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Relate, Repeat, Reframe: A Model for Alumni Services

June 27, 2011
by Lorie Obernauer
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I read an interesting book this past weekend: “Change or Die” by Alan Deutschman. While the book is written within the framework of how change can occur within organizations, I believe that the principles can work for individuals. Furthermore, these principles just might offer us a framework for designing our alumni programs.

Deutschman starts his book by posing this question: “Change or die? What if you were given this choice?” This very question is one that we pose to our clients: Are you willing to stop drinking/using/gambling etc? Are you willing to change….or die?”

The author suggests that change has often been promoted by introducing “facts, fear, and force”. Within the context of addiction, we explain to the addict how alcohol/drugs negatively affects our brains and bodies. We point out that if they don’t change, they may lose family, friends, business, house, etc…or literally, die. We send them to classes, to treatment or to jail. But according to Deutschman, this is not how change occurs, especially “when change isn’t coming naturally, when the difficulties stubbornly persist; when you’ve tried again and again to overcome problems”.

For the addict, efforts to change might seem hopeless. With that state of mind, Deutschman suggests that to create change, we might apply three new principles: “relate, repeat, reframe”.

Relate: A person does this by “forming a new, emotional relationship with a community that inspires and sustains hope”.

Repeat: In these new relationships, people have opportunities to “learn, practice, and master the new habits and skills needed”.

Reframe: The new relationships “help people learn new ways of thinking about their situation and their life”.

I believe that that our alumni programs can promote change by using these concepts. First, we can help our clients make connections with others who are successfully managing recovery. Through these connections, those who are newly recovering may find the hope and inspiration that is needed for the process of change to start. Through alumni activities, including social, recreational, and educations opportunities, those who are new in recovery can start to identify and practice those behaviors that successful alumni emulate. Ultimately, through these new relationships that are nurtured within the context of alumni activities, the newly recovered person can begin to experience the world “in a way that is would have made no sense before the changes occurred”. These relationships may be one on one; they may be realized within the context of a community. Either way, the newly recovering person has opportunities to let go of old attitudes and behaviors and learn new skills and mindsets.

I highly recommend “Change or Die”. It’s a quick read, and includes some great stories about how changes occurred in unlikely circumstances. You can also read a summary written by the author.

Deutschman ends the book with a challenge for us all: “Change and Thrive”. How can you apply the “relate, repeat, and reframe” model to your alumni programming?


Lorie Obernauer

Alumni Coordinator at CeDAR (Center for Dependency, Addiction & Rehabilitation, University of Colorado Hospital

Lorie Obernauer

Lorie Obernauer, PhD, is the Alumni Coordinator at CeDAR (Center for Dependency, Addiction...

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