Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Another door opens by a crack

A few weeks ago, as I reported elsewhere, I was invited to speak about LifeRing at Mountain Vista Farm, one of the oldest rural inpatient treatment programs in California. Mountain Vista's reputation is that of a citadel of the 12-step approach. Yet there was genuine interest in hearing about the LifeRing approach, and my presentation appeared to resonate with quite a few of the counselors in attendance.

Now comes an invitation to speak about LifeRing at another well-known bastion of the 12-step approach, the Henry Ohloff program in San Francisco. I will be addressing staff at the outpatient center on June 2. Like Mountain Vista, this program is not ready to host a LifeRing meeting, and it may be quite a while before the treatment protocol opens up to the reality that there are many roads to recovery. But meanwhile, there are staff members in these tradition-bound programs who have their eyes and ears open for new developments that may help some of their clients.

This is certainly a welcome sign. If I ask why it is occurring, the answer is that patients/clients are driving it. In at least 80 per cent of the cases where we are contacted by a treatment professional and asked for more information about LifeRing, a patient or client was the driver. A patient or client introduced the professional to LifeRing literature or the LifeRing web presence, or informed the professional that he/she was attending LifeRing and that it was helping.

And even when an individual patient or client is not directly the driver, in the sense that he or she located LifeRing and put LifeRing on the professional's radar screen, it is still patients/clients who drive the process passively, by voting with their feet when the professionals only offer an approach that does not work for them. A treatment program that only offers the 12 steps and nothing else is going to experience, sooner or later, the reality that 80 per cent of newcomers to AA walk away within 30 days (and 95 per cent within a year).

While few treatment programs retain a patient as long as a full 30 days -- the average stay at one nominally 28-day program I know is around 10 days -- the client resistance to 12-step may well show up from Day One of treatment. If the program has nothing else to offer, it's going to lose clients earlier than if it offered choices. Monomodal treatment translates into high patient turnover. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure it out.

And so, the wheels turn, and sooner or later a call goes out to LifeRing, or another alternative approach. Quite a few LifeRing convenors now have had the experience of explaining LifeRing before audiences in treatment programs. To be sure, it's far too early to proclaim a tsunami, but if we compare the interest in LifeRing from treatment programs ten years ago and now, we're almost in a new era. Ten years ago, most minds were closed and we couldn't get in the door. Today, we're frequently in the embarassing situation of getting requests from a program director to start a meeting, and not having a convenor to take the room. It's a problem, but it's a better problem to have.

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