The following are letters and testimonials from families we have worked with. They are presented here without edit, except to remove names and other identifying information.
The only way to start this sentiment is by saying plain and clear that without PJ Mannion, with the help of the rest of the therapy team and staff, I would not be here. If somehow I made it through, I wouldn’t be close to a facsimile of the man I am today. When it all comes down to it I can say with certainty that this program saved my life. After approximately two years of the “best intensive therapy money can buy”, nothing had clicked. I did not care about sobriety, I did not care who I was, I didn't have an identity I was proud of, I lied constantly, and I wouldn’t talk to my parents. When I went to VCS, I was planning on staying one or two months, my family needed to put me to transition before college, by the end of that first month, I knew I had to stay. I knew PJ was the person I needed, even though I would never have admitted it out loud. He showed me what I had become in a way no one had before. Instead of telling me what was wrong with me, quoting the DSM or speaking to me like a child, he challenged my every decision and allowed me to figure out what I needed to do. The first step to solving any problem is recognizing that there is one, PJ helped me do that. Whether it was a drive for sobriety or an effort to recreate myself into someone I could be proud of, PJ let me figure it out. He’s more than a therapist, hes a guide, a mentor, and someone who will genuinely care. He wants his clients to succeed. He's willing to tell you when its time to really think, and if you wont, he'll push you until you do. I thought I would never talk to my parents again, I call my mom every other day and speak to my father around the same. I hadn’t told my mother I loved her since I was like 16, now I call back to make sure she knows it if I forget. This program works, this program has the ability to transform even the most stubborn of individuals, it is an ecosystem any addict or person suffering from mental disabilities would be lucky to be a part of. It’s as simple yet as complex as that, no other way to put it.
I've been working with PJ as a therapist for over two years now and there are quite a few great things I can say about him. When it comes to the academic and intellectual aspects of therapy, PJ has all the qualifications and credentials could ask for. However, what I think really sets him apart is how he strives to achieve real interpersonal connections and takes a very active interest in what's going on in my life. One of the things I've struggled with is social engagement and there have been so many times when he's called or texted me to remind me to go to an event I mentioned, or to check up and see how something went. He has also been a mentor and motivator for me, which has been huge as someone who struggles with having “activation energy” sometimes. One anecdote which exemplifies this is when I was brand new to the program, PJ knew of a job I might like that he knew was hiring. I was waffling a bit, saying I'd call them later in the week, but he just picked up the phone and dialed the number and thrust the receiver into my hand. That's how I got a job less than one week into the program. It hasn't always been an easy road - PJ has certainly helped push me outside of my comfort zone many times. But I can safely say that I am in a much better place than when I first started the program and working with PJ.
Coming off my experience of a profoundly life changing wilderness therapy program experience, I arrived at Vista Counseling Services with a feeling of apprehension and ambivalence. I was in my mid-twenties and was energized by my wilderness experience in a way that gave me a sense that I could take on anything life had to throw at me, and I wasn’t sure there was much to gain from a transitional program like VCS. I had held down jobs and gotten by previously and figured I had done a lot of the “adult living” things with some success already in my life. I had a renewed sense of self and positive direction, and I didn’t feel like I needed much help doing things with the additional support of a program that I felt I had largely already been able to do.
With this attitude in mind, within a few days of being at VCS, I found that I was surrounded by an amazing support group of staff from the top down. I quickly recognized that even if the program itself was horrible (which did not turn out to be the case at all!), there would be a lot to gain from working with people who were knowledgeable and passionate about supporting individuals in what can ultimately be a challenging time of transition. I bonded quickly with one of those amazing people in particular, Jason Utley.
One of the strengths of the program at VCS is that it very much allows the staff the space for careful client assessment and subsequently the useful approach of meeting clients “where they’re at.” This skill is something that Jason excels in. Jason recognized where I was coming from, my recent accomplishments, and where he could best offer his support with my process. He immediately offered help in areas that were relevant to my specific goals and challenges, and he did so in a respectful, honest, and genuine way. He also offered support in a way that balanced extending a helping hand at times with giving me space to take on many other challenges on my own at others.
