Magic on the Mountain
RC: How does your experiential therapy program work?
DC: A low ropes course is designed to help the clients to redevelop their listening, communication, problem-solving and team-building skills. We have more than a dozen low ropes course elements set up to help them to learn to ask for help, plan and utilize all their resources and to set realistic goals. Some of our elements are permanently set up outdoors, and some are portable to be able to do the activity indoors due to weather. We use the low ropes course as a tool to help the clients to rebuild their self-worth and trust and learn how to deal with frustration, stress and anger appropriately.
Experiential therapy prompts clients to learn how to ask for help and build relationships — skills that are related to their ongoing recovery. The therapy is low-element, such as a giant wooden puzzle or a “spider web” that challenges a team to get everyone inside without touching the web. These tasks force teams to work together. These exercises lend to the recovery element of asking for help when they need it and allow the therapist to observe clients in action. Like life, some elements have solutions; others do not. The therapists let clients work on a challange that doesn’t have a solution to get them to say they can’t figure it out and need help.
The therapy also assists in peer group building. I remember before English Mountain started doing experiential therapy, our groups were not cohesive. After, you saw the groups gelling more, working together and being more supportive.
RC: Creative arts can help people in recovery live more in the moment and focus on themselves. What other benefits of these types of therapies have you seen at English Mountain?
DC: Activities such as drawing, painting, sculpting and performing skits increase self-esteem and self-awareness. They help people identify and express emotions about their addiction and recovery. When used alongside evidence-based addiction treatments, creative therapy has been found to help individuals also to process traumatic events, manage destructive behaviors, and deal with stress and anxiety.
RC: Equine therapy has a special place in your heart. Please share why.
DC: Equine therapy is simply amazing. I was raised on a farm, showed horses, broke horses, was in rodeos and trained other people’s horses. When my alcohol and drug use came into play, I lost all of that, but as a young man, I realized that when I was with my horses, there was something more. After I got sober and trained in equine therapy, I had that aha moment.
Horses are social animals that can sense people’s emotions. The intuition of these animals is incredible. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful things happen during equine therapy as clients bond with their horses. Our therapists teach clients to establish trust and to interact with these animals using verbal and nonverbal cues, which result in stress relief and increased happiness. Equine therapy teaches clients to remain present in the moment.
One of the most profound parts of English Mountain’s treatment is the Journey Walk a client takes with his or her horse and one or two other peers. Prior to the walk, the group compiles thoughts on what they would like to see one another take with them when they leave treatment: for example, what they would like to see one another progress in during their recovery and what they’d like to see them leave behind, such as anger and resentment. For some, the Journey Walk is a game-changer. I have seen people have their breakthrough point in treatment during or after their walk.
RC: And people can experience breakthroughs during any of these therapies.
DC: Exactly. That’s one of the reasons we offer so many different experiences. You just aren’t sure where the turning point will be for any one person. So the more therapeutic elements you have, the better the chances for people to have that aha moment. I’ve seen it happen in music therapy, yoga, trauma resolution — all of them — over the years. Music, especially, has been a turning point for many people in their recovery. The women’s group and men’s group come up with their own recovery song that they perform with the director. That is profound for many people.
RC: The labyrinth is an interesting addition. How does that serve in recovery?
DC: Labyrinths have been around for thousands of years, serving as a place for team building, meditation, prayer, and focus. The center is considered the heart. In making that journey toward the heart, you can do some symbolic things. Let’s say two people who had resentments and anger they wanted to get rid of were about to walk the labyrinth. They would put those thoughts on a piece of paper, and when they reached the center, they would burn the papers in the firestone and symbolically leave them behind. By doing these things over and over, we get spiritual relief.
RC: How do you help people seeking recovery to learn how to live again?
DC: For one thing, we teach them how to have fun again. When most people enter recovery, they feel like their life is over, that they will not have any fun anymore. Our campus has a swimming pool, a 12-hole 12-step Putt-Putt course, fitness center, sand volleyball, Frisbee golf and tennis and basketball courts. This gives people a real chance to learn while they’re in treatment that they can have fun again.
It’s important to understand that when people start using alcohol and drugs, their emotional maturity ceases to grow with them. They also experience challenges with activities they learned while using. For example, if they learned how to play guitar while they were under the influence, their brain cannot recall how to experience those times without being under the influence. People in recovery have to relearn how to do things like play golf, fish, attend a concert or have dinner with friends all over again. So, when they perform these activities here, people say, “Wow, this is the most fun I’ve ever had — and I’m not under the influence. I think I can do this.”
We prefer that when clients leave English Mountain, they move to sober living where they can become more self-sustaining and not have to depend so much on their families. They need time to grow up again. Consider: If someone starts drinking and using at 13 and they come into treatment at 25, they have a big gap during which they should have been maturing. They must learn the most basic things: how to do their laundry, manage money, make their bed, clean up after themselves. If they immediately return home, they run the risk of family enabling.
We discourage sober living close to home, but if that is not possible, we connect them to individual counseling and their respective support groups when they return home. We do what we can to help them step back into reality.
RC: How do families play a role?
DC: Family is key to recovery success. We offer a three-day intensive family program from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. When people return home from treatment, they are on top of the world, feeling better than they ever had, but we can’t forget the spouses who were at home during this time, raising the kids, working and living with the devastation that their partners created with their drug and alcohol use. If the family gets well together, it does a tremendous amount of good. I can’t say enough about families growing and getting well together.
Our family programming includes speakers from Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous and professionals such as doctors and nurses, fun family activities, and sessions on shame, family recovery and spirituality. We try to educate the family on the disease of addiction and how they need to be involved in their own recovery. If they really want to help their loved one, this is undoubtedly the best thing they can do.
RC: How will the acquisition by Summit help you progress in your mission?
DC: Summit’s philosophy in treating people suffering from addiction and their families is very much in line with English Mountain’s philosophy. We were very diligent in seeking an organization that will carry on this mission and therefore leave the legacy we desire. Their like-mindedness and dedication to those we serve have been exhibited in their personal lives and their business lives alike.
Combining the dedication and talent of the English Mountain leadership team and staff with Summit’s experience and support will allow us to keep growing while maintaining our commitment to compassion, our clients and quality care. We are excited about the opportunities to further develop our quality services and are honored to be aligned with so many other professionals doing the right thing. Without a doubt, we have paired up with an amazing group at Summit Behavioral Healthcare.