Anniversary Blogs Recovery Service Treatment

Nick Riefner: Recovery Mentor

Nick Riefner is one of our beloved Recovery Mentors. He has been with Visions since 2011. Nick spends his time at our Residential and Outpatient facilities, carrying with him a sincere, honest dedication to working with teens. Coupled with his passion for being of service, his genuine kindness and a commitment to quality care, Nick  is someone to celebrate.  He’s playful when he needs to be; he’s serious when he needs to be, and he has a keen ability to relate to the clients in a way that they can genuinely relate to. Working with teens is an adventure; Nick is skillful at navigating the terrain with a sense of humor and relatability. Nick not only cares for the teens he works with, he shows the same level of compassion for those he works with every day. For Nick Riefner, helping others is more than a job; it’s lifestyle.


Check out what some of the staff had to say when I asked them about Nick:


“It is an absolute honor working with Nick. I met him when I walked into Latigo for my first night shift and he immediately made me feel comfortable. There’s just something about him- everyone loves him. I’ve learned a lot from Nick and so have the clients. He’s a prime example of what recovery looks like.” Ashley Harris 

Nick is an amazing recovery mentor because of his passion for his work and ability to relate to clients. He openly acknowledges that recovery is a day by day process, which helps clients see the silver lining of their storm cloud. – Corinn McWhinnie


The moment I met Nick I knew he was special. He is a calming, kind, and supportive soul. One of Nick’s best qualities is his ability to level a room with his passion and sincerity. Nick truly has what it takes to work with teens. Every day when I get to work, Nick is right there checking in to see if I need any help. I feel honored to work with such a great guy whom I trust and depend on.  – Noelle Rodriguez, Psy.D

“Dude… that’s gnarly bro”!!  When talking to the kids about an issue that they are having a rough time with in their lives. And that language the kids get, they 100% relate to what Nick is saying and he is being genuine and real. – Koreema J. Walden, MA., MFTI


And last, but certainly not least are Nick’s answers to Visions 10 questions:


1: Sand, Sea, or Surf?


2: What made you decide to work with adolescents?

I decided to work with adolescents because my journey and experience began when I was an adolescent.

3: Would you rather be Gonzo or the Cookie Monster?

Cookie Monster all the way.

4: What is your favorite way to give back?

My favorite way to give back is listening to someone who needs to be heard or who wants to be heard.

5: Who inspires you and how are you like them?

Who I am inspired by would definitely be my co-workers.  I strive to carry out the same love and compassion given to both myself and the residents in my personal life on a daily basis.

6: Would you rather have Morgan Freeman narrate your life or have Chuck Norris narrate your life?

Morgan Freeman.

7: A nice cuppa tea or a locally sourced pour-over?

Locally sourced coffee for sure.

8: What superhero power do you have?

My secret super power is I can instantly make roller skates appear on whomever I want.

9: What piece of advice would you offer someone scared and newly sober?

I would suggest they embrace the possibility that change might be a good thing and to learn how to start embracing love.  Especially for themselves.

10: Why do you choose to work for Visions?

I choose to work at Visions because I feel the care given to clients and the dedication to seeing they are set up for a successful life are amazing. Most of all, the care for given to each other not only as coworkers but as family can’t be found anywhere else.



Anniversary Blogs Recovery

Susan “The Art Lady” O’Connor, B.A. – Art Therapist

Susan O’Conner, aka The Art Lady, has been with Visions since the very beginning. She is literally part of the foundational framework of our residential and outpatient facilities. Susan is also the creator of Art as a Language—a means of using art to “tap the unconscious, release blocked emotions, face vulnerabilities, and acknowledge addictions.” Using art in this way allows our teens to viscerally and tangibly access the underbelly of their emotions in a way that is healing and liberating. Susan is all heart:  she is creative and kind, of service, and full of healing energy. Susan is  lovingly known as the Art Lady in many recovery environments, having worked in recovery for a decade. Her signature paint-splattered overalls are an indelible symbol of love and heart. We are beyond blessed to have Susan in our midst.The staff completely agrees:

“What an original and special gift Susan brings to Visions.  You can see this whenever she arrives at our facilities, as the kids all yell out excitedly, “ART LADY!”  She has such an amazing ability to bring out the unconscious creative faculties of the clients, allowing them expression of difficult and otherwise unreachable emotions.  She clearly cares about our clients and helping them on their journey of healing.  To see Susan in action is to see love itself at work.  We are lucky to have her in our Visions family.” – Joseph Rogers

“Art lady: Charisma, charm and creativity sum her up!” – Heather Colligan

“You could never run out of things to say about Susan the “Art Lady.”  Susan brings creativity to Wednesday nights and truly adds so much to our program.  The clients love working with her and she spreads positivity whenever she is here.  In addition to taking care of the kids’ creative voices, she is in tune with the staff’s need to also express ourselves; she often hosts workshops just for us!  These past 10 years working with Susan have truly been a gift.  Thanks, Susan!” – Chris and Amanda Shumow

There’s more! Read on for Susan’s answers to our questions. She never ceases to amaze, really:

1: What is your favorite artistic medium?

