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Caron revamps intensive residential therapy program

March 11, 2009
by David Raths
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Trauma-related program extends the mission beyond addiction treatment alone

More than 20 years ago, Caron Treatment Centers began to recognize the importance of helping people unlock the pain and emotions from past trauma. Complementing its wide range of addiction treatment programs, the Pennsylvania nonprofit facility’s intensive residential therapy, initially designed to help the families of addicts, soon broadened its focus to include anyone whose childhood experiences had led to compulsive behaviors and dysfunctional relationships.

Now the woman who created the program in the 1980s, Ann W. Smith, MS, LMFT, LPC, has returned to the main Caron campus in Wernersville to lead a revamped Breakthrough at Caron ( program. Smith sees this as an opportunity to do her intensive therapy work on a much larger scale.

“I have been doing this Breakthrough program independently once a month for 17 years, so I have learned some new dimensions about how to reach people’s deep needs,” Smith says. Rather than focusing on the problems in individuals’ day-to-day lives, the group therapy tries to reach a deeper emotional level. “Through being in a group session away from their normal lives, they lower their defenses,” Smith says of participants, and through role-playing and psychodrama, they can act out what their childhood was like for them.

Intended as a supplement to outpatient counseling, the intensive five-and-a-half-day workshop sessions are held in a recently restored 8,500-square-foot, 19th century historic home adjoining the Caron campus. Along with the new setting, the program has been bolstered with two therapists working with every group of 10 people, Smith says.

Because Breakthrough is considered a workshop, no diagnosis is given to participants and the services are therefore not covered by insurance. Some need-based assistance may be available to individuals on a case-by-case basis, according to Caron.

Although Breakthrough participants don’t have to be dealing with addiction-related issues, Smith notes that the program has proved particularly helpful for people for whom addiction has some connection in their lives. She adds that the effort continues Caron’s commitment to offering complementary therapy services.

“This isn’t Caron’s bread and butter, but they recognized the importance of [the program] early on,” Smith says. “Also, there are ways that we overlap. People in extended care and relapse programs at Caron can make Breakthrough one part of their treatment.”

Smith says the program’s sessions focus on nurturing, structure and safety. “This is not about breaking people down and leaving them emotionally vulnerable,” she says. “It’s about breaking through to a new emotional level, so they are ready to return home and work with their therapist.”

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer.