Retreat offering new LGBT treatment option

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Saturday, July 4
BRATTLEBORO -- For 175 years, the Brattleboro Retreat has remained in business by staying one step ahead of the rest of the mental health field.

Next week, the psychiatric hospital continues in that tradition by opening a new inpatient mental health and addiction treatment program designed exclusively for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender patients.

The new unit, which will be housed on its own floor in the Tyler building and will include 16 beds, is the first of its kind in New England and one of only a handful in the country.

"We are doing this because it is consumer driven. People out there are telling us they want something like this," explained Dr. Julie Praus, the medical director for the specialized program that will help LGBT individuals with their addiction and mental health counseling. "We want to provide services to people who feel they are not getting the care they need. There are people who feel like their needs are not being met."

The unit will open Tuesday, July 7.

The clients who choose to enter the new LGBT program will receive the same psychiatric care that is offered throughout the rest of the Retreat.

All of the doctors and support staff have specialized training in working with the LGBT community, said Praus, who is transgender.

"We know what it is like. We know their struggles," said Praus. "We know what they are talking about."

Praus has been practicing psychiatry for 20 years and moved from Minnesota after she was hired to direct the new program.

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She is quick to stress that there is no connection between sexual orientation and mental health or addiction.

But for some who might be coming from a community where their orientation is an issue, challenges with depression and substance abuse could worsen from the rejection they might be going through.

In the new LGBT unit at the Retreat, Praus said, those patients will be treated with the respect and sensitivity needed to encourage recovery.

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"Great psychiatry is great psychiatry and great psychiatric care is great psychiatric care," said Praus. "But it is easier to accept treatment from people who get them and they are in turn more invested in the treatment."

The Retreat started considering the unit about a year ago when officials there thought about ways the hospital could expand its services.

After hearing about similar programs in California, Florida and Minnesota, Retreat staff decided to start its own LGBT unit in Brattleboro.

Retreat director of marketing and communication Julia Sorensen said the hospital is attracting attention from mental health professionals around the country.

In the coming months the hospital is also going to introduce a program serving uniformed workers, such as police officers, firefighters and military personnel.

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"We are expanding and growing. We were looking for a niche we could serve and this was one of them." Sorenson said. "People want to be in a culturally specific unit and that's what we're providing."

Sorenson likened the new unit to any other hospital program that stresses its cultural identity.

A devout Catholic might choose a Catholic hospital and an Orthodox Jew might want to be treated by doctors who share his or her faith.

Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders in New England now have an option to work with doctors and be among other patients like them while trying to heal.

The Retreat will be advertising the new program in LGBT publications as well as with traditional health care media.

Sorenson said the hospital was committed to keeping the unit open as interest and awareness grows.

"People will be coming here for the same reasons they come to the Retreat in general," she said. "They are coming to receive care for their mental illness or addiction and when you have these issues you want to be fully understood and in an environment that is culturally affirming. A unit like this would not have happened 25 years ago. Part of being a successful organization is being able to adopt to what is in the world and that is a continuing process."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.


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