About The Seven Challenges

Our History

The Seven Challenges was developed by Robert Schwebel, Ph.D., who remains actively involved with clinical and implementation aspects of the Program.

In 1991, Dr. Schwebel began developing what soon became known as The Seven Challenges, while he was counseling adolescents in a residential treatment center and an intensive outpatient setting. From the beginning, Dr. Schwebel firmly believed that a substance abuse counseling program must be developmentally appropriate; based upon psychological research and science, and holistic - that is, addressing substance abuse issues as well as co-occurring problems and life skills deficits.

Unlike many evidence-based programs, The Seven Challenges was not funded by federal grant money and was not developed by an academic at a university. However, the Program generated considerable interest and caught the attention of someone from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) in Washington, D.C. The Seven Challenges was rolled into CSAT-funded research projects as a comparison program. As positive outcomes were demonstrated, word of the Program's success spread further. The Seven Challenges, both the version for adolescents and the one for adults, is now used across the United States plus in Canada, Germany, and Malta. 

From the beginning, Dr. Schwebel firmly believed that a substance abuse counseling program must be [...] holistic, addressing substance abuse issues as well as co-occurring problems and life skills deficits

The Program has been implemented in a wide array of services, including residential, intensive outpatient programs, outpatient, drug court, wilderness programs, school, and home-based settings. Each implementing organization has counselors and clinical supervisors who have regular support calls with a Seven Challenges trainer, plus ongoing training and monitoring. With more and more organizations implementing the program, the clinical and administrative team had to grow beyond just Robert Schwebel and Sharon Conner. A small but mighty team of trainers and administrative people support hundreds of organizations in their efforts to implement and sustain The Seven Challenges program.

The Seven Challenges Team


Robert Schwebel

Robert Schwebel, Ph.D.

Robert Schwebel has worked in the field of mental health and drug counseling for more than 50 years and wrote several books including Saying No Is Not Enough; Keep Your Kids Tobacco-Free; and Who’s on Top, Who’s on Bottom: How Couples Can Learn to Share Power. He also wrote and developed The Seven Challenges program for adolescents and young adults, and more recently a version for adults of all ages, which includes his most recent book, Leap of Power: Take Control of Alcohol, Drugs, and Your Life. Robert has facilitated hundreds of trainings for professionals and continues to lead the Seven Challenges training team. He has appeared on The Oprah Show, The Today Show, The CBS Early Show, CNN interviews, and other national media. He regularly contributes articles to thefix.com and Psychology Today. These and other articles can also be read at www.robertschwebel.com/blog.

In addition to his work, Robert most enjoys spending time with his wife, their two adult sons, and close friends. He has a wide variety of interests and activities including travel, hiking, running, playing sports, music, and activism pertaining to peace and social justice. He is the captain of a small inflatable fleet of kayaks.

Rick Barr, LMHC.

Richard Barr, LMHC

Rick Barr is our Senior Trainer and was an “early-comer” to The Seven Challenges. In 2002, Rick was the clinical director of a juvenile justice facility where they implemented Seven Challenges. During the training process, Robert Schwebel became impressed by Rick’s counseling philosophy (holistic, not dictating behaviors, empowering clients) and the leadership and training abilities he had with his clinical team. In 2005, Rick started facilitating occasional Seven Challenges Initial Training for new agencies and by 2007, he was providing training and support continuously. He also worked with Robert and Sharon to develop the support and monitoring measures currently used. Rick is often referred to as a “road warrior” because he is constantly traveling to agencies all over the US and Canada, and as such, he is credited with inspiring and teaching thousands of counselors.

In addition to Seven Challenges work, Rick enjoys being an adjunct psychology professor. Rick currently lives in Florida, but as a Pittsburgh native he’s a Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates fan (even in sad times). He used to race dirt motorcycles and loves automobile racing, especially drag racing. Those in California know the first place he goes after landing is In ‘N Out – nothing like their hamburgers. Rick most enjoys time with his father, adult children, and his two granddaughters.

Mike Panico

Mike Panico, MS, LPC

Mike Panico first became familiar with The Seven Challenges in the 1990s and recognized as being in concert with his thinking about counseling, based on many years in the field. (Mike also says that he appreciated Robert Schwebel’s Tucson newspaper columns from the ’80s which were “so much better than the usual parenting advice columns.”) Currently, Mike is the Associate Clinical Director of an agency in Arizona that employs the Seven Challenges for both adults and adolescents, and Brief Challenges for young people. In this capacity, Mike has used each of those versions with clients, plus he has been a member of The Seven Challenges training team since 2011. Mike loves the benefits of using the Progam and considers his agency to be one of the “test kitchens” for Seven Challenges. He and Robert Schwebel have collaborated to pilot many aspects of the program and training.