It changes quite regularly.  Some favorites are collage – paper and
fabric,  painting with acrylics,  painting with gouache, clay people,
and printmaking, to name a few.  Right now it is small clay people in
all sorts of different positions (mostly making social or political
statements) that I quietly put out on the streets, wall, stop signs…

2: Were you always encouraged to follow your artistic path?

Some, but it never mattered.  Even as a small child, I drew all my
feelings.  I am good at science too – and I like it, so those that
wanted me to get a “real job” thought I should go in that direction.
Needless to say…

3: Where do you go for peace and quiet?

My garden… I sit by my herbs in my garden with any kind of art supply.
So easy to be calm and creative with lavender, rosemary, lemon balm
and basil filling the air.  The birds like it when I am out there too.

4: You work with adolescents as well as adults, how are they different in terms of their application of artistic expression?

Adolescents are much more available and still have a bit of hope. My goal is to let them experience the language of color and shape and possibility. Besides, I really like teens.  They may be angry but have not yet turned to adult bitterness. Adults require more sensitivity in getting out of their perceived safe heads that are cemented in denial.  Most have been addicts for a long time.

They are both fragile groups of people and require a tender solution-oriented touch. Art never lies, so it cracks open even the toughest egg and that can be frightening. My hope is that this new way of expression will help them access the deep profound words that have eluded them for so long.

5: If you were stranded on an island, who or what would you want as company?

My stone-carver husband, our children and grandchildren, lots of art
supplies, a few musical instruments oh, and I guess a way to grow

6: What would you do if you ever stopped painting and drawing?

I would die.

7: Where do you feel most at home?

My studio in the little retro trailer we call home – and always with
recovering addicts.

8: What makes you laugh out loud?

My funny husband and very funny grandkids… they are my life’s blood.

9: Spring, Summer, Autumn, or Winter?

I actually love all the colors, smells and feelings of all the different seasons.  If I have to pick one, it is Fall.  My babies were born in October and I travel back to those times every year.  I also got clean and sober in October.  A very special month.

10: Why do you choose to work for Visions?

I remain honored to have worked for Visions since the beginning. Their philosophy of treating the adolescents with dignity, in turn teaches the kids self respect and respect for others. They are Twelve Step Program oriented.  I truly enjoy all these young people, and
their funny humor and crazy music.  I am amazed at the openness and willingness they have to understand that Art is truly a Language. Additionally, I think the staff is a committed, supportive, kind group of people that work very hard at understanding the teen mind.

Anniversary Blogs Recovery

Katie Mason, MA, LMFT – Residential Therapist

Katie Mason has been providing therapeutic care for our families since 2007, and she continues to be one of Visions’ Primary Therapists. When Katie joined our team five years ago, she did so with over 10 years of experience working with dual-diagnosis adults and adolescents, substance abuse cases, eating disorders, and suicide prevention. Her contribution to the Visions family and her approach to treatment has created an invaluable foundation for our families to rely upon—Katie is as part of the Visions framework and we are extremely fortunate and grateful to have her in our midst. We really do have a remarkable team.

Check out what some of our V-team has to say!

“Katie is a very intuitive therapist, and a great co-worker.” – Heather Colligan

“Katie Mason joined us several years ago and has been wowing us ever since.  Her therapeutic skills have helped touch the lives of so many of our clients.  Katie’s passion to become an even better clinician has led her to a Ph.D program, where she spends one weekend a month with her “student” hat on.  This type of desire to learn and continue to grow is just one of the ways Katie models the behaviors we want to see in our clients.  So many girls look to Katie as an example of a woman in recovery who gives everything her all.  Katie is also a sounding board for so many of us, providing insight and support during the more difficult days.  We love Katie!!” – Amanda and Chris Shumow

Katie was, of course, subjected to our usual 10-question fun. Her responses are particularly fantastic. I’m noticing a definite musical pattern emerging amongst our Visions team. Read on!

1: What inspires you to work with adolescents?

I’m guessing you’re looking for an answer other than, “because I still feel like one.”  I feel honored to be a part of my client’s journey of developing their sense of self, increasing their self-worth at a time when typically there is so little, and helping them to see how really cool and talented they are.

2: What time of year do you like best?

SUMMER!!!!  I guess that confirms that I’m still just a teenager at heart.

3: Do you play any instruments? If so, which and for how long?

I sing, so if you count my voice as an instrument, all my life.  I come from a long line of performing family members, and music is one of my favorite therapies!!  You can also add to that, the guitar for about a minute when I was a teenager, and, something that I would never admit to, except that there is photo evidence of me in my brownie uniform playing…………..the accordion (shhhhh, don’t tell anyone)

4:  What did you want to be when you grew up?

