An Interview with Dr. Jason Powers, Chief Medical Officer at Right Step
Jason Powers, MD, wasn’t a child prodigy. He wasn’t even voted “most likely to succeed.” But he was destined for greatness, despite getting in his own way a time or two. A highly driven, hard-working physician, Dr. Powers had to find something deep within himself – something he calls grit – that gave him the passion and resilience to fulfill his potential.
More than 10 years ago, Dr. Powers found his calling after a personal struggle with addiction – and, through his own recovery, became a healing force in the lives of others struggling with this disease.
“It was the transformational experience of recovery that showed me how fleeting life is and how much time I had spent not fulfilling my potential. Once I decided I no longer wanted to sit on the sidelines, I decided to do everything I could to leave the world a better place than I found it,” says Dr. Powers. “It isn’t necessary to look death in the face to have this type of life-altering experience. That’s what drives me to continue this work – the immense satisfaction of being part of someone else’s transformation.”
Through Recovery a Physician Finds His Calling
After completing residency at Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center in Houston, Dr. Powers opened a private medical practice, served as an attending physician at Memorial-Hermann and worked as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. But his success didn’t protect him from an addiction that nearly robbed him of everything he’d worked so hard to achieve.
Thanks to treatment and the support of his many teachers over the years, he has gone on to make a positive mark on the field, touching thousands of lives along the way. Dr. Powers was among the first physicians in the United States to have been certified by the American Board of Addiction Medicine, the highest credentialing board in the country for the addiction field. He is a true rarity in the field – a physician-interventionist – who is also a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and a Diplomat of the American Board of Family Practice.
Over the years, Dr. Powers’ passion and hard work have earned him a number of highly respected honors. For three years running he has been recognized by H Texas magazine as one of Houston’s top addiction medicine doctors. He also serves as the local expert and as a steering committee member for the Partnership at Drugfree.org (formerly the Partnership for a Drug-Free America). His book When the Servant Becomes the Master, which is widely considered a must-read for addiction professionals, is one of the most current, comprehensive resources on addiction.
“I couldn’t have achieved any of my goals by myself,” admits Dr. Powers. “I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the teachers I’ve met from as far back as I can remember – role models in medical school, wise people I met in recovery, George Joseph who gave me a chance to spread my wings at Right Step, and life itself, which always let me know what was working and what wasn’t working, even when the lesson was really tough.”
Beyond Abstinence: The Power of Positive Recovery
Since 2006, Dr. Powers has served as Chief Medical Officer for Right Step in Texas. He is a passionate supporter of “positive recovery,” a strength-based approach that helps addicts flourish in recovery.
“Abstinence is only a small part of recovery,” he says. “When we’re successful in treating addicts it’s because we’re helping them to feel better, have deeper, more nurturing relationships with others, and to be there for themselves. They’re working from a place of optimism, gratitude and love. They’re achieving their goals and doing things that bring meaning to their lives. All of these pieces together give addicts the support they need to not only get sober but to rebuild their lives.”
Dr. Powers’ approach is grounded in traditional recovery and positive psychology. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, the most prestigious program in the country. Studying under the founder of the field, best-selling author and former president of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Martin Seligman, Dr. Powers feels honored and fortunate to have the opportunity to hone his knowledge and skills in finding innovative ways to combine traditional addiction treatment with the latest research in the field.
“Positive recovery is different from the way most addiction treatment programs operate,” he explains. “If you look at 12-Step recovery, which I find immense value in, it hasn’t changed or evolved since 1935. To ignore all of the science positive psychology has uncovered since then, I believe, is a mistake.”
Changing the Face of Addiction Treatment
Trained and highly skilled in western medicine, Dr. Powers grew frustrated early in his career with the traditional symptom-focused, pill-for-every-ailment approach he came across in the field of medicine in general. Although he uses medication when indicated, he does so sparingly and only in conjunction with other interventions. His approach, which is highly individualized based on the needs of the particular client, combines holistic treatment modalities with traditional therapies. He’s also pro-western in ways and grateful for tools like Vivitrol, Campral and Suboxone to help addicts who can benefit from them.
“When I got sober, I felt a profound sense of gratitude that there were people who were willing to accept and help me. Seeing that there was a solution, I decided I wanted to be part of it and improve it,” says Dr. Powers. “To me, the way to do this was to move away from western medicine’s mechanistic view of the body, which largely ignored the mind-body connection and treated the symptoms of illness rather than getting to the root cause. My goal is to deal with the core issues using not only medication and traditional therapies but also mindfulness and other holistic approaches that create a life that is both drug-free and deeply fulfilling.”
Amidst his impressive professional credentials, Dr. Powers counts his personal recovery as one of his greatest achievements. He has a loving wife and three wonderful children, many supportive friendships, and a fulfilling career that allows him to give back to others. None of it would be possible without his recovery – a fact he never loses sight of or allows himself to become complacent about.
Looking forward, Dr. Powers sees many more opportunities to contribute to the field of addiction treatment. Next year, he will publish two more books – Positive Recovery, which will outline how the field of positive psychology can help addicts thrive in recovery, and a book that provides daily positive interventions for individuals in recovery along with an online forum where readers can go for feedback and support. He is also working on a groundbreaking, evidence-based addiction recovery curriculum that will be useful in both inpatient and outpatient settings.
“I see the field moving toward a uniform definition of recovery and greater consensus on what effective treatment looks like,” explains Dr. Powers. “With more outcome studies and uniform quality standards, we as treatment providers can make sure we’re investing our energies in those interventions that produce positive outcomes for our clients and their families.”