Mike is active as a musician, playing in a surf band, an old-school punk rock band, a group that does folky acoustic versions of punk rock songs, and as a solo artist. Plus, he writes and records original material, and back in the old days when MTV played music videos, he was in one! Mike’s two young adult kids would tell you that he is not shy about being an incredible cook and that he has mixed feelings about having four cats.

Cassie Russel

Cassie Russell, CACD

Cassie Russell first learned about Seven Challenges in 2005, while working for the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice, where she retired after 28 years. As a member of our training team, she loves helping people make progress in their work finds the dedication counselors possess to be inspiring and energizing. In addition to her Seven Challenges training work, she also works full time as a professional artist, running her own gallery and studio – House of Bleu – in Louisville. She is a gifted oil painter with a focus on horses, but she also paints dogs and cats and sometimes people.

Cassie and her husband enjoy their family, especially their young grandchild. Her other hobbies include being owned by a couple of Tonkinese cats and remodeling her 130-year-old commercial building that also houses her studio/gallery.

John Izzo

John Izzo, LPC

John Izzo first heard about The Seven Challenges in 2007, when the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) implemented the program statewide. Rick Barr was the trainer in 2007, and John knew after the first ten minutes that Seven Challenges was a program that matched his personal and professional beliefs about how counseling should be done. After using the program as a counselor and providing clinical supervision for his team at DJJ, John joined our training team in 2014. John enjoys supporting organizations around the country that are implementing Seven Challenges and Brief Challenges, while he continues his full-time job as the Statewide Substance Use Treatment Administrator for Georgia DJJ.

John lives just outside Augusta, Georgia with his wife and teenage daughter. He loves traveling and spending time with his family. He also loves to BBQ and cycle on the weekends. John grew up in Cleveland, Ohio but wound up down South at the University of South Carolina where he did his undergraduate work and became a diehard Gamecock fan!  

Theresa Tessa De Armond

Theresa De Armond, LPC, NCC

Tessa De Armond began facilitating Seven Challenges sessions in 2008, while working in a juvenile justice facility with both boys and girls. She has completed all nine of the Journals with hundreds of young people over the years! Tessa participated in various Seven Challenges trainings with both Rick Barr and Robert Schwebel over the years and in 2017, she joined The Seven Challenges training team, while staying active with her private practice in Phoenix. Fun facts: Tessa developed and implements the only women’s anger management group in Phoenix, Arizona.

In addition to being a great trainer and counselor, Tessa has also worked as an amateur magician and clowned around at parties! That's where her talent at face painting and making balloon animals came in handy. And, yes, all this while dressed as a clown! Tessa lives in Phoenix, where she enjoys swimming, sunblock, and spending time with her large family.

Brittany Simmons, MSW, LCSW

Brittany Simmons, MSW, LCSW

Brittany Simmons became familiar with the Seven Challenges in 2014, when providing the Program in an outpatient clinic for adolescents and young adults. Prior to that, she developed a strong background in providing both substance abuse and mental health counseling to adults and adolescents in both inpatient and outpatient settings. In addition to her current work as a Seven Challenges trainer, Brittany works with veterans to ensure their psychiatric stabilization and suicide prevention.

Brittany was born and raised in North Carolina where she currently lives with her husband. She enjoys spending time with family and friends, traveling, makeup artistry, and exploring new music and foods.

Lauren Greenwald, LCSW-C

Lauren Greenwald, LCSW-C

Lauren Greenwald found The Seven Challenges program in 2016, and led her residential treatment team as they implemented the Program. Later, while in private practice, she assisted a large charter school with the implementation of Seven Challenges for its students. Over the course of these two implementations, Lauren attended multiple Seven Challenges trainings, working with several members of the training team including Robert Schwebel. Lauren has always appreciated the flexibility of implementation and the client-centered approach of Seven Challenges, and in early 2019, she joined the Seven Challenges training team, working with organizations providing either the adolescent or the adult version of the program.

Lauren enjoys her adult children, ferrets, and dogs, plus she has a good time cooking, traveling, listening to live music, going to the beach and lake as often as possible, and playing poker and trivia. She secretly desires to become an interior decorator when she retires from private practice and she hopes to find a house on a lake with enough land to accommodate more animals (including goats and chickens) and lots of visits from the kids and grandkids.

