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Being Your Most Authentic Self in Residential Treatment

In this episode, counselor Kory Silva and activity therapist Carly Button lead an interactive discussion focusing on what it means to be authentic and how they can help residents to be successful in their treatment.
Kory Silva | Carly Button, LAMFT
Kory Silva holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Arizona with honors in Interdisciplinary Studies, with a focus on international business, business administration, and sociology with an international business certification. Kory has a strong background in startup companies helping to develop products, marketing, focus groups, expos, infrastructure changes, staffing, and management. While pursuing his own recovery from substance abuse and mental disorders, he changed his career path in hopes that he could help others. He holds several roles around Sierra Tucson, including lead residential counselor, has been on many committees to enhance resident engagement and is one of the most sought after group facilitators. Kory has worked with various populations including SMI (Serious Mental Illness), the homeless population, addiction, trauma and the LGBTQIA+ community. He is passionate about helping others embrace themselves exactly as they are. Kory takes an unconventional approach to psychoeducation by taking business practices with an experiential experience to enhance group buy-in. Kory’s core belief is that human connection fixes everything. Through real life experience and a touch of humor, Kory embraces mistakes, flaws and brilliance. 

Carly Button is an adventure therapist at Sierra Tucson. She is a licensed associate marriage and family therapist who specializes in logotherapy and existential psychotherapy. Carly has experience working with a wide range of ages and demographics, most recently working as a therapist in a high school. She is currently attending University of Arizona to pursue her PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision. 


Scott Webb (Host): One of the keys to successful
treatment at Sierra Tucson is for residents to be their most authentic selves.
But what does that mean and how do we do that? Joining me today to explain what
it means to be authentic and how they can help residents to be successful in
their treatment is Kory Silva, he's a counselor at Sierra Tucson; and Carly
Button, she's an activity therapist at Sierra Tucson.

Host: This is Let's Talk: Mind, Body, Spirit by
Sierra Tucson. Sierra Tucson, a leader in the field of behavioral healthcare
since 1983. I'm Scott Webb. I want to thank you both for joining me today.
Essentially, we're going to talk about being authentic in residential treatment
and what that means and how to do it and so on. Before we get there though,
Kory, tell me a little bit about yourself and your experience. How'd you end up
at Sierra Tucson?

Kory Silva: was able to get my life back together,
went back to school, got some degrees and kind of wanted to make an impact on
the world. And I kind of happened to stumble at Sierra Tucson where I've been
really able to grow a lot as a clinician, kind of helped develop new programs,
new tracks to kind of develop LGBTQIA+ programming that we do here. So, it's
been a really cool ride. And I'm a person who's incredibly flawed, who just
wanted to make the flaws worthwhile.

Carly Button: That's a good point. I like that. So
for me, I came to Sierra Tucson because I wanted to be an adventure therapist.
When I was 16 years old, I went to a wilderness program and that was one of the
most intense and powerful and life-changing experiences of my life. I was
really pulled from, you know, society and learned how to discover who my true
self was and love that person. And I was so inspired by what I learned through
my time in wilderness that I wanted to be a therapist. So, I got my master's
and I did so much research in wilderness therapy. And so when I saw that Sierra
Tucson had an adventure department and was looking for an adventure therapist,
it felt like my dream job. So, I love being here and I'm so grateful to be able
to do what I love.

Kory Silva: Yeah. It's really kind of interesting the
way that residential settings work is being able to develop the relationships
that we develop with the residents. Because I think that this type of industry,
when we are in a residential setting, you kind of are being mirrored by the
residents. So like you understand where they are in their journey, if you've
been through the same type of issues, you understand like kind of what shame
and living a lie and having to wear all these masks look like. And I think
that's kind of the importance of authenticity, right? Because it's like
authenticity is about being incredibly comfortable with vulnerability. And I
think most of us are definitely not comfortable with that, that's why we all
wear masks to the world. We all want to be perceived in certain ways, which is
why, you know, authenticity can sometimes be really hard for people. It's
always about leading up to expectations and being able to come to a place like
Sierra Tucson where we can see residents kind of in different parts of their
journey. We can kind of start seeing those masks start to rip apart and like
start to dissolve and having people be able to really identify what their own
values are and what matters to them and what influences them and what makes
them happy. Because ultimately, that's what we're here to do, right, is to
chase happiness and growth.