A Star.  I wanted to act, dance and sing.  I had some opportunities, but I’m a chicken, horrible stage fright.  It all worked out great though, if it’s possible, I think I love what I actually do even more.  Besides, this way I get to embarrass my daughter and my animals with my singing and dancing around the house.

5:  If you could travel in time, where would you go?

The Renaissance era.  I’m a true romantic at heart and love the chivalry and fashion of that time.  For music though, any era from the 50’s forward.

6: What would you consider your greatest accomplishment thus far?

My daughter.  I often minimize my impact on the amazing young woman she is becoming because she has always just been this incredible person.  But the more I see myself in her, I have to acknowledge that I might’ve had something to do with it.

7: What is the best advice you’ve ever received about providing therapy to adolescents and families?

Diversify and maintain self-care.  Someone once told me, that in order to remain passionate about working with adolescents, you need to make sure that half your practice is with a different population.  Self-care is important with all populations, and something I’m still working on.

8: Are you a morning person or a night owl?

Night owl for sure.  I don’t have a personality, or much of a brain for that matter, before 9 am.

9: What steps to you take for self-care?

Like I said, I’m still working on that.  I have great support; family, friends, therapy, but making time for all those is another story.  Regular exercise and spa days are fabulous in theory, I’m working on making them more of a reality.

10: Why do you choose to work for Visions?

Wow, this answer could take pages.  If I had to give you a short answer, I would say, because I don’t feel like I’m working FOR Visions.  I feel like I am a part of Visions, a part of something that values individuality, integrity, creativity, passion, and most importantly laughter………..a true love of life.



Noelle Rodriguez, Psy.D. – Outpatient Therapist

Noelle Rodriguez. Psy.D, is one of our primary therapists at our Outpatient program. She is truly an incredible woman who carries the essence of recovery and compassion in her bones. I have often said that if I were a troubled teen, Noelle would be my mentor. She truly cares about those she works with and does it with a divine mix of tough love and compassion—maintaining those boundaries a struggling teen so desperately needs. Noelle is a wonderful example of someone who has dedicated her life to service. She persistently gives back that which has been given to her—tenfold—always leading by example with either service work or the need for self-care.  Guided by her heart and operating with a high level of intellect, Dr. Rodriguez has quickly become and integral piece in the Visions family.  We are beyond grateful to have her in our midst—both the kids and the staff benefit greatly from her influence.

Of course, the staff has some amazing things to say. Read on:

“My work wife is the bestest!   Big smile, bigger heart, we are so lucky to work with her!” – Jesse Engdahl

“Noelle is one of the most relaxed and confident people I have met, the perfect combination for a therapist. I have found myself in her office numerous times, just to take in some of her “mom” energy. She is a source of great comfort for our students, who clearly gravitate toward her centered nature.” Joseph Rogers

“Noelle has quickly become an integral part of the Visions family. Noelle is always ready to help and support our clients and families at the drop of a hat. It is a pleasure to work side by side with Noelle.” – John Lieberman

“Dr. Rodriguez seamlessly joined our team and has added so much in a short period of time!  We have known Noelle for years through shared recovery experiences, and have been amazed at her ability to take her knowledge from personal recovery and integrate it into treating our dual-diagnosis clients.  Her education and past experiences have more than prepared her for our most interesting cases.  Noelle’s compassion and love for what she does shines through on a daily basis.  She connects with the clients and provides a guide for the family in its entirety.  We are so happy to have her onboard!” – Chris and Amanda Shumow

Let’s not forget those quirky queries we love to ask! Read on for Noelle’s interesting answers:

1: What inspired you to become a clinical psychologist?

My mom, she was a therapist, she believed in me. My therapist was a huge influence as well.

2: Are you a morning or night person?

Love to get up early before anyone else and walk on the beach. Problem is I love to stay up late and watch old movies…eeek!

3: Do you prefer the heat of the summer, the chill of winter, the breeze of spring, or the scent of fall?

Winter, spring is my favorite time. Love to bundle up and take walks, love to see the earth waking up in spring.

 4. What’s your favorite book?

I’ve been reading psych books for so long I don’t remember any more! I’ll get back to you on that one.

5: What literary character do you identify with the most?

Huckleberry Finn…troubled, wise, kind, funny, loving, misunderstood.

6: If you could time travel, where would you go and why?

To go see my kids, one is at Loyola in Chicago, the other one is at Humboldt State, they’re my heart and soul.

7: What’s your guilty pleasure?

Eating in bed late at night with my sweetie.

8: How do you incorporate self-care into your busy schedule?

I really do like to exercise, just don’t always have the time…even if its in my care I take time to breathe.

9: Favorite place to eat in Los Angeles?

 My sister’s, amazing cook…lots of laughter always.

10: Why do you choose to work for Visions?

Love the family atmosphere, my co-workers are amazing people, supportive kind, funny, loving I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I appreciate the Shumows’ work in the community and how it sets an intentional culture within the workplace.

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