Dr. Jennifer B. Dragonette (formerly MacLeamy) is dedicated to helping teams come together to support clients in creating more authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling lives. As Executive Director, she spearheaded the establishment of Newport Academy’s Northern California location in 2018. Prior to joining our team, Dr. Dragonette was the Director of Behavioral Health for Petaluma Health Center, a federally qualified health center in Petaluma, California. In that position, she oversaw the Behavioral Health department and coordinated all aspects of operations. Moreover, during the wildfires that ravaged the Petaluma community in 2017, she spearheaded and developed curriculum for a program to support parents and children in the aftermath of that traumatic event. Dr. Dragonette also served in both clinical and leadership roles at Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa’s Chemical Dependency Services.
My Five Fundamental Beliefs
1. We teach other people how to treat us.
I say this to my clients often. If we set our boundaries where we need them to be, people will learn to respect them. It’s our job to figure out how we want to be treated and how we want to be in relationships, and then take steps to improve those relationships and move toward our best self.
2. Feelings are just information.
For teens in particular, however you’re feeling on a given day often seems like the last feeling you’re ever going to have. All you can imagine is that feeling getting worse, and worse, and you just want to stop it immediately. At those moments, it’s essential to understand how to step back, and that’s where mindfulness comes in—taking the time to pause and acknowledge that you’re feeling a certain emotion right now, and that this emotion is telling you something important. For example, if you’re worried about something, is there a way you can address those worries rather than spinning deeper into the anxiety? If we accept that feelings are information, then we can separate ourselves from them rather than being at their mercy, and see them as clues that can help us address what’s really going on.
3. Change has to happen systemically.
Much of my career has been centered around involving the entire family system in the change process. We can’t just take one person out of a family, treat them, and then put them back into that same system and expect the changes to last. We have to work within the system, or at least give individuals tools to go back and get their family on board so they can make sustainable shifts. At Newport Academy, our approach focuses on Attachment-Based Family Therapy and working with the whole family as a system, rather than assuming there’s a single individual or issue that needs to be treated.
4. We can’t approach something as complex as mental health or substance abuse treatment by treating just one aspect of an individual.
As specialists in our field, we need to take into account every aspect of an individual—their physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual health, not just psychological. People can make the most meaningful and long-lasting changes when they look at a full picture of their lives and figure out which aspects are helping them thrive and supporting the meaningful life they want to be living, and which are not. Typically, if we change only one thing, it’s not setting the individual up for success.
5. True healing begins when a teen shifts from an external locus of control to an internal locus of control.
An external locus of control might be parents, or school, or a message they’re getting that they’re doing something wrong. Teens get a lot of external feedback about what they “should” be doing, and it’s so important for them to get to the point where they have their own reasons for wanting to live a different life. They need to be internally motivated to make that change. This is why the holistic approach to mental health and addiction treatment offered at Newport Academy is so valuable, because we never know what’s going to really matter to a teen—but if we can show them that they have the opportunity to live a better life, then they start to develop internal motivation and the belief that real change is possible.
Newport Academy …in her own words
“When I first became involved with Newport Academy, I was amazed to discover that all the beliefs I hold about mental health treatment were embodied in the model here. This is the first place I’ve worked where I’ve agreed with everything about the way we approach treatment for teens and families. My whole career, I’ve wanted to work somewhere like this, and I thought I’d have to build it myself. A place where clinical treatment is complemented by good nutrition practices, experiential therapy, yoga, time in nature… I feel honored to shepherd this work, and I believe wholeheartedly that this is absolutely the right approach for helping teens and families return to health and thriving.” —Jennifer Dragonette
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