Carly Button: Yeah.

Host: Yeah. I love that. And Carly, wondering, when
we talk about the residents and think about them, what's your relationship like
with them? You know, maybe you can take us through that. How do you interact
and guide and just be a part of their everyday lives for that period of time
that they're there?

Carly Button: Yeah. So for me, in the adventure
department, I get to take residents on adventure-themed groups. So, sometimes
we go on hikes, sometimes we do indoor like problem-solving and team-building
activities. And I also have the privilege of being able to get to know residents
in the milieu and the RTs are super awesome and allow me to go join some groups
sometimes. So, I have the blessing of being able to kind of move around a
little bit, which is really fun. And being able to get to know residents
through like a lecture. Like I've had some residents, after my lecture,
approach me and share that they really connected with some of the material that
I lectured on. And then, we end up having like a little side relationship. Some
of them, I've had some residents that come up to me because they want to learn
more about like logotherapy or philosophy. Like I teach a lot about philosophy
and then some people are really passionate about that and they want to learn
about that. I have relationships with residents in a lot of different ways, and
I definitely enjoy when, you know, sometimes it is like we'll just have them in
a group and then I don't see them again. But sometimes I get to see them a
couple times or on Saturdays when I lead a hike, that's always really fun too.

Host: Yeah, Kory, is it difficult, you know, because
folks are generally there on these 30-day tracks, so they're not there very
long, is it difficult for you, just like as a person, you know, that you begin
to build these relationships and then they leave and then a new group comes in?
Maybe you can just sort of share with us your role and how you interact and how
you sort of deal with the fact that there's always new people coming in.

Kory Silva: You know, it's really interesting that
every 30 days we get a completely new milieu, and every milieu is different.
And when one new person comes in, it really changes the whole environment. You
know, I started off as an RT, as a residential therapist, excuse me. And now,
I'm a associate director of residential experience. So, I've been able to kind
of see, you know, people come in and out, in and out, through very different
scopes. And it's really cool to see people, you know, who leave here in a
really good head space and who are able to achieve long-term recovery, whether
it's from substances or mood disorders or whatever it may be.

But what's even better to see is when people who struggled
and they came back and they're happy to be back and they understand that they
have a place in the world and that just because they struggled doesn't make
them a failure, doesn't mean that they have to, you know, live in that shame.
We're really good about de-shaming all of this stuff. And I think that's the
most cool, interesting thing to see, is when people come back and how desperate
they are to come back and that they're lucky enough to be alive to come back.

Carly Button: Yeah, I like that. And I agree as well.
Like, you know, 30 days is not a ton of time to really unwrap a lot of the
darkness and things that have happened to people throughout their lives. So
being able to come to a place like Sierra Tucson and remove all of, like Kory
was saying, the masks from outside world and be able to really just be your
true raw self is huge. And I think we all think that the work really does get done
here through that process.

Host: Yeah. And Kory, when we think about sort of
being unapologetic, right? So being our unapologetic selves in treatment, what
does that mean? Can you define that for us for listeners? And then, how do you
incorporate that into the treatment journey? How do you help folks incorporate
their unapologetic selves into their journey?

Kory Silva: Oh, I love this question. Being
unapologetically yourself is probably one of the most vital, most important
things that people need to really be able to achieve and do comfortably in
order to achieve any form of recovery. You know, I think people are going to
define being unapologetically yourself in various ways. For me, being
apologetically yourself is quite frankly, living your life by your own rule
book and not using other people's rules to guide your life. It's about really
understanding what your values are, what you stand up for, what you care about,
who influences you, is about understanding your emotions, and it's about being
okay with emotions.

