Living in Harmony

A California addiction treatment center finds success in an integrated, customized approach to treatment, taking into consideration mental and behavioral health issues.

Please, make yourself at home …

At Harmony Place, clients say they feel a comfortable familiarity almost as soon as they walk in the door — a sensibility that puts them in the right frame of mind to change their lives for the better.

The Woodland Hills, California, addiction treatment center specializes in integrated, customized care of addictions, combined with co-occurring mental and behavioral health issues. As a dual-diagnosis treatment center, Harmony Place treats addictions concurrently with mental health problems including anxiety, depression and bipolar disorders.

Its name highlights the program philosophy of using the most effective, evidence-based approaches in an environment that promotes physical, emotional and spiritual wellness as the foundation for recovery.

Recovery Campus met with Mary Lou Devlin, chief operating officer and clinical director; Justin Helfert, director of admissions; and Monica Davoodpour, community liaison, to discover what makes Harmony Place unique.

Recovery Campus: Tell us about your approach to treatment.

Mary Lou Devlin: We get a comprehensive snapshot of each client from the moment they are admitted. Each client is assigned to a primary therapist, a physician who is board certified in addictions and a psychiatrist. Using this team of licensed clinicians, we draw information from psychosocial assessments, previous treatment providers and family members where appropriate. The primary therapist meets individually with the client three times per week. Together, they create a treatment plan and work toward achieving those goals during treatment. Weekly clinical treatment team meetings are held to discuss each case and explore any necessary treatment adjustments.

We have a weekly program schedule that is purposefully designed to help the client understand the concept of addiction, how the addiction manifests in them and how it manifests in them after they are detoxed from their substances.

The curriculum provides for recovery and relapse prevention treatment, psychoeducational groups, group psychotherapy, process groups, experiential groups, and holistic healing. Even the basic flow of the program day can be therapeutic as it is used to bring the individual into a more balanced rhythm to help clients deal with the emerging co-occurring issues from the day.

Although we do not require our clients to participate in 12-step programming, we provide and encourage regular 12-step meeting attendance. We believe it is a crucial resource that, when one is acquainted with, can provide sanctuary and support in the future.

Monica Davoodpour: The longer clients are involved in treatment, the longer they are likely to be successful in their recovery. The ideal length of treatment is 90 days. Typically, they stay at the residential level for 30 to 45 days and then step down to the outpatient level and continue to work on their recovery for another 60 days.

RC: What comorbidities do you encounter?

MLD: We see bipolar disorder, unipolar depression, various anxiety disorders as well as post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma. We frequently see other process addiction surfacing most often in the forms of co-dependency and disordered eating.

RC: How do you manage clients who are admitted after a relapse?

MLD: They will first need to address any crisis issues that culminated in their admission to treatment. When we encounter a client after a relapse, we try to understand how the disease was expressed when the drugs and alcohol were taken away. That’s key. Different things happen with each individual.

People assume they can return to living their normal lives once the substances are removed, but there’s more to it than eliminating the drugs and alcohol and simply feeling better. Everyone is unique and experiences their new sobriety differently. They need to understand what their sobriety-based symptoms are, how they are expressed and how to stabilize them on a regular basis. Once they start doing this, they can begin to reduce the frequency, severity and duration of those symptoms. At that point, they will see a bit of success in abstinence and hopefully will continue doing what they’ve been doing. They have to get a few wins to lay the foundation for long-term recovery.

To better manage sobriety-based symptoms, individuals need to know how to stabilize them when they surface. At the same time, they must learn to make the lifestyle changes needed to help build resistance to the stress that can exacerbate the sobriety-based symptoms. They need to change their lifestyle. Proper nutrition helps tissues to heal and prevents the stress-inducing state of hunger. Exercise not only has long-term cardiovascular benefits but also reduces stress and increases endorphins. Relaxation reduces day-to-day stresses. Spirituality influences the attitude, brings meaning and purpose to life, and creates harmony between values and actions. Balancing one’s life helps them to prioritize and be productive as well as playful.

Most of us take this for granted, but when someone is addicted, this all gets out of whack. They can’t live the regular life patterns that everyone else is. The sobriety-based symptoms will diminish over time if clients are working on a structured recovery program of their own. We help them identify what such a plan is for them — not just what sounds good to a counselor.

RC: How does peer support play a role in the Harmony program?

