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A specialized young adult program pays dividends

March 18, 2014
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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A Caron Treatment Centers program initiative that grew in part out of a disconnect observed between older and younger adult patients in treatment settings is now expanding. The Caron Texas program north of Dallas is launching an eight-bed young adult male program modeled after larger-capacity programs for men and women at Caron's main campus in eastern Pennsylvania.

Caron's senior clinical director of adolescent and young adult programs says the treatment organization has successfully reduced problematic discharges of young adults and has improved long-term outcomes by creating a specialized program emphasizing a multidisciplinary treatment team, numerous specialty groups, and early engagement of the young adult's family. Thomas E. Deitzler, Jr., says the perception that young adults were not motivated for treatment often created friction between older and younger patients when they were situated in the same residential program.

“My generation, the Baby Boomers, did not embrace these young guys,” says Deitzler. “The thought was that they were coming in to hang out just to get something shaken off their back, whether it was legal, or related to employment , or related to their family.”

In addition, family engagement often was stifled even before it got a chance to flourish. “These young guys would talk their parents out of attending the family program,” says Deitzler. “They'd tell their parents, 'I got this. Don't waste your time.' For some parents, that was music to their ears. They bought into the pathology.”

In the young adult program in Pennsylvania and now in Texas (the target age range is 18 to 25), parents are informed at their first contact with admissions on the expectations for their attendance at the family program.

Deitzler adds that overall, establishment of the specialized program for young adults has reduced the percentage of young adult “unusual discharges” (for reasons such as elopement or program noncompliance) from 22% to 5%.

Program elements

The young adult program maintains Caron's strong focus on 12-Step treatment, heavily targeting topics such as unmanageability, surrender and acceptance. It also individualizes the approach to care by offering the young people a variety of specialty groups that address a diversity of needs.

Some of the group topics are anger management, art therapy, body image, “double trouble” (co-occurring mental health issues), LGBT issues, trauma, and adventure-based counseling. Deitzler says that the program attempts to script into treatment planning the topics that are most relevant to each individual, but it is not realistic for a client to attend, say, five different groups on an ongoing basis.

Caron has designed a 31-day program for young adults. It has a program capacity of 24 males and 14 to 16 females in the eastern Pennsylvania program that it originally established in 2006.

Contact with the outside world is also more restrictive in the young adult program than in Caron's adult track. Young adults are not allowed to bring their computer devices with them as they enter treatment, and contact with loved ones does not encompass one's significant other.

Changing a mindset

Deitzler says that one of the most significant notions to overcome in young adult treatment involves clients' impression that a sober life will be one of doom and gloom.

“We teach that recovery is more than just getting sober,” he says. “It's about having fun, and living life on life's terms.”

Even beyond that, the program serves to encourage young people in recovery to become leaders. Deitzler says the staff feels gratified when it sees that so many program graduates are pursuing advanced degrees in fields such as medicine and law.

In addition, Caron is aware that the young adult program's half dozen initial graduates have sustained long-term recovery since their treatment stay in 2006. “We teach them how to live a full life,” he says.