the letters I needed to talking to the right people.

It’s unfortunate because the entire system is created to put up barriers for people with substance use disorder. And when you have a suspended license, there are nothing but barriers to overcome. Although the system itself is hard, there are people like John who help people struggling, like I was at the time, to navigate it. Even though the bureaucracy is overwhelmingly against the recovery mindset, individuals are empathetic and more willing to help.

I’m so grateful to him. Without him, I wouldn’t have been able to get into another training program. And if that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be here today and be able to accomplish the important work I do.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

The best thing you can do is figure out how to take care of yourself. That doesn’t mean just working less hours because you might be the type of person who is able to work many hours and keep stress to a minimum. The key is figuring out what works for you; how to improve your physical and mental health; have peace of mind and contentment; and also, have some fun.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Pay attention to individuals. When you’re running a department or company and have a lot of different people you’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis, it can be difficult to focus on individual people. But it’s important. My advice is to try to not only be available, but also, fully present when you’re with people. You can also create systems that encourage people to take care of themselves by creating an environment at the work place that has fun built into it. Also, encourage interpersonal relationships among your staff so thy actually like each other instead of feeling pitted against each other. And most importantly, ask your staff what they want, and listen.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.

This goes back to what we often talk about in recovery…

First, do an open-minded evaluation of yourself. The keys here are to be open and honest. The idea is to be able to take a look at yourself in an effort to try to understand your strengths and vulnerabilities. From there, you can decide what can be improved.

Second, once you can accept that there are areas that need to be changed, you have to seek the help needed to make those changes. Some people might be able to do this on their own, but most likely, you’ll need help from an outside source. And there are tons of resources available depending on what you’ve found to be an issue.

Third is self-education — books, podcasts or you can even seek out a knowledgeable provider or simply connect with a friend that might be able to help guide you.

Fourth, then once you have some ideas, you have to actually apply those things in your life. This is the piece that usually gets lost on people the most. You can be in therapy or read all the self-help books you want, but if you don’t actually apply what you’ve learned, it’s not going to help you. You have to not just learn things, but make the change.

Then fifth is to start changing the way you think and behave over time. Pay attention how you’re going to get that dopamine, which essentially means, how do you have fun or find excitement in healthy ways? One person may want to jump out of airplane whereas another prefers to play chess. Also, pay attention to baseline important things like getting enough sleep, nutrition and exercising.

Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

Retirement is a major shift, so it’s something you have to plan for and be deliberate, and not just financially. We often see that people start to decline after they stop working, so you should pay attention to the things we already talked about previously and figure out how you’re going to get those needs met now that you’re retired.

You should start to plan for a life after working early on and then have an even bigger push for what that looks like as you near it. Think hard on how you’re going to fill your days, as well as how you can incorporate the steps for mental wellness. This way, you’ll already have your routine built in, but you have to plan for it.

Also, be prepared for life to throw curve balls. Our former CEO had a full plan for his retirement, but just as he was nearing it, he had to become the primary caregiver of his grandchildren. This completely altered his retirement plan, but he was familiar with how to adapt and has thrived in his new life as a parent once again.

How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?

As parents, we have to allow our preteens and teens to explore and figure things out on their own. We must allow them room to fail so they can be prepared for life as an adult. There’s a lot of evidence to support that this is lacking tremendously with kids today. Of course, we want our kids to be safe, but the downside of not allowing them the freedom to make mistakes on their own means they won’t have the skills necessary to protect themselves and make good decisions in the future, which is beneficial to their mental health.

For example, we’ve seen a huge increase in depression and anxiety among kids today but without an increase in stress. Stress is just not something kids report, but they do report depression and anxiety. So, we have to take a hard look at that data and figure out why that is. And although I think much of that can be attributed to what’s going on with social media and screens, we need to do better at evaluating the preteen and teen population as it exists today.

In general, preteens and teens should develop a large repertoire of activities and things they enjoy. Especially, outside of screen time. For example, get outside and exercise; interact with peers; and lean into navigating the difficult social situations that arise. Have true relationships with people and friends that are not based on screens.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

There’s a book called Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari. I read it many years ago — both as a person in recovery as well as a person who is a treatment provider. It really changed my views about people who are suffering from substance use disorder and provided deeper insight into the history of why we have the negative stigma we have today regarding addiction. And personally, it helped me understand what I need to do to improve my own recovery and maintain it successfully.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

In no way does this choice diminish the multiple other movements I would love to spearhead, but for me and because of my work, I would like to start a movement that would reduce and reverse the stigma of addiction. That would benefit so many people. It would save lives, improve lives, and it would come with many societal benefits, as well.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“God, help me want what I have.”

It’s a short, easy phrase that helps me get into a mindset of gratitude. There are so many aspects to gratitude and they are large and deep within my recovery.

I first heard this statement while I was in treatment. It was a phrase that a counselor said during a session. She was an older woman who has been in recovery for decades. She said it very off the cuff and in the moment, but it was such a huge lightbulb moment for me. Since then, I frequently think about that phrase and utilize it often since the time I first heard it, I was very early in my recovery. If I can remember that and truly think about its meaning, my life is good.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

They can find me on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/greg-hobelmann-76a476174/). They can also follow Ashley Addiction Treatment by searching @ashleytreatment on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.