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Treatment provider addresses need for gender specific programs

November 9, 2012
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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When Sure Haven, a treatment center for women with chemical dependency, process addictions and mental illnesses, announced that it would be opening a new program for men, many questioned the thought process.

The question asked: Is this new program a logical extension of the organization’s mission or could it water down a women’s program that has been functioning successfully for years?

Elizabeth Perry, Co-Founder and Director of Admissions at Sure Haven says, “I think that would be a valid concern; however, what we decided to do was bring on a new clinical team.”

She continues, “The way we’re looking at it is not that Sure Haven is expanding, but simply that the parent company opened an additional company.  The facilities are completely separate.  The only thing that remains the same is the admissions department. Each program still maintains its own integrity with regard to its mission.”

Perry believes that starting with a women-only program has greatly benefited the men’s program, Rock Solid Recovery (RSR).  “I think that starting with women, as far as the company goes, we were able to really work out the kinks of what it’s like to work with a young woman struggling with addiction. And by replicating it with the men, we’re starting with a program that’s already solid. We understand that different issues manifest in different ways.”

Continuing with that thought, she says that men in general are much more open in terms of discussing what they’re struggling with, whereas with women there’s a good deal of “shame, guilt, and hidden complex problems that are underlying behaviors.”

RSR, Perry explains, has been modeled after the Sure Haven program.  In addition to chemical dependency, disordered eating behavior, sex and love addiction, and mental health issues, the program also addresses issues such as gambling and video gaming.  She recognizes that in young men especially, cross addictions are very common.  She also believes that gambling and video gaming issues are “really underaddressed.” 

Like at Sure Haven, major components of the RSR program will include the academic, the vocational, and the volunteering pieces.  Programming in these areas starts with a volunteering component, helping clients work on their sense of self-esteem and value and helping them learn accountability and responsibility in early recovery, and then gradually helping them get back into the work force or back into school.

Another important part of the program, according to Perry, is an experiential component featuring surfing. “With young people, the concept of a higher power can be something that they can’t comprehend. And I know that a lot of young people are resistant to 12-Step because of the whole ‘higher power’ concept,” she says.  She comments that a lot of her clients will ask “What does that mean?” or they will say “I don’t believe in God.”  

“Surfing is a really great way to use nature to demonstrate what that means,” Perry explains.  “If you think you have a lot of power, try getting out there and holding those waves back.  It’s a great way for them to have a tangible concept of what that means to be powerless — to have to submit to somebody else’s will rather than your own.”

In recovery herself, Perry explains that it is important to teach clients that they can still enjoy life.  “If I didn’t think I could possibly have fun in life, in sobriety, I wouldn’t have stuck with it,” she says.  “There’s this concept with young people that being sober means boring, not having fun ever again. So it’s important to work with them to show them that life can actually be a lot more enjoyable when you can participate in it because you’re not held hostage by your addiction.”

Having opened in early October, the men’s program currently has two homes located on the same site, with a total of 12 beds.  The two homes serve as Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the program, and Perry says the goal is to establish another home with six beds licensed and ready to go by the end of this year that will serve as Phase 3.

“The role of our program is to start releasing that support gradually so they’re still in a therapeutic setting while they’re practicing these things on their own,” Perry says of the structure of Sure Haven and RSR.  These programs teach and promote life skills such as doing domestic chores, interviewing, being in a healthy relationship, and getting a job.  

Another aspect of the program that Perry addresses is the clients’ cell phone use.  As many programs take cell phones away and give them back upon discharge, Perry says this is dangerous because the client then has access to and memory of all their using friends and “in a vulnerable moment, they may reach out to somebody they shouldn’t be reaching out to.”

She continues, “And through this it becomes easier to fall back into old behaviors.” Sure Haven and RSR give the cell phone back while in the program, but sit down with their clients to get feedback about the contents.  Perry says they help them to get rid of contacts that don’t belong, change the client’s phone number if necessary, and work with them to teach how to work with those triggers and urges if or when they arise.

RSR, which currently has eight clients, is about two miles away from the women’s program, according to Perry.  She says people were always asking “where’s a program like yours but for men?” 

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