It wasn’t a case of having a clear vision from the outset and then starting the company. Instead, Silver Bell says, ‘My company started me.’
Today the business she founded in 2010 has a global headquarters in New York City and ‘anchors’ in London, Dubai, France, Sweden and Los Angeles. Each location serves as a base from which SBG delivers its customised, evidence-based approach to support sufferers of substance use disorder and the underlying mental health issues it stems from. The firm works alongside leading clinicians in various fields (including a former chief medical officer of the state of New York) to break the cycle of inpatient treatment that often defines unsuccessful battles with addiction.
But, as the founder says herself, the journey to this point was not carefully planned – at least at first.
Silver Bell was born and raised in Montana, a sixth-generation scion of a family that first claimed its tranche of land in 1862. The family’s 600-acre ranch, which includes a mile’s frontage of the Yellowstone river, is in Paradise Valley, one of the filming locations for the hit TV show Yellowstone, starring Kevin Costner. The pioneer spirit, she adds, informs much of her work.
Silver Bell attended Andrews University in Michigan, where her father was the dean of architecture. ‘We were raised in a very warm and loving Christian environment,’ she says. But, contrary to many people’s preconceptions, ‘you can have the most wonderful childhood and still end up with what we call “a phenomenon of craving”. It begins slowly and subtly; that’s what happened to me.’
Silver Bell began modelling, winning the Miss Michigan beauty pageant and taking part in Miss USA before establishing a career with the Ford Models agency in New York. ‘It was a very fast life,’ she says.
‘I thought it was fabulous and wonderful.’ But, in time, she would also realise her life had begun to revolve more and more around partying, drinking and certain drugs.
It was becoming pregnant with her first son, at the age of 26, that put her on the road to recovery. ‘That really was the impetus that helped slow me down,’ she says. ‘I use the analogy of a Boeing 747 in the air. You can’t just pivot, jack-knife and shoot right back up – you have to slow down.’
It wasn’t until some years later, following divorce, that Silver Bell began to discuss her own journey more widely. ‘That was probably one of the hardest things I ever did, as a mother of three on the Upper East Side. I had the luxury of having my children being in the private schooling system and I was going to lunches and galas and dinners. Whenever I was invited to something, which was quite often, I would just go there, sit down and speak my truth.’
In 2010 there weren’t many people in this environment who were comfortable being open about such issues. ‘For many other moms, the thought of doing that was very scary – particularly in this world of status.’
Silver Bell’s first client was referred to her by a family practice lawyer, Arthur Ettinger, who she still works with today. Ettinger had a client who was about to come out of inpatient treatment for addiction. He feared that if she failed to stay sober, she would lose custody of her children.
Some outpatient programmes can be successful, says Silver Bell. But they don’t always work out. ‘You go to a facility, you participate in a group, you have a primary therapist – but then what? You go home to your anxieties, to the pressures that caused the activation in the first place, the late-night ruminations…’
There can often be ‘a hole’ between inpatient treatment and recovery, which isn’t bridged by outpatient care. Today SBG is known for its in-home treatment programmes, but back then – with her own children at home – this wasn’t something Silver Bell was able to provide. What she did, however, was significant.
She began with small acts. ‘We would go grocery shopping together, play board games together with the children and generally model healthy behaviours as a sober person.’ Soon Dr Marvin Aronson, a forensic psychologist who was working in parallel with Silver Bell’s first client, asked to meet. ‘What are you doing with my patient?’ he asked. ‘Because it’s working.’ (Dr Aronson would later take Silver Bell under his wing and train her.)
Since then, Silver Bell’s practice has developed significantly. The firm’s own team members are coaches, not clinicians, so a central principle has been to carefully choose the doctors – often psychiatrists – with whom it collaborates.
‘I’m quite picky,’ says Silver Bell. ‘I’m not interested in somebody who is too quick to refer to a higher level of care. I think that is an old way of thinking, which can create a revolving door – where people go from inpatient to outpatient and back again so many times.’ She adds that SBG has been brought in to work with clients who have been through this cycle as many as 20 times.
SBG’s approach usually involves an initial period of assessment that can run for two or three weeks. In cases where inpatient treatment is appropriate, this is what the firm recommends. However, Silver Bell stresses, there is often another way. This can range from assigning a parent-coach to a mother or father who is concerned about a child who might be showing signs of struggling with their mental health, through to mobilising a team of specialists from various fields to help a client and their family through in-home care and other means. These multi- disciplinary teams are assembled to treat not just addiction itself, but also the underlying mental health issues that are so often its root cause.
SBG has forged firm relationships with some of the leading clinical specialists in the world. One of them, Dr Wayne Kampers, a consultant psychiatrist based in Harley Street, tells Spear’s his connection with the firm and its founder is underpinned by the values of ‘trust, loyalty, and respect’. ‘Natasha is unrivalled in her industry,’ he says. ‘She connects exceptionally well with all her clients and their families because she is a human who herself is both vulnerable yet authentic – the key strengths of all connections.’
Indeed, Silver Bell believes it’s a lack of connection between people, especially family members, that can allow certain issues to develop. And, in recovery, finding a sense of connection can be very powerful – both between people and with one’s own spiritual self. The spiritual element need not be tied to any one of the major world religions, she notes. But there are certain concepts that she finds useful and that speak to the ethos of the work that SBG does.
‘I always like to quote this scripture from the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament,’ explains Silver Bell. ‘Of course, it’s King Solomon, who some say was the wisest king of all time: “Iron sharpens iron, as one man sharpens another.”’ And it’s this principle – of the value of interpersonal relationships, combined with a non-judgemental attitude – which is at the core of SBG.