Working with Jason was awesome, and I feel like we connected in a personal way that was made possible by Jason’s genuine caring nature. The working relationship we developed opened my mind to fresh ideas, useful skills, and helpful insight that Jason offered regularly. I look back at my time working with Jason with significant gratitude, as I may not have been open to the support that Jason presented had our relationship not been as natural and comfortable as it was. Some of the things Jason coached me in that I feel his insight was invaluable were more “practical” life skills like money management, resume writing, and interview dress/etiquette. Others were more emotionally based like continuing to improve my relationship with my parents, working through a new and intense romantic relationship, and assessing the cost/value analysis of jobs that felt unusually unreasonable/stressful. Jason always seemed to be prepared to address whatever came up, and if he didn’t have what might be a good answer, he’d work with me to troubleshoot finding the best one.
For me and my process, Jason supported me in a lot of emotional and more practical, tangible ways, but I also saw from his interactions with other clients that Jason was not afraid to support clients through challenge and always did so in an adept way of meeting clients where they are. In recognizing these qualities in Jason, I viewed him as a mentor both in working with me in my time of transition and ultimately as a positive, caring role model in general. Soon after completing the program at VCS, I returned to the wilderness program I had graduated from to work as a field instructor. I have now been working at that program for 3 years and have spent the better part of the last year as a staff supervisor where I look to incorporate the things I learned from Jason as a supportive, invested mentor. His work with me has greatly impacted my personal and professional life, and I am genuinely thankful for the opportunity to have gone to VCS and worked with him.
Graduating from Vista 3 years ago was a much more emotional process than I had ever imagined it would be. Going into treatment was a scary process and I told myself that I would not get close to anyone, I was there to help myself and that was all... I was completely wrong.
Through the process of helping myself and breaking old habits, I grew close to the staff. As I was healing and bettering myself my mentor, Jason, really pushed me to become a better person and challenged me and my old ways. Through the new habits I learned from him, I also developed a friendship I never thought would happen. I learned a lot about life, what's important and how to be a good human from Jason. He was a great support to me and my family. I even developed a good friendship with his family.
Jason really made the transition to vista and a better life an easier process.
I was very excited to hear that Jason was going back to school and taking on a new role at Vista because I knew he would make a great therapist.
Thank you Jason for always believing in me and pushing me to be a happier and healthier person!
Our experience with family counseling with Mauri was fantastic. She had a way of getting deeper with our son and encouraging him to open up in a way that he rarely would do with us before. She also handled the crisis (inevitable ones) very well. My wife and I got the feeling that she was supportive of us, by encouraging our son to respect us as his parents, while maintaining effective rapport with him.
I also really liked the fact that she was very good at teaching young adults to get in touch with their feelings and talk about them,rather than allowing him to let his strong feelings shut him down,or cut us off. She was also very available for sessions when they were convenient for us, and was good at responding to our text messages when there were crisis between sessions. She was also willing to do Face Time sessions when we felt like being able to see our son's reactions was really important to us in maintaining connection with him.
We would very much recommend Mauri as a therapist for any young adult and their family.
Mauri Stevens is an extremely caring and dedicated professional who is truly concerned about the wellbeing of her clients. Mauri was our son’s counselor during his nine months at Vista, starting in September 2014 through June 2015. During that time, she went above and beyond the typical counselor/client realm of responsibility, often spending time with him to problem solve while holding him accountable for his outcomes. In addition to the counseling sessions, Mauri helped give him tools to move his life forward. This included encouraging him to take classes while working, creating a structure of accountability that allowed him to succeed. During his time at VCS, our son made great strides. Mauri could have easily given up on him in the early stages, but much to her credit, she stuck by him. Her dedication to him literally made all the difference to his outcome. Instead of an early failure, by sticking with him and allowing him to grow in the program, Mauri’s guidance helped our son to complete a successful semester in college while working over twenty hours a week to contribute to his living expenses. This has launched him into adulthood and independence. We are very grateful to Mauri for the dedication, care and concern she gave to our son. We believe she has made a very positive impact on his life and his future.
A. and D. Y.