Limelight: The Sanford House Therapist Interview 2


Chandeliers and leaded glass… The entryway – Sanford House at John Street for Men…


We’re back with our Limelight Series.  Asking the Sanford House therapists questions to illuminate everything from their favorite journey to what they know to be true about addiction treatment. It’s sort of a parlor game. And in fact, we have several parlors to choose from… Our treatment centers are all located in lovingly restored, historic homes in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


therapist group room John Street

Group Room Two – first floor parlor John Street for Men… Painting of Empire Bluffs by Kathy Mohl

Meet the Team…

The most important relationships our clients (and their families) will cultivate while in treatment and beyond, are those with their individual counselors and with the therapists who lead the many groups they will attend. Our goal with Limelight is to demystify addiction treatment and introduce our team of therapists. We want to share some “interesting” details about the folks our clients will be spending time with while at Sanford House.


We hope this makes the experience feel a little more personal… a little less scary.


Limelight: Claire Victoria Graves, LPC, CAADC, AcuDetox Specialist

therapist in office John Street

Claire in her office – Sanford House at John Street for Men


1. What is your treatment philosophy – those things you know to be true about addiction therapy?

I believe that addiction stems from maladaptive coping skills. I also believe that stigma is one of the greatest impediments to getting better. So, helping our clients to develop the skills to deal with triggering events, without resorting to drugs or alcohol, is vital. Honesty, and of course family can make or break a person’s recovery…

It’s about teaching the difference between large consequences and small consequences. (Sips coffee) I really like coffee, maybe a little too much, but what is the harm, the consequence, of having a few cups of coffee every morning? And for someone in recovery, the consequence of drinking or using?


2. How do you personalize your work?

The personal approach is very important. To meet each client “where they’re at”, get through to their cognitive thought processes – the story they tell themselves about themselves. I accept every client for who they are. And we create a mutual relationship.


3. Why did you become a therapist?

I had some personal mental health issues as a teenager. And I was handled so badly… Therapy felt judgmental – like I couldn’t dare to tell the truth for fear of reprisal. It made me appreciate what therapy could be. Had my therapist known how to get through to me – asked the right questions – there would have been a very different outcome.

And I have always been fascinated by how the brain works…


4. What is the key to success in recovery?

I think you have to be plugged in to the recovery community. The rest goes hand in hand with what I’ve already said. A person has to figure out where their vulnerabilities lie. Make productive choices. Find connection and help within the family system. And how they view themselves is very important. Are they feeling shame, or the effects of a disease?


5. What are the biggest pitfalls/triggers to relapse?

Number one is isolation and being afraid to ask for help. Also, failing to understand that cravings are symptoms not frailties. And, if there is a lapse – giving up instead of moving forward. Not being able to get past the shame…


6. What is the “fun” part of your job?

I spend most of my time at John Street for Men. And getting to hear the “stories” is an interesting part of my job. It always amazes me that the world is out there and things happen and we all see it so differently. In addiction treatment, co-occurring disorders are common. Culture, trauma, life experiences, etc. impact how we see things. So the holistic approach – looking at the entire person is key. We all have such different perspectives and I love that!



7. And the most challenging?

When one of my clients doesn’t believe they have the worth to get better. When shame is too great and I can’t seem to get through to them. Or when the family system is poisoned – and I feel like I might be dooming them to return to a negative environment.


8. What is your most marked characteristic?

I guess I’m “quirky”. And I try to use creativity and humor in my work (and everything I do).


9. What type of books do you like to read?

Books in my field on: shame, self-concept, perception-ism… Is it too cliche to say Brene Brown? Or the classics, like Hemingway… Wait – my favorite book is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides… that’s a great book – I’ve got to read it again…


10. What is your motto?

I’m not sure if these are mottoes, but I use these phrases a lot with my clients – and they’re words to live by…

Not my monkey, not my circus…  Good things and bad things will happen…


11. What is your favorite journey?

For eight years I have been on the roller-derby team, the Grand Raggedy Roller Girls. It’s been by far my favorite journey. I have traveled with them on the circuit, and I have learned so much. In fact, I use roller-derby as a basis for some of my process groups. The value of non-verbal communication, teamwork, getting along with women from all walks of life and keeping your eye on the prize – even when it’s tough…


12. What makes Sanford House unique in your opinion?

The culture at Sanford House allows each therapist to approach their job uniquely. In so doing, we can meet every one of our clients as separate and distinct – with truly individualized therapy.


We can help.



Sanford Behavioral Health is a residential and outpatient facility located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sanford offers excellence in evidence-based practice models in a home-like, restorative setting. Our clinicians, supported by our medical team, focus on resolving the underlying issues that often cause substance use, such as trauma, unhealthy relationships, co-occurring disorders and isolation. Programs include both in-person and telehealth: residential, day programs, intensive outpatient, outpatient, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), education and relapse prevention classes, one-on-one and family therapy, and alumni and family support groups. At Sanford, we want to inspire you to find your inner grit, rekindle your interests and engage your passion.