What is a Therapeutic Community for Addiction Recovery?
When you have a problem, you don’t want to fix part of it; you want to repair all of it. If your house bursts into flames, you wouldn’t merely douse the living room with water and hope the rest of the fire throughout the whole place goes out by itself.
A similar dynamic is an accurate approach concerning recovery. We can’t merely treat the symptoms of addiction or the physical needs of a resident independently. Sobriety is an all-encompassing endeavor. It affects every breath you take and each waking moment of the day. In other words, you are truly living for recovery.
For these reasons and so many more, it is best to immerse yourself in a sober living reality full time. When you surround yourself with like-minded individuals, you are virtually collaborating on your treatment together. Every meal is an opportunity for the bonding process, every group session provides insights, and every corner you turn embraces your progress.
Welcome to the therapeutic community.
A Brief History of Wellness
As we now understand, addiction is a disease. It requires an in-depth understanding of various chemical, psychological, and practical levels. When treatment programs started to wrap their heads around just how comprehensive recovery care needed to be, they began to evolve accordingly.
In 1958, California founded what is widely considered the first therapeutic community (TC). Rather than focus on acute care, TCs developed a holistic approach to treatment. Acute care, as the name suggests, focuses narrowly on one element of addiction. For example, if alcohol is a patient’s substance of choice, acute care deprives the user of alcoholic beverages.
As you can imagine, acute care fails to consider the myriad complications and damages surrounding the substance itself. Therapeutic communities eschew acute care in favor of a recovery model of treatment. The recovery method acknowledges the persistent, ongoing nature of addiction.
Therapeutic communities welcome patients into an everyday paradigm of sobriety. They do not need to imagine what recovery will look or feel like because they are already living it. One of the significant advantages of therapeutic communities is the unfettered access to cognitive and behavioral care. It is easy for a doctor to instruct you to change your ways or avoid a specific substance, but it is much more useful to gather the skills to achieve those goals. Even the term “therapeutic community” is founded on the root word “therapy” – this is a reassuring indication that the TC technique is grounded in mental health from which successful recoveries naturally flourish.
Community as Method
The other essential ingredient in the phrase “therapeutic communities” is the latter word, communities. The community defines us in a plethora of profound ways. We play our part in society, and society, in turn, shapes us.
But we are not merely cogs in the wheel. We are influencers, we are thinkers, and we are social animals. One of the cornerstones of TCs is the concept of community as a method. Rather than seeing other people as triggers for addiction, you can perceive them as resources for your enduring sobriety.
For instance, if you live in a therapeutic community geared towards other men who share various interests and background traits, you are immediately one step closer to identifying with your fellow residents. There is less awkwardness, judgment, and uncertainty. Camaraderie yields understanding, so “community as a method” is a powerful tool in transforming your social group into a full-fledged support system.
Therapeutic Communities: By the Numbers
We can breathlessly espouse the benefits of therapeutic communities, but you are probably asking yourself the most important question of all: are they effective? In a word: yes.
According to an extensive 5-year study of two groups who underwent treatment, the faction that joined long-term TCs were far more successful. Case in point: among patients seeking care for cocaine addiction, 34% of those who spent less than six months at a therapeutic community relapsed within five years. Compare that to only 17% who reported cocaine use after spending at least six months at their respective TCs. These numbers indicate that six months or more at a therapeutic community doubles the effectiveness of recovery treatment.
There was a reduction in alcohol abuse in the recovery group that committed over half a year to their TC. Only 10% indicated problematic drinking after five years, compared to 18% in the group that spent less than six months in TC. Suicidal thoughts were more prevalent in short-term therapeutic care recipients than long-term TC residents by a factor of 4-to-1. And 46% of those who experienced at least six months of therapeutic community attention were enjoying full-time employment after five years. That number was only 28% among shorter-term TC residents.
As we can all attest, addiction weighs on a person in multiple ways. The substance of one’s choosing triggers a mental response by altering the chemicals in the brain. This combination of events dovetails with physical addiction, which exacerbates the mind’s craving for more of the drug or drink in question.
To break this cycle of substance use, you must manage the mind-body connection. Many rehabilitation centers utilize the acute care approach and fail to see the big picture, that the recovery technique covers psychology, physiology, and everything in between.
Behavioral modification is the synthesis of mind and body care. By celebrating the power of the human brain, we allow it to follow its best pathways. But this does not happen overnight. Therapeutic communities allow residents the distance and time they need to realize their dreams entirely. Once you assess your thought processes, you can act upon your healthiest instincts, all in a safe, supportive setting.
To learn how TCs can benefit you (and vice versa), contact Ethos at your earliest convenience.
Author – Chris Howard
Chris Howard is the Founder and Director of Ethos Recovery. He has a B.A. in Psychology from UCLA and has served as a community advocate/mentor for men and women in recovery since 2010.