Healthy Options: Grass Valley therapist helps heal addiction through 12-step recovery |

Healthy Options: Grass Valley therapist helps heal addiction through 12-step recovery

Deborah Underwood at her office on Brunswick Road in Grass Valley.
Laura Mahaffy/ | The Union

Thirty-five years ago, when Deborah Underwood was binge eating in college, she discovered Overeaters Anonymous, a 12-step recovery group. As a result of the program, she dropped 50 pounds and was soon sponsoring and mentoring others.

Two years later, she decided to follow her passion, leave the business world, and become a marriage and family therapist. She enrolled in graduate school, obtained a master’s of arts degree, and began working at an inpatient, dual-diagnosis eating disorder hospital in Los Angeles.

A move to the Bay Area resulted in a shift in focus. As Deborah explained, “Eating disorders were big in L.A., as people were very worried about their body image.” In Northern California, she worked at an outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center.

In 1993, she moved to Grass Valley and worked at the Nevada County Treatment and Recovery Center, which later became Community Recovery Resources (CoRR). She has had a private practice in Grass Valley since 1993.

In this week’s “Healthy Options,” we share a short interview with Underwood, who uses a blend of modalities to help clients overcome addiction, co-dependency, and other issues.

Q: What are some of the addictions you treat, and what is the first step when people come to you?

A: I have been treating addictions that include alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, and co-dependency as my specialty for the past 28 years. The first step in treating addiction is to assess my client’s willingness to get help and the level of treatment that is appropriate for their addiction. Many people I see are dealing with anxiety and depression. A mood disorder is often an underlying issue in addiction.

Q: What are the benefits of a 12-step program like AA?

A: AA is a spiritual, free support group where you are sponsored by other addicts. While attending 12-step meetings, addicts also deal with the daily stresses of their jobs, relationships, and bills, and so they are figuring out how to stay sober in the real world. Of course, for serious alcohol and drug addiction, where detox is required, inpatient treatment is absolutely necessary because it is very dangerous to just stop using in certain cases.

Q: Can you explain the role of co-dependency among friends and family members?

A: When treating co-dependency, I educate my clients about their inability to make an addict stop their addiction. Co-dependents want to fix their addicts because the addict’s behavior causes loved ones a lot of anxiety, worry, and concern. What people need to realize is that co-dependents are also addicts; their addiction is to the addict. Co-dependents want their addicts to change, but ultimately, the only person we can change is ourselves. The best thing co-dependents can do is get treatment for themselves to learn how to set boundaries and put the focus back on themselves to do better self care.

Q: Is addiction genetic?

A: Yes, it is genetic, but environment is also a factor. If we do not learn healthy coping skills from our parents, we can repeat the unhealthy coping behavior. I warn teens who have parents who are addicts that they need to be very careful. Often adults and teens tell me that the first time they drank or used, they knew it was the answer for them to stop feeling those uncomfortable feelings. Keep in mind that addiction runs across all socio-economic groups. That’s why people believe it is a disease or an allergy of mind, body, and spirit. Addiction is also a spiritual dilemma.

Q: Why do you say that addiction is a spiritual dilemma?

A: Recovery is about finding a conscious contact with a higher power. Twelve-step recovery suggests taking inventory and looking at our behavior on a daily basis, making amends, praying, meditating, and sponsoring others. An addict’s willpower alone can’t fight most addictions. We need a higher power, a support group, and to do service. Another very important aspect of healing is to have a community and not to isolate.

Q: What is your therapy style?

A: I’m a very interactive therapist who is trained in family systems and cognitive behavioral therapy. During sessions, I ask a lot of questions to spark awareness so people can make choices for a healthier life. I believe it’s important to have a sense of humor while navigating life’s challenges. Because therapy is only one hour a week, I often give clients homework so they have a focus throughout the week. My goal is to have my clients experience success.

Deborah Underwood, LMFT practices in Grass Valley. She can be contacted at 530-913-8848. For more information about Jan Fishler, go to

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