Credit: Nick Romanenko
To learn more about the women's
treatment program, call 732-445-0900.
Position: Senior project coordinator, Center of Alcohol Studies (CAS); has held various positions at the center
Length of Service: Since 1991
What she does: Noelle Jensen helps women who think they may drink too much. She is often the first person clients speak with when they call in and the last person they meet with in their final research interview after completing treatment. After an initial phone screen, she meets with women and their spouses or male partners to determine if they are eligible to receive 12 sessions of outpatient treatment, free of charge, at the center’s clinic in Piscataway. Jensen conducts a pre-treatment research interview the following week, and then coordinates therapy with the center’s clinicians. She also follows up with patients three, nine and 15 months later. “Most alcoholism research has been done with men, and our study looks at what treatments work best for women with drinking problems,” she says. The federally funded research-treatment study is in its third year.
Discovering a calling: Jensen majored in psychology at Rutgers, and as a junior pursued independent study at the CAS, where she was assigned to a research project on men with drinking problems. That was 1991, and she has been there ever since.
“Growing up, I had friends and significant others who experienced problems with substances,” Jensen says. “I knew the toll addiction could take on people’s lives.” Her first job was as a part-time research assistant preparing interview materials and doing data entry. A year later, a full-time job opened up with CAS’ Alcohol Research Center.
Jensen recruited participants and conducted psychiatric interviews at three substance abuse treatment facilities for a study exploring the relationship between treatment process and outcome. In 1995, she continued her career as a program interviewer with a grant exploring individual differences among inpatient substance abusers. In 1997, she began work on the Rutgers Women’s Treatment Project I. While working full time, she took courses toward a master’s degree in social work, which she received from Rutgers in 2001. Since then, her work has included providing therapy to the patients in the programs at CAS, in addition to her assessment and research responsibilities.
A job that suits her: Jensen enjoys interacting with clients. “People seem to feel comfortable talking to me,” Jensen says. But she admits she finds it hard to talk about herself. “Maybe it’s because I spend so much time listening to others,” she says, turning the topic back to her clients. The women have fairly serious drinking problems. “It is heartening to see a person becoming motivated to change,” she says. “There are many women who have come in nervous, anxious and unhappy, and over time I see them blossom.”
What she’s learned: The women’s treatment project offers individual and couples therapy, and 98 of the women have completed individual therapy, thus far. The remaining slots are for women who can attend therapy with their husband or male partner. Why develop treatments specifically for female problem drinkers? Researchers now know that women generally begin drinking problematically later in life than men do, but tend to develop serious drinking problems more quickly. Additionally, women who drink regularly are at greater risk than men for health problems, such as liver and cardiovascular damage; two thirds of women who drink are in relationships where domestic violence is present; and half of women who drink have a male partner who also drinks heavily. “It’s not easy for many women to talk about their alcohol problem in front of their partners,” Jensen says, but research shows that some women alcoholics do better when a spouse or male partner is involved with their treatment.
The hardest part of the job: “It is challenging for people to stop drinking, and we need to help them, especially during the first few weeks in the initial struggle,” she says. “Sometimes I wish I could wave a magic wand for these women and make it all better, but the best I can do is to provide the most effective therapy we know of and help them do the work they need to do to stop drinking.” Jensen is on 24-hour call two weeks out of three months. “When I get a call in the middle of the night, it is usually from someone who is struggling to avoid a relapse. During those two weeks, you have to be ready to put on your clinical hat at any moment. The on-call phone is an effective way for clients to reach out for help when they need it the most.”
What she does to relax: Jensen enjoys live music, photography, hiking and yoga, as well as cooking. This year she is the marketplace coordinator for the Morristown Women’s Festival (www.muuf.org/WomensFestival.html) open to women of all ages. This year’s theme for the May 13 event is “Real Women, Real Bodies, Real Lives – Celebrating Our Whole Selves.”
Special thanks: Jensen is most grateful to the clients she has worked with. “People allow me into their lives, and I consider it a privilege to assist in and observe the transformations they are able to make. My colleagues are like a second family and provide the support that makes it possible for me to be effective in my job. Barbara McCrady and Elizabeth Epstein have provided the funding for my positions through their grants from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.” Finally, she says, “Thanks to our students, who keep me young!”
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