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Portrait and Description of Robert L. Johnson

In Conversation with Robert L. Johnson, MC, MCAP, CMHP, CST

Est. reading time: 5 mins
Posted Under: Interviews, News/Statements

Clinically Reviewed by: Amanda Fialk, PhD, LCSW, LICSW


This February 2022, our Dorm, D.C. site team was excited to welcome our new Assistant Site Director, Robert L. Johnson, MC, MCAP, CMHP, CST. 

Robert brings with him an impressive, decades-long career working as a Family and Special Services Director, Clinical Director, primary clinician and educator. He is a board-certified expert in post traumatic stress, a board certified sex therapist, and has extensive training in psychotherapy, psychodrama therapy and related modalities. 

Most of all, Robert is passionate about making a difference in the lives of young adults with a focus on care for the entire family system. In this interview, Robert shares details about what drew him to our work at The Dorm and what excites him most about supporting our community mission. 

Robert, you come to The Dorm with a tremendous wealth of knowledge, expertise and lived experience. Can you share a little bit about what has guided your career path thus far and what ultimately drew you to The Dorm?

Helping young adults “find their way” has been a guiding passion in my career, and I was drawn to The Dorm because of their work with young adults. This age group faces many challenges; they are at a crossroads, a time of change, sometimes too “mature” for adolescence but too “immature” for adulthood. It’s a time where maladaptive behaviors may present, such as substance use, gambling, or excessive gaming, to name a few. It’s also a time of life when the symptoms of mental health issues first seriously present themselves, such as depression, compulsivity, suicidality, or fear of intimacy. I remember being a young clinician aged 24. I was somewhat lost and a skilled therapist helped me find my way. We, as helping professionals and trained clinicians,  have an opportunity to help others make progress and lasting change.  At The Dorm, I like that we use a holistic approach and a variety of treatment modalities to help each young individual find their way forward. 

You have decades of experience working with families and young people, as a primary clinician, educator and clinical program director. Why do you think family involvement is such an important pillar of care?

A mental health crisis disrupts family systems and relationship boundaries in so many ways and when those boundaries and existing roles are upended, the entire family system attempts to find a new equilibrium. These shifts (both intended and unintended) impact each member of the family and the resulting trauma and/or communication patterns can ultimately be passed down through generations. 

As clinicians, we can better break the cycle with family involvement in treatment; it is truly paramount to an individual’s recovery process. My definition of family also extends to include those who have important roles in the identified client’s life. I see a family member’s recovery process as being parallel to the identified client’s, and a therapist or team of therapists can often make more progress when they know the comprehensive inner workings of the complete system. 

Do you or a loved one need help with mental health?

The Dorm is here.

Your expertise in post traumatic stress, childhood trauma and trauma therapy is extensive. What do you see as the biggest opportunity in our young adult community for healing? 

The biggest opportunity for our young adult community is the chance to address trauma in this stage of their young life, versus later on in adulthood when more stress and layers of pain have accumulated. The impact of therapeutic action during the young adult years cannot be underestimated as early interventions bode well for better adaptation in later developmental stages.  If you were to ask any older adult, say in their thirties or later, who is overcoming trauma, they would tell you they wished they had addressed it when they were younger. 

I also find that young adults are more willing to try new and innovative modalities to address trauma. One of the new modalities I look forward to learning more about, and potentially introducing to The Dorm, is Stephen Porges’s Polyvagal Theory

As a board-certified sex therapist you have worked with populations navigating sexual concerns. What do you wish more people knew about this work and the possible stigma that exists here?

Individuals, especially young adults, lack knowledge regarding healthy sexuality and healthy sexual boundaries. What I wish people knew is how to have open, healthy discussion with their children or their charges about sexual development. So often, children are shamed or the conversation never comes up in the family. 

Before having these conversations with young people it’s important to ask oneself: “How did I learn about sexuality?”, “What were the messages in my home growing up about sexuality?”, “What were the messages about masturbation?” The list goes on…

Only after self-reflection can anyone (including clinicians) approach these conversations with more self-awareness, openness and affirmation. 

Young adults that enter treatment have an important opportunity to explore and resolve concerns related to their own sexuality and related emotional experiences. They have an opportunity to understand how this may impact relationships with themselves, family, and others. I believes it is important that young people address sexual shame, addictive behaviors, compulsivity, orientation, confusion, dysfunction, gender identity, or sexual aversion early on. These underlying and core sexual concerns are often the catalyst that fuels other mental health or addiction issues later on. 

You are passionate about making mental health care more accessible, inclusive, diverse and equitable. Is there anything you would like to share about your hopes and aspirations for change in our culture and industry? 

Yes. I believe that people of color and non-white ethnicity groups are still underserved in our field. I also believe, as mentioned in the American Journal of Public Health, that racial inequalities in healthcare exist across a range of biological systems among adults and are not explained by racial differences in poverty. 

It is my strong belief that it is encumbered upon us as clinicians to review our concepts and attitudes about race and ethics to explore why it is that this population is underserved. 

I have some theories and ideas and most of all I’d like to form a committee with Dorm leadership to address interpersonal and institutional experiences, micro-aggression and concepts of privilege. Definitions of race, ethnicity, white fragility, color blindness, color consciousness and cultural transference should be discussed at length.

We are so excited to have you as our new Assistant Director of The Dorm, D.C.! What are you most excited about in the months ahead?

There are a lot of things! 

I’m excited about implementing the things I mentioned in the previous question: continuing a larger conversation about race, cultural transference, and equity in mental health. 

I’m also looking forward to helping Director Sarah Harte, LICSW train the staff in different treatment modalities and approaches addressing trauma, personality disorders, sexuality, and process addictions. 

And I’m also looking forward to reconnecting with colleagues all over the globe, letting them know where I’ve landed and discussing this exciting new chapter in my career.

Finally, when you are not busy doing all of your great work, how do you like to spend your time and what brings you joy? 

My partner of 23 years, James, gives me a tremendous amount of joy (and that’s even after spending a good amount of time together during the long pandemic quarantine!). My two pups, Riley and Blu, are also a constant source of fun and entertainment. Last but not least, I am a big comic book superhero fan, so enjoying Marvel and DC books and movies is always a favorite pastime. 

Thank you for your time and insights, Robert! We are so excited to have you as part of our team and look forward to all we will work on together at The Dorm. 

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