The Common Ground Learning Center is managed by Dyana Hagen, BSW. Dyana has been involved in health care as an EMT, a social worker, and a hyperbaric oxygen technician for many years. She manages the Common Ground Learning Center while also providing therapeutic services to members and directing activities, as well as fundraising initiatives for the non-profit healthcare organization.
Like many social workers, Dyana understands the impact of brain health on a person’s life. A person’s ability to regulate emotions, maintain a schedule, and remember where they put their purse or telephone are all impacted by brain health. Traumatic brain injury, psychiatric conditions, stroke, substance addiction, trauma, and aging complications impact brain function. At the Common Ground Learning Center, Dyana works with members of the East Hartford community that present with one or more of these conditions.
“People coming to the Common Ground Learning Center are usually struggling with several mental health conditions. Usually, members are battling mental illness and/or substance abuse. I do have clients that have brain injuries and psychiatric conditions”.
Dyana Hagen, B.S.W.
Manager and Social Worker for Common Ground Learning Center
Originally started as a social rehabilitation club, Dyana has turned the Common Ground Learning Center into a learning center. Members come to work with Dyana and her staff to build cognitive skills, social skills, and work through problems that occur in daily life. People that come to the Common Ground Learning Center are between 18 – 75 years of age, with some clients being younger and older than the typical population that is served.
When the Common Ground Learning Center started, there was not a cognitive skills curriculum in place. With the help of HappyNeuron Pro, Dyana was able to bring an adapted form of NEAR therapy to her center. NEAR is a form of therapy developed by Dr. Alice Medalia of Columbia University in New York City. This therapeutic approach combines individual practice of cognitive skills with group therapy to build connections to everyday life. In NEAR, digital cognitive tools such as HappyNeuron Pro are used to assist patients in building executive function, language, attention, computational, memory, and visuo-spatial skills needed for everyday life.
Dyana worked with her IT department to acquire computers and space to be able to perform group therapy sessions and her cognitive rehabilitation therapy (CRT) lab. She did not have grants, which meant she had to find cost-effective resources. Working with limited resources, she was able to get her center ready to provide cognitive rehabilitation services to the East Hartford community.
“[Dustin] was very patient and helpful in helping me get my program setup. HappyNeuron Pro offers a free trial and support of a product specialist to help guide you through the program. Dustin and the HappyNeuron Pro team were there and continue to be there for me to address my needs every step of the way.” – Dyana Hagen.
Dyana works with members of the East Hartford community that present with a variety of health and psychiatric complications. Many people that come to work with her have histories of bullying and psychological trauma, which stunt cognitive growth and cause poor self-esteem and poor social skill development. In addition to having histories of trauma, some clients have comorbid brain injury and psychiatric illness. With her therapeutic approach, Dyana factors in a clients emotional and health needs by providing encouragement while ensuring clients are being challenged adequately enough to gain the full benefits of cognitive training.
“With people I work with, some people get discouraged when they reach a level of an exercise and are performing at 70% accuracy. It is easy for clients to get frustrated when this happens. For people that have experienced bullying and psychological trauma, they need positive reinforcement so that they do not give up. I offer encouragement and explain that it is OK to be challenged and that we will work through the problems that they are having with the exercises. This offers encouragement to them and helps them continue on with therapy.”
Dyana’s program has been running for over 3 months. Even in this short amount of time, she has seen first-hand benefits of implementing a cognitive skill curriculum in her setting.
“I have a client who is a 60 year old woman with early stage dementia. She would forget items like her purse and telephone when she would go places. Even though it has been a short amount of time and she comes in 2-3x a week, I have seen behavioral changes with her. She is not forgetting her personal belongings, and remembers to take them with her before she leaves a space”.
In addition to these benefits, Dyana connects the behavioral changes she hopes to foster with life impacting challenges that clients need to overcome in daily life.
“Going to a doctor’s office is scary. For people with cognitive dysfunction, remembering medication regimens and information shared during a medical visit is very hard. Many people do not have help available to them in the form of a caregiver or assistant to go with them to appointments. When we do bridging sessions, I use these kinds of situations to help clients connect why they are doing the work they are doing with me”.
At the Common Ground Learning Center, members are encouraged to participate in group therapy sessions with Dyana as well as attend events such as movie nights, field trips, and other social activities. A large part of the Common Ground Learning Center’s goal is to foster social skill development and community integration. Approaches to reaching this goal are customized according to client’s needs and are adapted as necessary.
Because some clients struggle with addiction and psychiatric disorders, treatment needs to be adaptable according to what each person is facing in life. With HappyNeuron Pro, staff can modify exercise difficulty settings to be less challenging during a very difficult time and to be more challenging when clients are more stable and progressing through therapy. This allows flexibility within the program and for clients to use the tool in a way that factors in life situations that affect cognitive function.
Dyana found HappyNeuron Pro at a presentation at another center in the Hartford area. She enjoyed the variety of materials and complexity of the exercises available. Dyana then tried HappyNeuron Pro during the summer of 2019. Dustin, the product specialist for HappyNeuron Pro provided demonstrations and training for her and her staff so that all members were comfortable using the program and aware of all of the features that they can use.
“There is so much content to work with, and all of the exercises are modifiable to a client’s level of functioning.” – Dyana Hagen.
“For example, I use Private Eye during group therapy sessions so that each client can get practice paying attention to details. I will have each member go up with a pointer and point to the item that they think does not match the others.”.
Therapists are able to use a variety of exercises to benefit their clients. Therapists that are new to HappyNeuron Pro are encouraged to try the software free and receive training from the product specialist so that they feel comfortable using the software with their clients. All training and guidance is free from HappyNeuron Pro.
“Common Ground has become more of a learning center with HappyNeuron Pro. People still come for socializing, but they also get to practice building cognitive skills with other people in the community. They do this in the computer lab on their own with supervision, group therapy, and bridging sessions.”.
Dyana set up her program from scratch. Having a tool that provided a variety of content, is adaptable, can show performance, connect to daily life, and is affordable was crucial. The demand and need for cognitive rehabilitation programs like Dyana’s is high across America. With Dyana’s resourcefulness and dedication to her program, and communication with the HappyNeuron Pro team, she was able to get a plan that met her needs.
“I have seen positive behavioral changes in the people that I work with. The staff and clients love HappyNeuron Pro. I plan to incorporate HappyNeuron Pro’s worksheets into my group sessions in addition to their online exercises.” – Dyana Hagen
To learn more about Dyana and The Common Ground Learning Center, you can contact her at 860-519-5620 or by visiting their website at www.intercommunityct.org. Services through InterCommunity Inc. include The Common Ground Learning Center, employment services, WISE, young adult services, and supervised housing.
To learn how HappyNeuron Pro can help you build a cognitive skills program in your setting and to experience the variety of content HappyNeuron Pro has to practice cognitive skills, contact us or begin a 15 Day Free Trial today.
Page last updated on Jan 9,2020