The Role of Community in a Treatment Setting
Nothing is more important in life than the connections we make with others. In recovery, having a tribe of people you can count on when things are both good and bad, is imperative for all ages. For young adults, developmentally it is still their peers who have the strongest influence on them. This makes the need to cultivate a sense of community within their treatment setting vital.
At the Claudia Black Young Adult Center, our clients’ age group (18 – 26) the intentional use of community allows this aspect of their development to be utilized in a positive manner.
Community is built into the daily structure at the Claudia Black Young Adult Center; in fact, it’s the heart of the program. It begins upon admission with peer mentorship. An individual who has been in the program for a significant amount of time is designated to be the peer buddy for the newcomer. This person helps the newcomer become familiar with the geography of the program, and to allay any fears of being in treatment.
Community meetings occur each morning as peers and staff come together to share feelings, express gratitude, and set intentions for the day.
The evening Tenth Step gratitude meeting is the last group of the day in which they have the opportunity to engage in inward reflection, own behaviors that were harmful, and make self-amends or amends to peers within the support of the group. They often express gratitude citing healthy recovery risks they took that day, and acknowledge their peers, staff, and family.
Our young adults come to treatment emotionally isolated and disconnected, with severe self-loathing and the belief that no one will ever see any value in them. Consequently, realizing their value and worth often stems from their connections with others with a similar history.
This can be seen in the case of Cassie. Cassie enters treatment agoraphobic, depressed, has urges to self-harm, and is afraid to come out of her room let alone attend group. She is adamant that she is in the wrong treatment setting. The staff invites the female community at the Claudia Black Center to hold a group meeting in her room to talk about their own fears of coming to treatment. As a result, Cassie feels less fearful, not so alone, and realizes that the other girls have huge fears too and later that evening she attends her first group and decides to stay in treatment. The girls that created this safe setting for Cassie also have their own experience of practicing a twelfth step, often for the first time.
Another example is that of Riley who spends the first two weeks in treatment telling his peers how he isn’t sure why he needs to be there despite his use of cocaine and marijuana which is threatening his college sports scholarship. Riley also distinguishes himself differently from so many others professing he comes from the “perfect” family with a story to match it. The group has witnessed him ignoring program policy by using a cell phone and sneaking visitors on campus after hours. In a regular morning community meeting, several of his male peers tell him how his behavior not only impacts his recovery but theirs as well. This use of community is a major influence in disrupting Riley’s denial and lack of accountability. As a result, Riley owned the many rules he was breaking, made amends to his peers, became tearful and revealed his father, in fact, was in prison and he had not had contact with his mother in months and she did not even know he was in treatment. The community responded by extending their hands to Riley and his roommate shared, “It’s nice to finally meet you, Riley.” Community helps our young people to not feel alone in their experience and to realize that many of their peers in the group have felt the same way.
Then there is Sam. Sam is scared to invite his dad to family week. His peers know this, and he asks a couple of the guys if they would come and sit next to him when he makes the call to his dad. Those guys told several others, and as Sam calls his dad he is surrounded with love, compassion, and the strength of his peers.
Community through Service
Community is also about having a sense of purpose larger than ones’ self and providing the opportunity to be of service to the outside community. We offer multiple opportunities for our young adults to give of themselves to those who are in need and less fortunate. On a monthly basis, a group of the Claudia Black Center’s young adults will go to a nearby city to participate in the preparation and feeding of over 500 homeless on a given night. When there are community activities such as the annual Easter Egg Hunt or Christmas giveaways for disadvantaged children in the local community the young adults are quickly asked to participate having already demonstrated their eagerness to participate. The experiences are most often humbling and they find it an honor to be of service. Such community service offers a different perspective on their own challenges, which fuels their gratitude for their own blessings.
In reality, at the Claudia Black Young Adult Center, we are creating a community that allows our young people to work through various challenges in treatment, which prepares them for the same challenges in which they will be confronted with on the outside.
Claudia Black, Ph.D., MSW
Claudia Black’s seminal work with children impacted by substance abuse in the late 1970s created the foundation for the adult child movement. Today Dr. Black is a renowned author and trainer internationally recognized for her pioneering and contemporary work with family systems and addictive disorders. Dr. Black has been a keynote speaker on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. and on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada. She is long time Senior Fellow at the Meadows and her passion for helping young adults overcome obstacles and strengthen families built the foundation of the Claudia Black Young Adult Center.
Leanne Lemire, MSW, LCSW
Leanne holds a bachelor’s degree in social work from Western New England College and received her master’s degree in Clinical Social Work from Smith College School for Social Work in Massachusetts. Having been with The Meadows since 2012, she was a member of the development team at the conception of the young adult program. Today she is the Executive Director of the Claudia Black Young Adult Program.