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Daily guidance delivered electronically

July 1, 2009
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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As the president and program director of the Serene Center men's transitional living facility in Long Beach, California, Andrew Martin has maintained as a priority the search for technological aids to lessen the burden of routine functions on counseling staff. He has found one such breakthrough in the area of reviewing the personal journal entries that program residents complete-an important function that nevertheless is about as routine as it gets in the daily pulse of a treatment facility.

Serene Center hosts through its Web site a http://SerenityLog.com journaling platform that uses a key word scan to generate daily meditations and affirmations for residents, without the need for a counselor to review each client's daily journal entries.

“This is a system that crawls patients' entries for keywords and phrases that have to do with issues that are common to people in early recovery,” Martin says of the technology, which was developed in-house with the help of a programmer. “It feeds back information to the patient on a daily basis. I don't think it shortcuts any of the counselor's work.”

How the program works

Residents of the 38-bed Serene Center, a male-only facility that has been open for a little over a year, each have their own login name and password for use of the daily journaling system. Because the program is hosted on the center's Web site, residents can access it from any location.

The automated “reading” of the journal entries occurs beginning at 12:01 a.m. each morning, so that when the resident goes onto the system again the next day to compose a new entry, he will receive feedback on what he wrote the previous day.

Martin explains that depending on the keywords identified by the system, the resident will receive one of two types of feedback messages. The message either will be a meditation for the day, which is a statement for the patient to think about that is not necessarily tailored to that individual, or an affirmation, which is designed to be a more personal observation that is intended to help build the client's self-worth, Martin says.

As an example, Martin says that the system can identify the psychological manifestations of a patient dealing with denial. A simple statement in journaling such as “They were lying” could unlock a subject that might need to be explored in greater detail, such as denial or anxiety, he says.

Martin describes the entire process for the patient as a “self-awareness mechanism for the patient to recognize his own thinking. It leads the patient to epiphanies.”

Building an automated system that would identify the most illustrative keywords and phrases to uncover the recovering person's experience took a great deal of research, Martin says. The system is equipped to uncover details from about 1,500 words and phrases, he says.

While Martin says clinicians in his organization have not had a problem with the change toward an online system for journal feedback, he did experience some initial pushback from a few patients. “They thought the system might not be confidential,” he says. But he adds that the program is so secure that “I can't even change the patient's password.”

Besides its journaling functions, http://SerenityLog.com also has personalized calendar, intranet e-mail and sobriety calculator functions for the patient.

Other uses of technology

Serene Center also has been able to use technological tools to eliminate traditional residential facility functions such as room checks to confirm attendance. It has an automated attendance function that operates by requiring residents to place their finger on a scanner when they enter or leave various rooms in the facility.

Residents also need to swipe a card to gain access to certain areas of the facility, and the card can be immediately de-activated if a resident does something that results in forfeiture of privileges, such as missing a drug screening appointment, Martin says. He says the facility finds itself required to suspend someone's privileges in this way about once every other week.

“We know exactly where people are going and where they are entering the building,” Martin says.

Although Martin says he believes the addiction treatment industry remains well behind many other fields in integrating today's technology-and he admits to have interviewed several potential employees who have had little experience with technology-he believes some of Serene Center's initiatives have begun to change the culture of the organization.

“The integration of technology provides a basis of pride,” Martin says. “The staff thinks it's cool that we do all this stuff. It positions the organization as a leader.”


To see photos of the Serene Center campus, visit http://www.addictionpro.com/serene091008.

Addiction Professional 2009 July-August;7(4):53