A Q&A with Porter McKee, LCSW with JourneyPure Fort Walton

Chris Clancy

August 7, 2019

Porter McKee, Medical Director of out JourneyPure Fort Walton, is a Licensed Clinical Social Work and Masters-level Certified Addiction Counselor. With over 20 years’ experience, working directly with chemically dependent and mental health patients—prior to joining JourneyPure, he managed the certification process for the Mississippi Department of Mental Health and the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), McKee has been at the forefront of a medical field, and an industry, in constant flux.

We sat down with McKee to chat about his counseling work, Medication-Assisted Treatment, and how his life experiences continue to inform his work.

The people coming to JourneyPure Fort Walton mostly have military backgrounds, is that correct? Can you talk about how that population is different from people with civilian backgrounds? What are some of the challenges that are unique to veterans and active military clients?

I have worked with many veterans and active service members throughout my career and have a strong respect for our military services members. Working with veterans and active service members has been the most challenging and fulfilling aspect of my career.

Military patients are often more guarded when talking about their problems. Often, they are afraid that what they say could be detrimental to their career. They are taught in the military to control their emotions and not show weakness. We have to ensure them of confidentiality to gain their trust. And some military patients have trauma associated with war or other service duties—we have to be aware of this and respect their boundaries when addressing these issues.

I’m sitting here looking at the JourneyPure Fort Walton client handbook. It’s a big book! Lots of handouts on things like Internal Trigger Charts and spirituality. Is it something you stick to very closely, or is it more just something to have around, refer to when needed? What are clients’ reactions when you hand them this big book?

We let the patients know that this is a tool that we’ll be using throughout the treatment process, but we let them know they’re not expected to work the entire workbook. We do have specific assignments the patients work on as a group and individually using the workbook. We encourage them to read through it and discuss anything that they find could be helpful to their recovery.

Of course, we also use the 12-Step model and we use the AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] and NA [Narcotics Anonymous] books for education, assignments, and discussion. We have our patients attend 12-Step meetings to gain that recovery support system.

Dr. Tim Gooden is responsible for the Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) offerings at JourneyPure Fort Walton. Can you talk at all about MAT? Does MAT seem at all strange to you, as someone who regained their sobriety “the old-fashioned way”?

I have worked with MAT patients starting in 2004 and I’ve treated many MAT patients throughout the years. Many of the people taking Suboxone today would’ve never needed addiction treatment if it weren’t for pain medication. They would not otherwise be addicted to any other drug. Many of these people have never used or abused any drug.

Remember, back in the early 1990s, the addiction community was debating the use of antidepressants. Very few doctors would prescribe antidepressants for people in recovery. There was a lot of talk about dual diagnosis patients, but doctors were afraid to prescribe antidepressants, because of the intense scrutiny and all the negative talk about them. I wonder how many people with depression and anxiety relapsed or died because of this mindset. And today we’re having the same discussion around Suboxone and MAT.

Science has proven that drugs change brain chemistry. Opium is probably the most powerful addictive drug that our society has ever encountered. In the 1990s, a lot of opium addicts died because the medical field and the science community did not understand the severity of its addictive properties and the severity of the withdrawal symptoms.

Ten years ago, most of the addiction physicians and addiction professionals I knew were against the use of Suboxone. Today, most of those same physicians are prescribing Suboxone but are still afraid to admit it. It took thousands of addicts dying all over the US for these professionals to open their minds to this new idea.

I worked in a Suboxone clinic over a year, and I conducted counseling sessions for 14 months with patients in the program. I met with them every time they saw the doctor. I watched them come in hurting physically, mentally, and emotionally from their withdrawal symptoms, and I counseled and monitored their progress throughout their MAT treatment, and I observed the patents getting stable on a particular dose of Suboxone and then titrating down to lesser dose. Some patients discontinued the Suboxone altogether, and some patients chose to remain stable on 2mg to 8mg of Suboxone per day. Every Suboxone patient I worked with described not having cravings.

I still believe that total abstinence is best for most people coming into addiction treatment, but I’ve witnessed people taking Suboxone and living happy productive lives.

What do you consider your specialties, as a counselor?

My experience of working with addicted patients has challenged me to work with almost every mental health diagnosis. I specialize in working with trauma and dual diagnosis patients.

Many of our patients have issues with anxiety and depression. Many of our addiction patients have experienced some trauma in their lifetime. Many report experiencing sexual abuse.

I specialize in working with patients in detox, inpatient, and outpatient. Knowing about acute withdrawal and Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms [PAWS] is extremely important, I have to be able to recognize when patients are struggling and need to see the doctor for evaluation and treatment.

In an earlier conversation, you mentioned that one of your “selling points” as a licensed counselor is your firsthand experience with addiction. Can you talk about that, and why it’s helpful for those in early recovery?

I have been clean and sober over 29 years. I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. By the age of 22, I had dropped out of college and lost a football scholarship and a baseball career because of marijuana and alcohol abuse. At age 24, my disease had progressed to IV-intravenous cocaine and narcotic drug use. The disease of addiction had me totally dependent on alcohol and drugs. It had rendered me helpless. I was totally dependent on others for money, food, and shelter.

In 1987, I was admitted into an addiction treatment program. The people at that center saved my life. As a result of that experience, I have devoted my life to helping individuals and families with addiction problems.

My experience of being raised by an alcoholic in a dysfunctional family helps me to better understand the alcoholic/addict family system. Learning about my own family’s dysfunction has helped me to better educate, motivate, and empower patients and family members to break the dysfunctional cycle.

Having lived through the experience of my dysfunctional family and my own personal addiction, I have a unique understanding of how it feels. Going through my own recovery experience helps me to understand the struggles and pitfalls that people in recovery face.

I try meeting the patient where they are in their own situation. Everyone’s experience is unique, and I never assume I know how they feel.

Find Help at JourneyPure Fort Walton

If you need help for a substance use disorder, do not wait any longer. Reach out to JourneyPure Fort Walton to get the support you need to begin your recovery.