Moving Forward
With help from Thomas Allen's Summit Behavioral Health, people struggling with addiction find a path toward a better life
by Leigh Stuart

Three years ago, Thomas Allen began working toward his dream of helping individuals who are recovering from addiction in Bucks County and surrounding areas. In the short amount of time that has followed, the organization he founded—Summit Behavioral Health—has helped improve the lives of hundreds of people in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with countless more to come.

“Our model is a little different,” says Allen, who serves Summit as owner and CEO. “We really look at treating the whole person; treatment is tailored to the individual. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to recovery. We have a holistic model where we focus on the clinical aspect but also on the mind, body and spirit.”

In line with the central philosophy that no two clients’ addictions are the same, Summit offers a range of treatments to suit varied client needs. Clients in the intensive outpatient program, for example, typically visit Summit for therapeutic groups and individual counseling four times a week for eight to 12 weeks, whereas Summit’s detoxification program features a five- to eight-day stay accompanied by an assessment and evaluation so that the best treatment possible can be selected. Clients come from all walks of life, with varying schedules and personal responsibilities, so Summit offers a number of treatment options with day and evening hours during the week and weekend.

“We have a variety of professionals, from nurse practitioners to medical doctors, who will do a comprehensive evaluation when a person comes in, to see if there are co-occurring conditions that need to be treated,” he says. “We also have master’s-level licensed clinicians that conduct group and individual therapy sessions, and marriage and family therapists.”

He adds that Summit also employs a holistic wellness professional who oversees physical activities such as yoga, as well as alternative therapy options such as aromatherapy and acupuncture. In the near future, Summit plans to add Reiki, a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing, to its list of offerings.

“In terms of what sets Summit apart, it is one of the only outpatient facilities with a holistic component,” says Kristin Wilson, Summit’s vice president of marketing and business development. She notes the wellness professional on staff can also help clients achieve health through nutrition, providing clients with “everything from meal plans to fitness guides they can use in an outside setting.”

While Allen feels closely tied to each of the six Summit facilities—including the outpatient location in Princeton Junction, N.J., Florham Park, N.J., Newtown, N.J., the residential eating disorder facility under development in Chester, N.J., and the new 40-bed residential detoxification center opening in Union, N.J., in June—Summit’s outpatient center in Doylestown has a special place in his heart. This is largely because he grew up in the Bucks County area and still has a great deal of family living in Bucks and Montgomery counties.

This sense of family, the same one that drew Allen back to the Philadelphia area after spending a number of years out west, applies to how he and his staff treat clients. He emphasizes that all Summit clients, as well as their inner circles of family and friends, are treated with importance and respect. “We go beyond the ‘Golden Rule,’” he says. “I treat every potential client as if they are a member of my own family.”

Wilson, who shares Allen’s passion for helping people recover from addiction, relates a shocking statistic: “Pennsylvania has the 14th highest drug mortality rate in the United States.” Specifically, a majority of these cases come from prescription drugs or opioids, according to Wilson. She notes that the rates of such deaths have doubled in 29 states since 1999, and in Pennsylvania, these rates have quadrupled in the last 10 years alone.  

To put these numbers into perspective, Wilson explains that the number of accidental deaths from opioids or heroine now exceeds the number of accidental deaths from car accidents. Sadly, these statistics hold true for people ages 18 to 26. Summit offers specialized programs for all ages, including an adolescent program that can help clients as young as 14.

Allen explains the impetus behind founding Summit came from his own life. “I’m a former attorney, and I’m also a person in recovery,” he says. Inspired by his own journey through life in recovery, he felt compelled to create a way to help others who’ve suffered through and rebounded from their struggles with addiction.

Allen’s Philadelphia-area endeavors were not his first in leading a recovery program. After he first got sober, he opened a recovery program in Arizona, which, like Summit, featured a holistic approach to the process of overcoming addiction. For example, one treatment method Allen utilized was “adventure therapy,” which involved taking clients on trips for activities including camping and snowboarding. These efforts, he explains, helped clients remain active and engaged with new or former hobbies, as relapse often occurs simply because of boredom, especially among younger patients.

Although his program in Arizona was successful and helped many on the road to recovery, Allen felt a pull to return home to the East Coast, a force that had been growing stronger with time. For this reason he left his Arizona program in the hands of another caring individual and returned to the Philadelphia area.

Back home, Allen quickly found he had a tough decision to make—namely, whether or not to reenter the field of law. He ultimately decided to continue walking down the altruistic path and help people achieve better lives through sobriety. He took a job in the policy department of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, New Jersey, wherein Allen came to understand the severity of the treatment gaps in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. This knowledge proved to be a key motivator in his founding of Summit Behavioral Health.

He saw a world in which prescriptions in parents’ medicine cabinets, rather than marijuana, had become the “gateway drugs.” These included leftover or forgotten medications such as narcotics and opioids that are highly dangerous when not prescribed by a medical professional.

“Instead of complaining, I wanted to do something,” Allen says. Wasting little time, he built a small team and assembled a business model with the goal of “offering high-quality treatment across the region, across multiple levels of care, all the way from outpatient to residential to detox.”

Thus, Summit Behavioral Health was born. He hasn’t looked back since and, as a result, the people who turn to Summit for help can once again look forward.

“Addiction is a disease,” he says. “People struggling with addiction need to be treated with respect, not shunned or judged.” It is with this goal in mind that he continues to lead the staff at Summit into the future, whereby each individual can walk down the road to recovery and embrace the prospect of a better, healthier life.

Summit Behavioral Health—Outpatient Treatment Center
702 Hyde Park
Doylestown, PA 18902
Toll free: 866-507-5931
Local: 215-589-7111

Photograph by Allure West Studios