You know, I think sometimes we live in a society where we
have such little resilience to any type of negativity that we're taught that we
should panic or feel shame or crumble when, you know, we're not feeling well or
don't have positive emotions, but it's quite the contrary. We need to really
kind of embrace all emotions, good and bad, because they all serve a purpose.
We really need to understand our value system because until we are able to live
our life under our own values, under our own rules, that we're only going to be
living a life full of self-judgment and shame. Because anytime we live outside
of our value system, that's where that self-judgment comes in. So, it's
absolutely vital to really understand ourselves in order to be able to be
unapologetically yourself.

You know, one of the things that was really difficult for me
to understand was I don't need other people's approval to be okay with myself.
I know it sounds really simple, but like, you know, some of us have some savory
upbringings and we get into these co-dependencies or we get into like covert
emotional incest type of relationships where our whole value is dependent on
somebody else's opinion of you, and you cannot really develop your sense of
self until you're able to validate yourself. So, I fully believe in living life
unapologetically, because we don't have to ask anyone to make room for us at
the table, that that table's ours, it's the world's, we are here to live. So,

Host: And Carly, you know, we were talking about, you
know, it's only a 30-day track, and folks may be back. And for some of you, I'm
sure the ones that you really enjoyed working with, you're happy to see them
and happy to work with them. But I'm sure in just that 30 days, it's hard for
folks to be as honest as they really need to be, right? I am sure that there's
a big emphasis on being as authentic as possible in therapy to work through
traumas, to get the most done that they can in those 30 days, right?

Carly Button: Yes, sir. Yeah. And being able to be
authentic during that time, just really to reiterate kind of what Kory was just
saying, like the values piece is just so huge in existentialism. They really
emphasize that your values are what make you who you are. And being able to be
authentic in therapy. And while working through trauma involves, first, you
know, being able to identify and align all of your actions and choices with
what those values are, and then being able to listen to your gut. And I have
some friends that they say things like, "I have gut issues. What do you
mean? I can't listen to my gut."

Host:  "My
gut is bad, it's wrong."

Carly Button: "What do you mean" I can't
listen to it?" But your gut knows what it's talking about. Being able to
trust your gut and trust the voice on the inside of your head that's protecting
your inner protector too, is huge.

Kory Silva: A hundred percent, because the gut, you
know, our instincts, I call it the juju. Our juju, by the time, it got to us,
it's been finally tuned. And every time we don't listen to our gut, at least in
my experience, it's always been very messy. I look back at my dating life in my
20s and it was nothing but losers and scumbags, right? But it's because I went
against my gut. And I think it's really important to have that trust within
ourselves in order to not make those same patterns.

Carly Button: Yeah. I really like that too. And being
able to allow feelings as they come up too. I think a lot of the times when we
have emotions, people either, you know, I'm somebody that I've learned how to
really just allow myself to feel the feelings that I have and I encourage that
for residents as well, but also not allowing it to take over or, you know,
taking over your sense of self at the end of the day, because you're always in
control. But just really listening to what your body needs and what your heart
needs in the moment because, you know, a lot of the times, all the time, we
listen to other people and people in the milieu and our family, but what do we
need, you know?

Host: It's so interesting because, you know, you were
talking about, people say, "Well, trust your gut. Well, what if my gut's
always wrong?" Well, I sort of feel like at least it's my gut, right? I'm
relying on myself and my gut. And if my gut leads me astray, well, that's on me
and my gut. But as you say, trying to make everyone else happy, right, Kory?
Trying to do things other people's way, the "right way". You know
what, sometimes you do have to just kind of trust your gut and hope that your
gut, you know, you're working together and you're in sync, right?

Kory Silva: A hundred percent. I think that like a
lot of times when we don't follow our gut instinct, at least from my
experience, it's because I haven't understood the emotion. You know, I remember
my first year in recovery and it was like a Friday night and I was going to
sleep like at 9:30 and I was looking at myself in the mirror and I was like,
"Who the hell am I?" Right? I was like, I'm the kid who was 13, like
dancing on tables, you know what I mean? I grew up in Mexico, so like I had a
fake ID since eighth grade. And I could have swore that I was just being
complacent and I was like stuck in a rut. And it turns out I was just feeling
content, but I just never felt that before. So, I went back out, you know what
I mean? And with a bang. But it's important to really understand our emotions
and why we are feeling what we're feeling and what's triggering those feelings
in order for us to really understand ourselves. And, you know, trauma stunts us
emotionally, so sometimes we have the emotional depth of a puddle and it's
really important to, you know, turn that puddle into a pool.

