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“My interest in working with people with mental health or substance use issues goes way back to high school, when I worked at a summer camp for disadvantaged inner-city kids,” said Catherine Ulrich Milliken, LCSW, LADC, CCS. This early experience at the Trailblazers Camp in southeastern Pennsylvania started Milliken on a career path that has brought her to her current role as program director at one of McLean Hospital’s Signature Addiction Recovery Programs, Borden Cottage, a residential addiction treatment facility in Camden, Maine.
After studying psychology in college, Milliken became an Outward Bound instructor and led groups of troubled teens on 30-day trips. She then veered from her career path for a few years.
“I got the travel bug,” she said, explaining that she moved to Colorado to become a “ski bum” and work in the resort industry. In her late 20s, she realized that she still had a passion for helping others, so she enrolled at Smith College to pursue a master’s degree in clinical social work.
A move to Portland, Maine, after graduate school led her to a job working with individuals with a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS. “It was in that work that I began to see a lot of people with substance use disorders, and I developed both an interest and a concern for those people,” she reported. That interest brought her to Crossroads, a provider of addiction and behavioral health services. Beginning as a clinician and moving up to director of the outpatient department, Milliken developed a passion for gender-specific women’s treatment.
“Women are very relational, and they usually take on multiple roles in their lives,” Milliken explained. “I enjoyed helping women navigate both the joys and the stressors of those multiple roles and relationships.”
Building on this work, Milliken moved to New Hampshire, where she ran the addiction treatment program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Milliken helped develop the hospital’s addiction program by working with addicted pregnant women. “This was a tough population to work with,” she said. “I was very passionate about the work, and I’m very proud of that time of my life.”
Now back in Maine and working for McLean, Milliken has reaffirmed her commitment to helping others—and finding new challenges. In addition to developing and coordinating a wide range of programs and services at Borden Cottage, she is training with the International Society of Substance Use Professionals on a substance use curriculum. Once certified, she will be able to train others to help those with addiction issues. “In some parts of the world, you will go to jail or be killed if you have a substance abuse issue, so it’s very important that we train people globally to provide treatment,” Milliken said.
Throughout her career, Milliken has looked for new challenges, new roles, and new ways to make a difference. “Some populations are ‘high barrier-low resource,’ and others are ‘low barrier-high resource,’ but mental illness and addiction are the great levelers,” she said. “Part of what’s kept me energized in my career has been in finding another population to work with and bringing the skills and tools that I have to a new environment.”
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