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Treatment should never take a holiday

December 16, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Marty Ferrero

If someone were suffering from a potentially fatal illness, no doctor would recommend the patient to wait until after the holiday season to be treated for it. Marty Ferrero, senior clinical director of Adult Services at Caron Treatment Centers, says the same should hold true for those suffering with an addiction. “Individuals come up with a whole host of reasons [why not to enter treatment] throughout the entire year, but more so throughout the holiday season,” he explains.

Many people with children will especially want to put off entering treatment until after the holidays as well.  Ferrero says if a family member shows concern for a loved one just prior to the holidays, that usually raises major red flags. He urges clinicians and addiction professionals to work with candidates for chemical dependency treatment to be sure to have these conversations.

One way Caron works to get individuals the treatment they need is by using a residential assessment program – a 5-to-7 day thorough evaluation. Ferrero says that in most cases, individuals who go through this process meet the criteria to substantiate a diagnosis and are recommended for treatment. If a person is highly resistant to the thought of entering treatment or has denial around the thought of it, this may be one way to help him see the need. After the evaluation, the family should be supported to maintain certain boundaries and help the individual make the right decision to stay for treatment and get the help that he or she needs (this happens regardless of whether it’s the holiday season).

Another way professionals should work with potential clients is by asking them to be honest with themselves about how the holidays have gone in the recent years. The person with an active addiction should be thinking about this past Thanksgiving or the holiday season over the past year or two. According to a recent survey by Caron, 60% of the respondents acknowledged that they’ve witnessed inappropriate behaviors at holiday gatherings in the workplace and also at family holiday parties.  

Many families who have a loved one who enters treatment just prior to the holidays report feeling “safe,” according to Ferrero. “Their loved one is in a safe environment with supportive people around them,” he explains.

Seeking treatment around the holidays may be a difficult decision, but in the end, this will be the best gift a client can give themselves and their families, says Ferrero. By being in treatment and making the sacrifice at this time, they will be able to be with their families for every holiday in the future, he says.

Holidays while in treatment

Although in many respects, the holiday season in a treatment center still feels like “business-as-usual,” Ferrero says the staff understands how difficult it can be for the individuals not to be home with their families during this time of year. Caron acknowledges the holidays by hosting special occasions such as a special meals, Hannukah services, chapel services and a Christmas pageant. However, there is a thin line here: “It’s painful enough so we don’t want to overdo it. We understate it in a sense,” says Ferrero.

As treatment is specialized for different populations—gender, age, etc.—the holiday season is individualized as well. The adolescents and young adults in treatment are not permitted to have family visit them during the holidays due to the level of emotional baggage that goes along with that. There is a high potential of the child acting out behaviorally while his/her family is at the treatment center and oftentimes he or she will try to manipulate the family members to try to go home with them. “Despite how harsh it sounds, it really works well for this population and their families,” Ferrero explains. Since it is individualized, some of the adolescent population is still allowed phone calls, family sessions with counselors, or the opportunity to send gifts.

“It’s really important to really rely on each other from a peer-culture standpoint and have that support from the staff as well,” he continues. At Caron, there is minimal vacation time allowed throughout the holidays because of the understanding that this is a difficult time for the patients and the importance to have programs as fully staffed as possible to help patients through it.

The adult population, which is the group that Ferrero oversees, has special family visitation times and dedicated Thanksgiving and Christmas meals where they can bring three or four family members in, as long as they’re deemed as appropriate by the Caron staff.

For the extended care patients, who are in treatment for typically four to five months and have gender-specific treatment, some are allowed “home passes” where they can spend anywhere from a couple hours to two days at home with their families. Ferrero explains that there is a tremendous amount of planning that happens prior to the patient’s trip home, and the experience is processed as well when he or she returns. Of course this doesn’t work for everyone in extended care, only the individuals who staff feels are ready and would really enjoy the opportunity to experience the holidays at home in a much healthier way.

Holidays after treatment

Aftercare is always an important part of treatment, but especially around the holidays. If a patient is leaving the treatment facility around the holidays, there are a number of aspects that make up a “safety plan” for an alum and his or her family to make it through that time as smoothly as possible. For example:

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