I remember my heartbreak so intensely. My brother had attempted to sever his own throat. That was the first time my brother attempted suicide. I took him to a premier hospital. They insisted on discharging him the next day. I searched for a place that could help him. Though my resolve was relentless, I could not help but come away empty-handed. The options were another hospital or nothing.
It was 1981 when I lost my brother to his second suicide attempt due to a mix of benzodiazepines and alcohol. The loss of my beloved brother and my own childhood trauma- stemming from the death of my mother-drove my professional mission: to adequately treat people with acute mental health difficulties and addiction issues. I believed then as I do now that every suicide is preventable. Every half can become whole again with a tender hand and a dedicated community. That is Creative Care.
In 1989 we opened our first facility. We became the first entity in Southern California to uncover, identify, and treat the underlying issues and trauma while simultaneously treating addiction. Creative Care thrives today because of a team we call family. My gratitude is endless. Finally, I ask that none of us forget the difference a loving and brave community can make to the world.
Morteza Khaleghi, PhD, LMFT
Founder and CEO
Dr. Karen Khaleghi received her PhD in clinical psychology from the California Graduate Institute in 1989. Dr. Karen is the co-founder of Creative Care as well as our Communications and Education Director for the past 25 years. She has worked in many different types of clinical settings and is a speaker, educator and clinician.
Her training includes interpersonal relationships, psychodynamics, self-psychology and early childhood development. Dr. Karen’s passion is the formation of Substance Use Disorder and has co-authored 2 books educating people on the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of addiction. She calls this process “connecting the dots”.
Q.Did you grow up in an alcoholic home?
A.Yes. My father, grandfather, grandmother and great-grandfather were all alcoholics. Legend has it that in the late 1800’s, my great grandmother actually left Ireland due to her husband’s drinking and took her 3 kids and came to America by herself. My father drank my whole life growing up; no outside family members were allowed in. I became the parentified middle child where I took care of everybody and was ‘perfect’. My mother was extremely co-dependent. My 2 brothers were both on drugs while I was growing up. For my older brother it was primarily alcohol and he got sober in his mid-30’s through the 12 steps after his wife confronted him on his drinking. My younger brother is still out there and does any and all drugs he can get his hands on; he was a dealer when we were younger. My mom ended up leaving when I was 17, and by the time I was 18, I was completely on my own. I did not even attend my own graduation; I just finished high school and went to work. When my little sister turned 12, I became her legal guardian. My dad was not present at all; he was continually blacking out from drinking. I worked and took care of my sister and then when my sister turned 13, she started smoking pot and left school. I sold everything I owned and started community college. I was fortunate enough to always wrangle paying jobs in the field and would work graveyard shifts and then go to school the next day. My family life had started to completely disintegrate in high school when my parents moved us away from my grandparents.
Q.Did that influence your decision in your career choice?
A.Definitely. I did my dissertation on alcoholism! When I was in the 10th grade, I took my first Psychology class. I always knew and felt that there were underlying issues driving someone’s addictions and that there could be some kind of solution.
Q.When did you first know you wanted to receive your PhD in Psychology?
A.I knew I wanted to get my PhD from an early age. Even though my grandfather was an alcoholic, he was different to me. He acted as my guiding light. He was abandoned at an early age and I spent a lot of time with him before we moved. He was a good man and I wanted to know why did he drink? I wondered what made him do that. I knew I could figure it out through psychology.
Q.Did you notice a gaping hole in the system of care for addiction and psychiatric issues?
A.Yes. I worked back and forth in detox units and therapy and counseling units. I was also a research assistant in neurology and psychiatry and served as chairman for ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) Review. The ECT Review was a jumping off point for me. I thought that we can do this better. We weren’t dealing with the emotional issues at all; there was no talking about that or about trauma. I wanted to know what led up to the addiction. It was shocking to me that there would just be a change of medications with no diagnosis and no talking about it. Why were we changing the medications without figuring out what came first? I would go into the milieu in the psych unit and into padded rooms and talk to the patients- hold them, listen to them, let them cry. One of my co-workers took me aside to tell me to stop trying to talk to the patients. I said, “Just because someone is suffering does not mean they need to be treated like an animal-where’s the humanity?” I asked myself if I would want to be treated that way. People are scared of mental health issues. With addiction, we feel safe to say it’s a disease. That was a pivotal point for me to see patients locked up and in restraints.
Q.What did you think you could do about it?
A.We could do it with more knowledge and intelligence. I wanted to show them that the old way was wrong.
Q.When you first opened Creative Care, what was your greatest hope?
A.That we would be able to make an impact in people’s lives, in families’ lives and help them. I hoped we could raise the dialogue and educate people to understand there is a reason for this. We are not thrown into addiction.
Q.Do you feel you have achieved that hope?
A.No. There is so much farther to go. We are in a different place, but I see it as a continuum and a new awareness. We are steadily moving along. When people are able to see all those with emotional issues and disturbances as people who can be helped-we will have gotten there.
Q.What do you feel is your greatest success?
A.Definitely first my kids, and that I keep getting up; I am self-directed, self-motivated and resilient.
Q.What more would you like to see happen in our community as far as education?
A.My dream is for people to see the whole process of raising children differently and that parenting is an interactive process. My next book is about my theory of ‘The Hum’ and that once you identify your own hum, you can help your child to learn and understand theirs. Everyone has their own unique things that create our hum. It includes temperament, emotional DNA, and how we are soothed. We also have to understand how our hum as parents can interact with our child’s. If a parent feels inadequate or anxious, we will not be able to process with our kids. Being caught up in our own internal stuff prevents us from having that interactive process with our children. We want to bring our child to security, secure attachment and have them be healthy people. The greatest gift we can give to our child is the ability to recognize and identify their own hum. We can teach our children to know when they are upset or nervous so they understand what bothers them and how to deal with it, so they don’t self-sabotage. It helps a child to understand themselves.
Q.If you can think back to 20 years ago, do you think you could have imagined the variety of treatment centers that we have today?
A.It does not surprise me. I knew that what we did, did not work. There were such limited options; I knew the field was going to change. But, one of the hardest things for me is my younger’s brothers addiction. It is so difficult for me to know that in all likelihood, he will probably die from addiction. I know that I cannot help him, but I can help others.