MD: As someone in recovery, I appreciate our strong alumni program and the community we create for our clients. We believe that clients will stay in recovery longer after they leave if they have a strong support system of people who are aligned with them in recovery.

MLD: To be successful, you have to be able to problem-solve with like-minded people in recovery. Our alumni group meets once a week for activities such as BBQs or to play basketball, volleyball, croquet or mini golf. These activities allow clients to experience fun in recovery with their peers, minus drugs and alcohol. It makes long-term recovery more sustainable when clients recognize they can experience joy.

We have a mentor group for which we invite alumni who recently left the program to return and speak to current clients about creating a new life, overcoming obstacles and protecting their sobriety. We want clients to learn as much as they can while in a comfortable setting. We also have an online support group, facilitated by a licensed therapist, for alumni as well.

Justin Helfert: Being in recovery myself, I know how valuable it is for clients to see what the alumni are going through. When clients leave, they are so raw that it’s necessary to implement tools required here. The close-knit community of alumni provide an excellent blueprint as to what clients can expect once coming out of this level of care and starting out on their own.

RC: Describe your holistic approach.

MLD: Healing the mind, body and spirit is the goal. We have several treatments that serve that mission. For example, yoga is important in helping a person physically start to heal. It quiets the mind in a restorative way. However, we do it a bit differently. We converted our traditional yoga group to one called Body Logic, which is facilitated by a certified yoga teacher who is also a licensed therapist. She takes the developmental stages of life and parallels them to the energy work she’s learned to do with chakras. The chakras are formed at different stages of development over our lifetime. As a clinician, she references the clients’ drug of choice to understand the damage made to certain energy fields in the chakras and looks at how they experience it physiologically. Body Logic is unique in that it’s a physical yoga practice, but it also helps clients understand what they can do to strengthen certain parts of the body.

Our equine group is also unique: Clients not only work with the horses, but they also get to ride the horses and by doing so feel free of their addictions. We also offer mindfulness groups. In addition to guided meditations, they may elect to wear eye pillows to slow the movement of the eyeballs, which is beneficial for quieting the central nervous system. They do breath work. These exercises address anxiety and can be coping strategies to manage impulsivity and reactivity.

Services such as acupuncture, massage and chiropractic help with detox and pain management as well as other issues such as stress, anxiety and sleep problems. Clients need to understand the differences between physiological pain and psychological pain. We believe it improves their ability to understand and manage pain.

A spiritual group, nutritional guidance and experiential outings to places such as museums, botanical gardens, bowling, beach or movie theaters help round out the activities that guide them to rebuild balanced, healthy lives.

RC: How do you help families?

MLD: We have a Family Dynamics group each week, which is facilitated by a licensed therapist. Addiction affects the whole family system. We want to educate clients so that they understand how their addiction impacts the family and how the family responses to them affect their relationships. Clients living a healthy sober life can effect change in their family members and those who love them.

Each weekend, we have a multi-family group, also led by a licensed clinician. All clients are required to attend. If their family is visiting, we invite them to join the multi-family group.

The client’s primary therapist will include family members in therapy if or when it is appropriate. Family systems are unique, and a licensed therapist, along with the client, will determine when to introduce this into the treatment plan.

RC: How does the facility’s atmosphere play a role?

MD: We are individualized. We treat a maximum of 12 people at a time — and our friendliness sets us aside. We offer gender-specific groups, which makes people feel comfortable in voicing their thoughts. People tell me that they feel a sense of calm and comfort come over them when they step inside.

MLD: Clients who have gone through several treatment programs before coming to Harmony Place say what works here is we create an atmosphere allowing them to feel at home and comfortable. Clients get to know one another soon after they arrive. This allows us to see how they adjust interpersonally and socially. In turn, they begin to understand how they are perceived by other people. It’s a valuable clinical tool.

I believe the best way to describe the facility is to say that it is a comfortable place to do difficult work. When clients feel like they’re at home, they allow themselves to get vulnerable — and when they are vulnerable, they are more emotionally available, and a clinician can best work with them. This is one of the reasons why we have clients meet three times a week with their therapist; they need that intense level of psychotherapy. Harmony Place is also a safe environment because we have nursing 24/7. This atmosphere allows clients to take a risk and be real — even if it means being profoundly uncomfortable — in order to have a happy life.

Written by Patti Zielinski

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