Meet Our Clinical Director: Matt O’Connor

Could we get some brief biographical information from you? Hometown, previous experience, education, etc.?

I grew up in a small town in New York called Silver Creek, about 45 minutes south of Buffalo, on a 75-acre farm. A little known fact is the majority of Welch’s Concord Grape Jelly comes from my neck of the woods. Some of my fondest memories growing up were when the whole 2,500 people, one-stoplight town, smelled like grapes.  

That being said, I didn’t feel like I fit the mold of country living, and after graduation moved to New York City and then Long Island for Undergraduate studies. At 19 I was introduced to mindfulness meditation, which has played an important role in my life. After being involved in a meditation group and having an awesome therapist, I shifted my focus from being a history teacher to psychology.  My therapist also recommended that I look into this little college in Boulder, CO that focuses on mindfulness-based psychology and counseling. After working in crisis intervention for 4 years in Buffalo NY, I felt like I hit a ceiling in my ability to help and made the decision to go to graduate school.  

At this point, mindfulness and meditation came back into my life and led me on a path of self-awareness and discovery that shapes much of my clinical practice currently. Through my own personal journey of self-exploration and recovery, I realized that we all have our stories and experiences that shape the person we are in this moment. With this understanding, I believe that by working in the present moment with client’s we are also helping heal the past.  

Moving forward I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of settings along the continuum of care for substance use disorder. I believe all of these varied experiences have shaped my approach at Green Hill. Working on a grant at UNC introduced me to collegiate recovery which really altered my approach to treating young adults, specifically around the importance of fun and self-efficacy in the recovery process.

From here I moved to Fellowship Hall, a large residential program, where I was given the opportunity to help develop their young adult programming. Throughout my journey, I have always been a firm believer in the healing power of nature and being outside (I’m a big rock climber and hiker). I transitioned into Wilderness therapy where I ran a SUD group for adolescents; I loved it. I kept feeling the pull to return to working with the population that I am most passionate about, which is young adults. This led to joining Green Hill, which I will talk a bit more about below.

What made you want to work in a) the clinical field generally and b) substance abuse specifically?

I was always drawn to the idea of helping people even at a young age: especially after the moment I realized I was not going to be a professional athlete at my size (I’m a small guy).  Initially, the idea was to teach but shifted to clinical work by a recommendation from my therapist at the time.

I was actually hesitant to work in the substance abuse field; being a person in recovery I think gave me a distorted belief about what this looked like. The world really had different plans however and I found myself working with individuals seeking recovery my entire career. The ability to define and look at what it means to me to be a therapist in recovery has been a journey in and of itself.  Now, I couldn’t imagine doing anything different.  

What do you believe makes Green Hill stand out in its field, and why?

There are two things that really stand out to me about Green Hill: the first is our organization’s commitment to its values which informs all of the decisions we make. This in itself is not unique, but I believe the fact that individually we share similar values to the organizations keeps us aligned and making decisions in a way that always considers our client’s best interests first.

The second being our holistic approach to the recovery process. We approach the recovery process not only as an internal process but also as helping our guys externally build a life that continues to reinforce their commitment to recovery. I believe that some of the most influential experiences our guys can have are those that help them understand that recovery is not just about sacrifice but being able to fully engage with the world: going to school, concerts, dating, etc. 

What’s the one message you’d like the parents and loved ones of our residents to know?

I really believe the recovery process is a family journey. It requires everyone involved to do their own personal work for the change to fully manifest. So in short I think it’s important for families to know they may be working as hard as our client’s in this process.  

What makes Raleigh a superb environment for young people in recovery?

The amount of young people  in recovery is one side of it. The other being the access to education and career opportunities in the triangle really open a lot of doors for young adults.

What does your ideal day look like?

A day that involves me climbing on rocks and being outside with my dogs and family is an ideal day. 

Who has had the largest influence on your personal/professional development, and why?

I really feel like I learn through others so the majority of people I run into are teachers to me in some way. If I had to pick one it’s my wife. Our personalities are actually quite different but her capacity to be organized and efficient is a marvel to me. 

Quick Facts about Matt

Favorite movie: E.T

Favorite book: 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Favorite album: 2014 Forest Hills Drive by J.Cole

Favorite podcast: Ear Hussle or The Black Tapes

Talent show skill: Dribbling a soccer ball

Mountains or beaches: Mountains

Guiltiest pleasure: Right now, Call of Duty

One object you couldn’t live without, and why: Climbing shoes – can always find something to climb.

One thing everybody loves that you secretly hate, and why: Onions. It’s not a secret for me. They taste bad.

Dream job as a child: Besides professional athlete, a History Teacher