Roy Eiermann, MA, LCPC

Roy was first introduced to the Seven Challenges in 2008, and has experience as a counselor and Leader, supporting his team with implementation. In his more recent role as Program Director for a community mental health agency in the suburbs of Chicago, he has been involved with both the adolescent and adult versions of Seven Challenges. Roy is excited to be a member of The Seven Challenges training team because he enjoys providing training and support for other professionals who are using the program to empower clients.

Roy has been a foster parent for eight children over the last ten years, along with his partner. He enjoys working out at home with iFit – his go-to stress reliever after a tough day with clients or parenting. You will find him in his Jeep Wrangler during the summers, with the top down and doors off, exploring the Midwest and, hopefully soon, a road trip out West. 


Sharon Conner

Sharon Conner

Sharon who is the Director of Program Services, became aware of The Seven Challenges while working in the same organization where Robert Schwebel first piloted the program. She joined The Seven Challenges team in 2005, to support a more widespread and sustainable implementation process for organizations that want to provide the Program. Currently, Sharon works with organizations to determine whether Seven Challenges is a good fit for their work with clients, and she coordinates the licensing, training, and ongoing support process. Sharon also keeps her eye on everything program-related and works to tie it all together.

Sharon has always gotten a kick out of kids of all ages and is thoroughly enjoying her fairly new grandmother role. She also loves being in the water – pool, ocean, lake, creek – hiking, camping, motorcycling, and the fun travel that goes along with those activities.

Trish Thayer

Trish Thayer

Trish Thayer is the Administrative Coordinator, and has been an important member of the Seven Challenges team since 2010. She is currently managing Viva Press, the division of the company that processes the program materials (manuals, journals, etc.) Trish also schedules the annual Support/Fidelity Visits with organizations, coordinates Leader Training registration, and oversees some accounting processes.

Trish is a true appreciator of the arts and often contributes her time and expertise to a variety of theatre and music production companies. She enjoys baseball games(Go D-backs!), attending live theater shows  and relaxing with her kitties: Rosie, Cosmo, and Scout.

Cassidi Fancett

Cassidi Fancett 

Cassidi Fancett, the Implementation Coordinator, started working with Seven Challenges in 2012, and like all the members of the very small administrative team, she has had a part in every aspect of the work. Currently, Cassidi works closely with organizations as they prepare for training related to Seven Challenges implementation. She also supports the trainers as they work with organizations providing the Program. Cassidi often says, “I get to work with some of the smartest and kindest people who all believe helping others is important.”

Cassidi lives in a rural ranching community and loves to ride her horse, work with her partner to produce a weekly rodeo, and play with her sweet toddler. She is also drawn to travel, cooking, playing piano and some people call her an “animal whisperer.”

Claudia Schwebel

Claudia Schwebel is a founding member of The Seven Challenges, LLC, along with her husband, Robert. She has been involved in printing, publishing, and shipping program materials from the beginning. Claudia also developed and helps oversee business and accounting practices for The Seven Challenges. Claudia is originally from Hermosillo, Mexico, and is a native Spanish speaker. She worked with Robert to create a quality translation of Seven Challenges materials from English to Spanish.

Apart from her work with The Seven Challenges, Claudia enjoys traveling, gardening, hiking, exercising, and spending time with her friends and family, who often benefit from her adventurous and talented cooking spirit!

Taylar Kregness

Taylar Kregness is the Communications Coordinator for The Seven Challenges, beginning her work with the team in 2021. Taylar handles the website maintenance, publishes the Newsletter, contributes to professional presentations, and supports the entire team with technology (and some of them panic periodically!) She also handles continuing education coordination, and other special projects as they arise.

Taylar is passionate about activism and sustainability. She enjoys reading, having a good cup of coffee, and spending time with her cats; it is always a pleasure when these things happen together.

The Seven Challenges

Improves client engagement with holistic counseling, balancing work on drug and other problems.

Helps clients identify and clarify their own issues and concerns and understand them in the context of life circumstances.

Promotes mindful self-awareness and teaches decision-making skills.

Increases emotional literacy by teaching about trusting & respectful relationships and building resilience in the face of setbacks.

Supports plans for success and individualizes relapse prevention.

Helps clients take power over their lives, including use of alcohol & other drugs.

Counseling without shame, blame or stigma.

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