Room to Fly
The University of North Texas appeals to a wide variety of needs.
At the University of North Texas, one wall of the Department of Disability & Addiction Rehabilitation (DDAR) is covered with paintings of a Phoenix, the mythical bird-like creature that rises from the ashes of its own destruction.
The paintings all depict a blue and black bird on a fiery red and orange background, but each one has unique details that identify it as one of a kind. The Phoenixes were painted by the faculty and staff of the DDAR to represent the theme of rehabilitation and renewal that underscores their purpose.
Four years ago, DDAR Chair Linda Holloway, PhD, CRC, decided the time was right for UNT to have a Campus Recovery Program (CRP), with the stated purpose to surround participants with staff and other students who understand the challenges of staying in recovery while staying in college. Her goal was an inclusive space that appealed to a wide variety of needs.
“Our philosophy is ‘You’re in recovery when you say you’re in recovery,” she says, and students are allowed to participate in the CRP regardless of whether or not they have a diagnosis or have been in a treatment program. “There is such a wide variety of issues that students bring to the table, whether mental health, disordered eating, substance or process addiction – why would we turn away anyone who is seeking recovery?”
The CRP attracts students from all walks of life, not surprising since UNT is the seventh-largest transfer university in the country, with a large population of returning and non-traditional students. The blend of first-time, transfer and returning students represents a wide variety of ages, genders, histories and demographics. Within the DDAR program, the participants all become peers, learning from the experiences of others and exploring the areas they have in common.
Students learn about the CRP through pop-up banners and informational tables placed in different locations on campus throughout the year so that interested students can join the program at any time during a semester. Four student workers reach out to other organizations to spread the word about services, and advertising is placed in the NT Daily, the campus newspaper. They can also be referred in by Eagle Peer Recovery, a campus peer-led support group; counselors in the health center; or through Life of Purpose, the independent addiction treatment program that rents space next door.
All participating students are assigned a Peer Mentor and Academic Case Manager, and enroll in a Recovery Seminar for academic credit, learning to protect their own recovery on a daily and weekly basis. They are also required to attend a minimum of two groups a week, choosing from a wide variety of options. But beyond that, there is no pre-planned program that everyone must follow.
Amy Trail, MS, CRC, UNT CRP Director, happily accommodates requests from students to create new programs. “Each student’s challenges are unique,” she says. “So groups are always evolving and adapting. Our goal is to meet the needs of the students involved each semester.”
Adds Linda, “Our focus is not on avoiding your addiction, but on answering the question ‘What do you want or need to make your life full?’ so that returning to addiction is the least appealing option.”
The list of options this semester is a great example of the variety of programs, services and support groups available to participating students:
- Vocational Rehabilitation, including career counseling and an employment fair specific to disability issues
- Take Back the Mirror, a body positivity group led by a DDAR graduate student with guest lectures by the eating disorder therapist from the counseling center
- Creative Arts Recovery Group, an opportunity for students to express themselves through different media, culminating in an art show in the spring where students present and speak about their work
- Mindfulness in Recovery Group
- Study Skills Group
- Serenity Room, a quiet, comfy space in the CRP office to meditate, study or nap
- Recovery Nest, one wing in a dorm near the CRP, reserved for eight students who commit to sober living
All graduate students who lead groups or sessions are trained in “Mental Health First Aid,” and DDAR maintains close relationships with campus counseling services and Life of Purpose for students who need more than the CRP can provide.
Life of Purpose is an independently run intensive outpatient program that also offers sober living adjacent to campus. Its placement next door to the CRP is not a coincidence. The proximity of the two programs allows them to coordinate services, provide easy access for students participating in both programs, and provide a softer landing for students returning to school after residential treatment.
Funding for the CRP comes from UNT student fees and an additional university grant, approved by the Dean of Students when Holloway demonstrated the return on investment from keeping even one recovering student in school.
Holloway and Trail are rightfully proud of what they have created over a short period of time. They agree that the UNT CRP functions in many ways for participants like a surrogate family during their time in college, and they seek out opportunities to share what they have learned through developing the program. This includes publishing research, a natural extension of being housed in an academic department.
Together with Justin Watts, PhD, NCC, the CRP is gathering information about how participating students fare after graduation, including quality of life and employment data, and results of a focus group of Collegiate Recovery Programs all over Texas is currently in line for publication. In September, DDAR will hold their 5th Annual Recovery Conference, bringing national speakers on addiction and related topics to the student body as well as the community providers who attend.
Through creativity and dedication to inclusivity and purpose, the wide variety of programs that the UNT CRP provides to support recovery in its many forms fulfills the promise of the flock of Phoenixes on the wall of the DDAR and mission statement of the department: “By cultivating and supporting the inherent strength of individuals and their families, of society and its communities, we can make room for the Phoenix to fly.”
Jessica Setnick is the author of Eating Disorders Boot Camp: Training Workshop for Professionals and The Eating Disorders Clinical Pocket Guide.
As a trainer and consultant, she provides guidance to addiction treatment facilities to improve their services for individuals with eating issues. Reach Jessica at Jessica@UnderstandingNutrition.com.