Dr. Michael Hinkley, PhD, LMSW, LADC, STL, is the executive director of Positive Choices Therapy and Recovery At Wildwood Farm, both in Madison, CT. With a career devoted to addiction treatment, “Dr. Mike” recently sat with the New Haven Register and ShoreLine Times to talk about the value of professional counseling, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Let’s start with your background; experiences that led to your present vocation.

I grew up in West Hartford, CT, and attended College of the Holy Cross, then Middlebury College. Followed by Gregorian University in. Rome, where I earned a Masters in Theology and a Pontifical License in Spirituality. I continued my education at The John Paul II Marriage and Family Institute, Yale University and the University of Alphonse, attaining a PhD in Healthcare Ethics.

In addition to my schooling as a theologian and healthcare ethicist, my training entailed pastoral counseling and spiritual directorship. As a Catholic priest in active ministry for 20 years, my early assignments in academics included time working for and with Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Her spirituality has greatly influenced my life’s journey. I have always maintained a desire to help others, especially the disadvantaged.

Following my desire to become an addiction therapist, I obtained a social work degree with a concentration in addiction services from Fordham University. And I received a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor certification from the State of Connecticut.

Positive Choices and Wildwood...can you talk about their foundings and distinct mission?

While at Fordham, I developed my vision for a practice and recovery program that first became Positive Choices Therapy, LLC, serving Madison and the rest of the Shoreline. PCT is a psychotherapy practice focused on addiction and co-occurring disorders. Alongside PCT is Recovery at Wildwood Farms. RWF is a specialized, residential LGBTQ+ program with clients coming from all over the United States. A program participant is guided from a shame-based identity to one centered on healthy pride, innate gifts and talents. This work is about self-worth and connection.

What populations do PCT and Wildwood benefit?

Positive Choices Therapy serves people along the shoreline, as well as out-of-staters that come for treatment of substance use disorders and other mental health concerns, like depression or anxiety.

Wildwood treats the LGBTQ+ community and their allies; heterosexual clients also fall under that umbrella. LGBTQ+ persons from all over the United States have sought out our “queer normative” treatment experience on an active farm, where they can work on healing from addiction and other issues.

In both PCT and RWF, we have managed many cases of individuals who had been in and out of treatment, and are now finally enjoying long-lasting sobriety. Our rate of sobriety a year after treatment is much greater than amongst the general recovery community.

Tell us about your team.

All seasoned professionals. The clinical team are all Master’s-level psychotherapists with a combination of long-term work in this field and/or specialized training, like complex personality disorders and adolescent therapies. All clinicians offer both individual and group therapy modalities. I also maintain relationships with top national practitioners in the field to facilitate best practices in evidence-based care.

What are the behaviors signaling one should seek therapy?

When you find yourself burdened emotionally, are aware (or have been made aware) that you’re drinking too much, or have developed a habit of using any drug that isn’t per the order of a physician.

If you have been suffering from depression or anxiety, this could be the time to seek some help. Any feelings of being overwhelmed, or thinking about hurting yourself or suicide are reasons to explore therapy. Isolating from other people whether emotionally or in a physical sense. Find a therapist that seems approachable and you feel a connection with.

Addiction has several common symptoms. Frequent abuse of alcohol or other drugs is a good reason to make a call for help. If you experience a progression in the quantity and frequency of using and abusing. Having family or relationship troubles over your substance use is a sign of addiction, and often serves as the reason someone calls our office: “My girlfriend thinks I have a problem, but I still get up and go to work.”

Fortunately, today there is minimal stigma in seeking help for addiction. This is an understandable health issue that every family is facing in one way or another. When individuals rely on their own resolve and will to make substantial changes in their life and friend circles, they can make progress toward sobriety. In no way is this easy; this is a struggle because it entails deep-seated behaviors that are also part of the addiction rooted in our emotional life. I do, however, see the rewards almost every day in those who maintain their perseverance along this path.

Addiction. What are the prevalent types you're seeing in patients? How has it been exacerbated by COVID-19? And what are some at-home practices to help mitigate?

Addiction is simply a substance dependence…on alcohol or any other drug…to regulate your emotions; “I’m a wreck and I need to drink.” Such an incidence once a year is one thing, but self-medication on a daily or weekly basis, often to excess, may be a sign of dependency. Most prevalent types at the moment are alcohol and heroin. Among high school-aged persons, use can change dependent on peer pressures.

Together, COVID-19 and quarantine are powerful circumstances in our society and world. I don’t think package stores are seeing any shortage of customers. This extreme social and psychological crossroad is causing an increase in the abuse of alcohol and other drugs. The problem that many people are losing their jobs, making insurance and copays a challenge. Negative cycles such as these tend to exacerbate addictive behaviors.

While at home in quarantine it is very important for people avoid isolating physically and emotionally. Further develop or return to good positive hobbies that can fill the free time created by the COVID-19 quarantine.

Where are you with the surge of over-the-counter, unregulated CBD remedies?

CBD products will have some proper applications, especially in the area of pain management, like with oncology patients. Without regulation, the public is placed into the wild west, not knowing much about quality control or proper application. The CBD industry is in a maturing phase, and the public should be warned and properly educated.

What unique challenges does serving the LGBTQ community present?

The LGBTQ+ community is varied, and each community within the LGBTQ+ nomenclature is different in their particular experience of life and substances abuse treatment. At Wildwood Farm, the LGBTQ+ person is seen as a person looking for healing and strength as they face addiction. Our “Queer Normative” program feels different to the person seeking recovery, as here they are encouraged and commended for being their true selves. For many, this is the first time in their lives where they are accepted for being whole, just as they are. From there, healing and resilience can find fertile ground.

Insurances accepted? Is there a sliding scale for those experiencing financial hardship?

Yes, we accept most insurances and have a sliding scale to meet people’s needs. We have built the practice on the premise that we are in service to those in need of treatment for substance abuse and addiction. So, we meet people where they are.

What can we expect in 2020? More locations, added staff?

PC and RWF will hopefully continue to expand in 2020 to meet what we anticipate to be a growing demand for services. In further developing programs, we expect to add staff for both work at the Farm and clinicians for our therapy programs.

Positive Choices Therapy, LLC

Recovery at Wildwood Farm

11 Woodland Road #2

Madison, CT 06443

(203) 871-3296