A non-12 Step based addiction treatment facility on Florida’s Gulf Coast breaks with convention in numerous ways, from a defining move of rejecting directive therapies to a simple practice of using letters instead of numbers on patient room doors.
Alternative Treatment International, Inc.’s explanation for the latter? “When you come here, you’re not a number,” says co-founder Alan Meyers, PhD. Yet the other nontraditional approaches are what truly distinguish the Joint Commission-accredited ATI from most treatment centers, making the Clearwater, Fla. residential program one of the most prominent alternatives nationally to 12-Step based treatment programming.
“Our therapies are indirective and metaphorical,” says Meyers, who last fall participated in a closing panel discussion at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) on alternative approaches . “When you can bring the client to their own conclusion, it’s effective because it becomes their idea, not yours.”
A visit to ATI’s extended-care, private-pay treatment site in Clearwater illustrates the many ways the program diverts from the norm in treating addictions and other behavioral health issues. The clinical foundation of ATI’s program is a trademarked “Perception Therapy” that emphasizes the influence that thinking has had on one’s behavior; it shares similarities with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) but is more insight-oriented, Meyers says.
Some group therapy takes place to offer general insight on changing one’s perceptions, but Meyers says most of the intensive work takes place in individual therapy, with a couple of days between scheduled sessions to allow clients to process the information. “We tried to give four or five days a week of individual therapy, but it was too intense,” he says.
Meyers adds, “We don’t talk about drugs or alcohol in these sessions. Why would we want to bring that negativity to their attention?”
The key to clients’ long-term wellness becomes maintaining awareness, he says, adding, “If that stays high, they don’t relapse.”
ATI’s program incorporates a substantial holistic/wellness component that includes fitness, yoga and nutrition. Meyers and partner Julia Stewart adhere to the importance of practicing multiple healing techniques. “You never know what someone is going to latch on to that will change their life forever,” Meyers says.
Most clients stay in the program for six weeks to two months, and Meyers says he prefers to connect departing clients to a therapist in their home area rather than refer them to a sober housing environment after treatment.
The program houses 12 clients at its maximum capacity, and its directors see no need to grow it from that manageable number. “We do much better with a smaller population. We can do more individual therapy,” Meyers says.