Lina Racicot, EdD, Director of Graduate Psychology at AIC, has a mission.
This educator, researcher, clinician, advocate, and author is bringing decades of personal experience and professional expertise to the work of finding real and lasting solutions to some of today’s most tragic and intractable problems—problems that affect the youngest and most vulnerable members of society.
“Children and their needs have always been a driving force for me,” said Racicot. “That’s what drove me to my dissertation. What’s going on here? What’s happening to children affected by substance abuse? That was the beginning of my path working with addiction issues.”
Racicot’s doctoral work at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, “Understanding the Educational, Psychological and Social Issues of Children and Adolescents Being Raised by Grandparents Due to Parental Substance Abuse,” was her first focused exploration of the wide-ranging negative effects of alcohol and drug abuse, and the devastating impact it has on the families of the afflicted.
“The crack epidemic is over,” said Racicot, “but grandparents are still raising their grandchildren. Now there’s the opioid epidemic and heroin addiction. It’s a struggle for these older adults, and some of them have to use their retirement savings to deal with all the implications, including sometimes having to go to court. There is a social, economic and emotional impact. I think there are resources available now that were not in place 20 years ago, but we need support for these grandparents and the children they are raising.”
Since her dissertation, Racicot has written extensively about addiction and the havoc it wreaks on individuals, families, and communities. She also knows firsthand the heart-break of losing a loved one to this terrible disease, the grief and the guilt that accompany such a loss. In her article, “When Addiction Hits Home,” she states, “Whatever the reason behind addiction, families and friends… wonder what they did wrong … I often think about what I would have done differently … It is difficult for anyone to know when they have crossed that fine line of enabling versus helping.”
Fortunately, Racicot found “a true warrior against addiction” in Dominique Simon-Levine, the founder of Allies in Recovery (alliesinrecovery.net), and CRAFT, a scientifically-proven method of combating substance abuse while simultaneously helping caregivers to cope with the attendant stress, depression, and anger. According to Racicot, “The state of Massachusetts has recognized Allies in Recovery as a crucial resource for families and has purchased a free membership for anyone living in Massachusetts. There are ways you can help your loved one and Allies in Recovery will guide you. You are not alone.”
Racicot’s experiences living with, and eventually losing, someone to serious mental health and addiction issues led her to write Living With the Little Devil Man, a book described as “an epic tale of the struggle with schizophrenia and heroin addiction,” a story so difficult and painful to process, it took Racicot years to reach the point where she felt she could share it. “It was so close to my heart; it was hard to let it go. I held it in for so long, but it had to get out.
“The young man I write about lived with me for 10 years, from age 19 to 29. My daughter brought him home to me, and I felt as though he was mine, as though he belonged with us, and he did fairly well while he was here, but he fell back to self-medicating with alcohol and marijuana. We have medications to help treat the kind of mental health issues he suffered with, but they’re not a cure.”
Another area of passionate involvement for Racicot is the juvenile justice system. “I got involved in the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI), which is a national initiative and very strong in Massachusetts. I invited them to AIC and we meet on campus once a month. They needed someone to evaluate the program, to compile and interpret the data, so I applied for that position through the state and it was awarded to me.
“I am now evaluating dually involved youth, adolescents who are in both the foster care system and the juvenile detention system because of nonviolent offenses. Instead of sending them off to detention, we’re looking at gaps in a child’s life. We’re bringing in community resources, parents, schools, whoever is part of that team, and we’re sitting down together to decide what to do. We’re putting in place mentors for these children, in-school support, helping families who may have very limited resources, and then we’re looking to see if there is a significant difference in recidivism for these adolescents. We’re trying to make a difference.”
Racicot is also actively working to raise awareness around racial disparity in the juvenile justice system. JDAI produced the film Seeing Racial and Ethnic Disparities (RED), a tool created for group screenings to spark discussion around the issues of implicit bias, best practices, and how to address the challenges. “I have been trained as a facilitator under the RED program,” said Racicot, “and Hampden is the state’s lead county.”
Another way Racicot is reaching out to improve the well-being of local children is by evaluating the impact and stabilizing effects of mindfulness training. “The Brookings (Elementary School, in Springfield, MA) Mindfulness Program started last May and it’s introducing meditation at the elementary school. It’s being implemented at every grade level, but we’re mainly looking at third and fourth grades. The students do a morning meditation together as a school, and then in every gym class. We’re hoping to move the program forward in other ways and at other locations. It’s all about trying to figure out what helps.”
Trying to figure out what helps—and doing whatever it takes—is what Racicot is all about, and it’s what she emphasizes with her graduate students. “I love learning about the students, about what brought them to the program, what they’re going to do to help people once they graduate.
“I always wanted to help people in need,” said Racicot. “I have always known that my journey through life, no matter what role I was in, would involve helping others. When I was a child, I wanted to be a mother or a nun. Those were the role models available to me. So I grew up, got married at 21, and raised my family. But I was driven to get more education. I knew I had a purpose. I wasn’t sure what it was when I began, but now I’m finally at the right place and time. I can do research. I can be a writer, a therapist, a teacher.
“I was a nontraditional student, always taking classes, but I didn’t finish until I was older, so I remind my students to keep moving forward. I know there are people who want to come to graduate school, but they’re afraid. If I could get any message out to them, it would be ‘don’t hold yourself back.’ I went back as an adult and it has brought me to many places that have shaped and informed my life. It’s not too late. It is never too late to make a difference.”
-By Ellen Dooley
Photos by Leon Nguyen ’16