Addiction treatment center moving into 501 Plaza in downtown Great Falls

Struggling with addition in her youth, JoAnn Malone will mark 30 years clean in April.

She’s now a licensed addiction counselor and on March 2 is opening Seeking Recovery, an addiction treatment center on the first floor of 501 Central Ave.

Malone said there was a time she didn’t understand why she was put through everything she went through in her life, but now, she said, that experience helps her connect on a deeper level with those she’s counseling as they seek recovery.

“I know what it’s like to have withdrawals, to want to take your life, to see things, to hear things. Having that experience, I find the connection is deeper because of it. Nobody says I’m going to grow up and be an alcoholic or a drug addict. Nobody says that. Something happens,” Malone said. “I can’t save them all, but if can change one or two lives, that’s what it’s about. Sometimes it’s a daunting task, but if I can help one, they can help someone and they can help someone. If I can change one person so their child isn’t raised by an addict, it can change that cycle. To me that’s everything.”

The east coast native came to Great Falls for a counseling job at Gateway Community Services and worked there for two years. Then she worked in addiction services at Benefis Health System.

With long wait lists, Malone started offering counseling as a solo provider in an office at the Columbus Center two nights a week. That quickly grew to five nights and then included Saturdays and now has 37 clients.

That’s when she started looking for a larger space and working with the state to meet requirements. Malone said the state wouldn’t allow her to practice independently as a licensed addiction counselor, so she teamed with Amanda Walker, a licensed clinical professional counselor, who focuses on mental health. The state told Malone she needed to operate as a facility, so she went through the process and received state approval in January.

The downtown building is exciting, she said, since it’s expanded space, highly visible to people who might need services and also accessible since it’s on a bus route.

She hopes those living in the downtown area will see the center and it will plant a seed, eventually leading them to seek treatment for addiction.

Their motto is that “when the emotional pain is greater than the desire to use, the addict will seek treatment.”

In her previous jobs, she noticed that many people weren’t able to get treatment due to long wait times.

With addicts, Malone said, “you have a very small window of time. “If you don’t get treatment, you die or relapse. You can’t put an addict on a wait list.

She said that referrals are already coming in for their program that will include intensive outpatient and outpatient treatment, as well as groups, peer support and other services.

“There is a definite need,” Malone said.

She’s been working with Jason Nitschke of the Small Business Development Center housed at the Great Falls Development Authority, to develop a business plan and ensure their center is sustainable. Her 5-7 year plan is to establish an inpatient treatment center a with detox facility.

If a treatment center closes for financial reasons, clients have to scramble to stay in treatment, she said.

“We’re not just talking about retail, this is people’s lives,” Malone said.

She said her counseling methods are unconventional in that she doesn’t tell clients what they want to hear but what they need to hear.

Malone said she makes clients write their own obituary and it’s a powerful activity.

“That’s the reality of the situation,” she said. “The bottom line is you’re going to die if you don’t stop, so it hits home.”

She said she also follows the disease model of treating addiction, versus the moral model.

Malone said that when she went through treatment, less was none about addiction and “they shamed you.”

Most addiction is rooted in trauma, she said, and until people can identify and process that trauma, recovery is challenging. In their group sessions, Malone said she does educational lectures about brain chemistry and things that trigger people to use drugs or alcohol.

“It looks at the why we use, not just the use,” she said.

That knowledge can help an addict understand their triggers and learn coping mechanism and relapse prevention.

Malone said that many people with addiction also have some underlying mental health issue so her and Walker work to treat those simultaneously.

They’re also working to create a ‘pain shop’ that will help treat people with chronic pain, which plays into the opioid crisis, Malone said.

She said unprocessed trauma can also manifest in pain and that they work to identify those causes and manage it in ways other than medication.

Malone, a female veteran who was a victim of sexual assault while serving in the Navy, said she also hopes the center can be a place for fellow female veterans to seek treatment.

To Malone, recovery is a long term process that is more than just not using. People need to get jobs, pay bills, have a place to live and reintegrate into the community.

“Recovery is all encompassing,” she said.

With her experience, she can often relate to what someone struggling with addiction is going through.

“I can say to them, yes you can do it,” Malone said. “There’s life after addiction.”