Host: I love that. That would look good on a t-shirt.
Turn that puddle into a pool. I love it.

Carly Button: Amen.

Host: Yeah. Carly, what is negative self-talk? You
know, I was just putting some notes together for today. And I wanted to ask you
about that. What is that and what are some of the ways that we can work on
negative self-talk?

Carly Button: Yeah. So, negative self-talk is that
voice in your head that says that you're not good enough, that voice in your
head that really just, you know, has everything and anything negative and dark
to say about you and your experience in the world. And for a lot of people that
takes over and negative self-talk comes from anxiety and it comes from wanting
to be prepared for things. It's not a bad thing sometimes, like having that
voice in the back of your head, but it's being able to have a relationship with
it where it doesn't take over and acknowledging it while being in control.

And so, some ways that I have this little sheet in front of
me that I live to to use with some residents and clients that I've had in the
past for when they're having-- and I even do this with myself when I'm having
really big thoughts and part of it involves drawing a little triangle. And
then, the left corner of the triangle, you write what the thought is that
you're having in the moment. So, let's say, "I'm worrying about my
finances" or "I'm worried if this person will text me back" or
some things like that. And then, the top part of the triangle, you'd write down
what feelings you're having, all of the different feelings.

And so, let's say I'm talking about my finances. I'm feeling
anxious, feeling stressed. I'm worried, I'm sad, I'm scared, blah, blah, blah,
blah. And then, the next point of the triangle is the most important part. And
it says two different things. One, it says, what can I do in this moment to
help me? And a lot of the times, you know, if you're up late at night and
you're having these negative thoughts, or you're worrying about X, Y, and Z,
nine times out of 10, there's really not much that you can actually do in the
moment. But sometimes there is, you know, maybe there's a job you can apply
for, maybe there's somebody that you can go give a call to. So, you do those
things and then you ask yourself, "How is this useful? How is focusing on
this thought helping me in this moment?" And like I said, maybe you could
argue that it's good for me to be thinking these kind of things right now because
it helps me be safe, or blah, blah, blah, blah. But, like I said, nine times
out of 10, the conclusion that you'll get to is, "No, it's not helping me
in this moment. While I'm up late at night and I'm trying to go to sleep, this
is not the time for me to be worrying about X, Y, and Z, or thinking about
every bad thing that I've ever did since I was in second grade."

Host: Yeah. It's a tackle in any one night, isn't it?

Carly Button: Absolutely. And that's when it loves to
come out the most.

Host: Of course. Right.

Carly Button: So, that's kind of using DBT and CBT in
a way, like being able to ride the wave and identify the thought while it
happens and do some opposite action too.

Host: That's awesome.

Kory Silva: A hundred percent. I feel like the
negative self-talk is all about like learned behaviors. I mean, I know for me,
I'm a really big negative self-talker. Like it's just a part of my experiences
in the world and I'm hypercritical of myself and I'm a perfectionist. I like to
get things done and I have extremely unrealistic high standards for myself and
for everything that I do.

Carly Button: Ditto.

Kory Silva: And because of that, you know, I really
struggled with the negative self-talk until I started working with Kristin
Neff's self-compassion workbook and books. There's a whole bunch of stuff on
Kristin Neff. It's just really understanding that the negative core beliefs
that we may have of ourselves, one, they're a learned behavior, they're based
on perception. But also two, like most people, like we have things about
ourselves that we don't like, we have done things that we regret. And we have
to remember that part of being human is to kind of suffer and to kind of go
through those processes. But we have to remember that in order for us to be
authentic and to get rid of this negative self-talk and these negative core
beliefs, we have to stop judging ourselves for having these thoughts to begin
with, because it's a learned behavior. You don't come out of the womb like,
"Hey, don't love me," you know what I mean?

