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Texas university sees broader mission for collegiate recovery program

July 29, 2016
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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In its rapid development of a collegiate recovery program and related services on its campus, the University of North Texas (UNT) has sought to fulfill multiple missions around service, research and teaching. As what its leaders believe is the only collegiate recovery program in the country to offer fully integrated support for substance use and mental health concerns, the UNT program aims to respond to a growing complexity of problems that leaders see on campus.

The chair of the academic department that oversees the UNT program cites a telling statistic related to why an integrated behavioral health approach makes sense: Mental health concerns now rank as the most common reason for dropout at the university.

Linda Holloway, PhD, adds that national leaders have been encouraging more of an integrated behavioral health mindset among recovery programs serving university communities.

The roots of collegiate recovery programs are largely student-driven and peer-run, and that often means that program leaders see a single purpose to their effort and shy away from working with students with significant mental health concerns or process addictions. While most of the recovery groups conducted at UNT are student-run, participants in the collegiate recovery program also benefit from the input of staff in the university's Department of Disability and Addiction Rehabilitation, which Holloway chairs.

“We train all of our peers in Mental Health First Aid,” says Holloway. She adds, “We have a disordered eating group. I hear other programs say they don't work with people with eating disorders. I think they might see these people, but they don't ask [about the issue].”

Multifaceted support

Participants in the UNT collegiate recovery program are required to attend three group sessions per week; on-campus groups with both a 12-Step and SMART Recovery orientation are offered. Some students also attend off-site 12-Step meetings. Students who have been in stable recovery for some time also have access to peer services, but at a lower intensity than what is available in the collegiate recovery program.

Holloway says participants in the more intensive program also are assigned a peer recovery coach, and meet with an academic case manager. The department also offers a weekly recovery seminar for which students can earn up to three hours of academic credit.

The program has made great and rapid strides since students first expressed interest in forming one in 2013, Holloway says. The program officially started in the fall of 2014, and on-campus housing on a substance-free environment for students in recovery opened in 2015. The input of an academic department is uncommon, in that most collegiate recovery programs are run out of an office of student affairs.

Holloway says she is working on organizing an early-fall focus group of all collegiate recovery programs in Texas, seeking to identify opportunities for joint research into the factors that contribute to successful operations. As an academic department overseeing a collegiate recovery program, “We need to make sure that what we're doing is evidence-based, and that we're also contributing to the field,” she says.

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While UNT is definitely doing some good work, programs that don't offer the same kinds of services and resources to faculty and staff perpetuate the myth that addiction issues are more of a student problem than a campus community problem. We believe a holistic approach that starts with a robust program that targets higher ed institution employees has a higher probability of success. It replaces the, "we-they", mentality with an understanding that addiction is an equal opportunity disease just as likely to affect employees as it is students. Check out our program at: http://www.wefaceittogether.org/join-us/employers