Helping Men Recover (Covington, Griffin, and Dauer; Jossey-Bass 2011) is the first gender-responsive and trauma-informed curriculum for men who have alcohol and other drug addictions. We have found that the curriculum works well for other addictions, domestic violence programs, and other services targeted for men and fathers.
In the fall of 2009, as we were making final revisions, a pilot program utilizing the curriculum was initiated at River Ridge Treatment Center in Burnsville, Minnesota. Since then, over 200 men have gone through the twenty-one week outpatient program. As Clinical Director at River Ridge, I have had the pleasure of witnessing the impact this project has had on clients, clinicians, and the organization as a whole. In this entry I will focus on how our clients have benefitted from experiencing the curriculum.
Attendance and retention have improved significantly. The two-year period from August 2009 through August 2011 showed a 17% increase in staff-approved completion rates compared to the previous two-year period. While this was not a scientifically controlled research study, the only primary variable that changed was the introduction of Helping Men Recover. And while completion rates do not necessarily correlate to long-term abstinence or quality of life improvements, all of the available research clearly indicates that retention is a reliable indicator of program success.
We have seen extraordinary changes in how the men relate to the clinical staff and their peers, and in how they view past behaviors and experiences. Following are some brief observations made by the group facilitators (and echoed by clinicians at other facilities where the curriculum is utilized):
- The men are engaged, challenged, and stimulated by the materials and the therapeutic approach. Group dynamics and participation are more robust.
- They are less adversarial and more prone toward a collaborative approach.
- They are kinder and more generous with peers yet hold each other highly accountable for attendance, participation, abstinence, and other basic program expectations.
- There is a sense of true safety in the group and they are more willing to talk about trauma, violence, and abuse, both experienced and perpetrated.
- The men are less likely to see themselves as damaged beyond repair, and more capable of working through feelings of shame, fear, anger, grief, and hopelessness.
- They are more willing to address mental health issues, particularly post-traumatic stress disorders. We have seen a threefold increase in referrals to on-site psychological services.
- There are fewer power struggles, and less posturing or aggressive behaviors.
- New members are welcomed and integrated into the group quickly. Senior peers demonstrate a genuine sense of ownership.
The incidence of relapse while active in treatment has not appreciably decreased. However, the men who do use alcohol or non-prescribed drugs are much more likely to volunteer this information and ask for help in getting back on track. And, those who are consistently unable to maintain abstinence are more amenable to referral for a higher level of care.