Carly Button: I love that. I'll just add too, you
know, like I said, a lot of the work that I do is in existentialism. And so,
they say that we have to have suffering and darkness and these negative
thoughts, because it's what gives the good and the light value and reason. And
so, a lot of the times too, and I'm having clients or even myself in the
negative self-talk and in the dark zone, you think about things like the law of
rhythm, I love, and it's one of the laws of the universe, it says what goes up
must come down. So in those dark moments when you're having all of depression
thoughts come up or the darkness, that this is temporary, I won't be here
forever and that's okay.

Host: Right. Wondering, Kory, are there some mantras
or words of wisdom you teach residents? I'm sure there are. I feel like you've
got-- you know, a pool to a pond and all that. Maybe you can share some of them
as we get close to wrapping up here.

Kory Silva: I am very non-traditional in my way of
teaching and in my way of doing things. I am not a cookie cutter person. So, I
firmly believe that we're going to use mantras. They should be in your
language, and they should be something that's believable for you. You know,
when we feel like we're a horrible, disgusting human being, saying, "I am
worthy and I am loved" might not be for you. We might not be there yet. So
for me, I believe that mantras need to go at a kind of a pace where it's like,
if the original thought is "I suck," then maybe the second one is
like, "I'm not that bad" or "It could be worse."

One of my personal mantras, it's like, "It ain't that
deep." It ain't that deep. Is it going to change my, you know, safety or
financial status or happiness or whatever it is? No, probably not. Because
luckily, like I afford my life on my own. I don't need nobody because these
four walls are mine and I pay for them, and that's okay, right? And I struggle
sometimes with anger issues because I'm slightly dramatic and always kind of in
a little bit of a fight-flight-freeze response, right? So, one of my other
favorite mantras is like, "Don't catch a case." Because sometimes,
you know, people be trying you on the streets, you know what I mean?

Carly Button: That they do. They do be trying.

Kory Silva: So, it's like don't catch a case. You
know what I mean?

Carly Button: Love it. I'll add, I can hear you
giving me some good Beyoncé quotes in the back of my head.

Kory Silva: I got you, boo.

Carly Button: Amazing. And I'll add for me too, big
one has been for me in general has just been "I'm safe" because your
body, when we're having anxiety or anger, what have you, it's your body
reacting to a state of panic and fear or danger. So, reminding yourself your body
is safe, you're here, you're not having a bear chase you in the woods, your
amygdala brain doesn't need to take over right now. I got this and I'm in
control. I also have on my computer, just in a little sticky note, so I get to
look at it every day, "The universe is bringing good things my way and I
am already thankful for them. wildest dreams are coming true, and I'm in the
right place at the right time."

Host: Yeah.

Kory Silva: And she does actually speak that way,
like I can vouch for that.

Host: She only speaks in mantras.

Kory Silva: Yes, a little bit. Yeah. Sometimes I'm
like, "You need to take a seat, honey. Thank you."

Carly Button: And then, I do a little witch finger
and then I run away.

Host: I feel like we could do an entire podcast just
on the importance of Beyoncé and her lyrics in people's lives. We'll try to
talk to Jasmine. Maybe we can do that some other time. This has been really
helpful and fun today. I love this run that we've been on with Sierra Tucson,
having two guests at a time where we can have some real conversations and kind
of roll up our sleeves a little bit. Obviously, there's a lot of work to be
done during those 30 days, but good to know always that residents there, that
clients there, have folks like yourselves and your diverse and amazing
backgrounds and your mantras and Beyoncé and all that good stuff. So, I just
want to thank you both. Nice meeting you, nice speaking with you today. You
both stay well.

Kory Silva: Thank you.

Carly Button: Thank you.

Host: And for more information, go to And if you find this podcast to be helpful, please share it
on your social channels. And be sure to check out the full podcast library for
additional topics of interest. This is Let's Talk: Mind, Body, Spirit from Sierra
Tucson. I'm Scott Webb. Stay well.