On any given day, you’ll find Chad Foster ’17, G’18, lead site therapist for SaVida Health in Bennington, Vermont, counseling between six and 10 patients under SaVida’s medically assisted treatment (MAT) program, which combines the use of “agonist” medications (to take the edge off cravings) and psychotherapy. He also works with providers and doctors to tailor patients’ treatment, and with upper management on procedural and policy changes.
“We’re very passionate about what we do and make sure patients are not just receiving the medications; it’s also about finding what the underlying issue may be,” Foster says. “I work with my patients in trying to figure out how their past traumas could have perpetuated them to start their drug use. I look at it like an onion: There are many layers to work through to find the real issue.”
He adds, “I’ve also never experienced the amount of family violence, pedophilia, and historical molestation seen here – the historical pieces people don’t talk about, especially in Vermont.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Foster counsels patients remotely, via telemedicine or phone.
“It took a bit of time to make it work, but it’s been successful on my end,” he says, adding that people call him “Tinker” because of his ability to find resourceful solutions. “You’re at a disadvantage not being able to read mannerisms, but I’ve increased my senses in other areas, becoming more in tune with certain emotional cues, tones, etc.”
Social work, the perfect multitool
Foster’s big challenge these days is finding qualified, compassionate therapists.
“Clinicians, therapists, mental-health professionals are dropping like flies because of the mental strain from the pandemic fatigue,” he says. “We’ve lost people because they couldn’t take the load. I do my best to be a team player and pick up the slack.”
And there are the patient losses. “I’ve lost a lot of patients this year to COVID and to overdoses,” says Foster. “I’m learning to deal with that. You don’t become any less sympathetic or empathetic, but you don’t cry quite as long. You acknowledge their passing, and perhaps find an opportunity to use it as an example to help other patients.”
Foster himself is in recovery (18 years clean and counting), which has a lot to do with his career path. “I’ve been through a lot – violence, the whole thing – but I was always fairly good with people, de-escalating situations,” he explains. “When I was in recovery, I decided, ‘Maybe I should do something with this.’
“The old version of me changed into having a passion and heart to want to help people with my ability to strategize and figure out what might be ailing them, which I was doing on a day-to-day basis anyway. It just came naturally.”
In 2015, Foster graduated from Hudson Valley Community College with an associate degree in substance abuse and addiction counseling and a near-perfect GPA. But he wanted more – specifically, to understand the complex forces behind mental health. His academic counselor persuaded him to apply for a scholarship.
“I had a lot of options based on my academic prowess, but I’m so glad I made the choice to go to Saint Rose,” says Foster, who started at Saint Rose as a transfer student to finish his BS in Social Work. “Social work hits on so many facets: not only therapeutics but also family dynamics, resources and community, having empathy and sympathy, being understanding – I felt like I had a Swiss Army knife that met all those needs.”
“I was a guy who’s been beating fist to faces for a very long time, and I came to this line in the sand: Keep hurting people or start helping people. I decided to cross it.”
Turning anger into passion
Born in South Korea to a white U.S. military service member and a Mongolian mother, Foster was adopted by his grandparents and raised in Averill Park.
“It was a very white area, and I was made fun of so badly for being Asian. I won’t lie: I carried some resentment,” says Foster. “I was like, ‘I’ll show you.’ I sure showed myself what I was capable of – and not in a good way. But I’d like to consider all of it as an experience that helped me get where I am today.”
Never a good student as a child, Foster had become an academic overachiever who powered through his MSSW at Saint Rose via the accelerated advanced standing program.
“It was 18 credits in 12 weeks, while I was working full time and taking care of my father before he passed away,” says Foster. “It was a blur.”
He reveres Saint Rose’s social work “trifecta:” Janet Acker, Maureen Rotondi, and former visiting professor Deborah Reyome. “They were great, very respectful of me, an older adult going back to school,” he says.
“In the mental health field, you start to figure out your own stuff. I wanted to be the bad guy in the room because I had been treated like the little guy for so long. That changed after my attending Saint Rose.”
When he started at Saint Rose, Foster says he thought he knew everything about addiction and mental health. “I was used to being the tough guy. Nobody could tell me anything,” he says.
“I had a wounded-healer approach, which means you talk all about yourself so patients open up,” Foster explains. “Maureen taught me very quickly that too much self-disclosure becomes more about you than about the patient. That is just one example of the many lessons that I learned from all of the people who guided me away from the persona of the past to the person I am now.”