There are a variety of factors related to adolescent treatment that suggest the need for the Potomac Pathways approach to adolescent treatment:
• Friends: Many teens relapse because they lack a group of friends who are clean and sober (Winters, K. C. et al, 2009).Potomac Pathways provides a place to go to meet with peers-in-recovery and take part in a range of clean and sober, supportive activities in a welcoming environment, with both structured and unstructured (but supervised) settings.
• Peer mentors: Potomac Pathways’ peer mentors are young adults or teens who have successfully completed a year or more of recovery. The peer mentors attend all the groups and activities and counteract the effect of the “deviant peer contagion effect” (Dembo, R. & Muck, R. D., 2009) that often occurs in conventional treatment groups, whereby more dominant anti-social youths have a negative influence on their peers. The peer mentors are positive kids that model for their peers the idea that “recovery is more ‘cool’ than drug-using and anti-social behavior.”
• “Cool”: Conventional drug treatment is not “cool.” Potomac Pathways has a distinct “cool factor” which is attractive to adolescent clients. For example, the program eliminates concrete block walls and fluorescent lights in favor of natural environmental elements and comfortable furniture. The program incorporates experiential elements like drumming, yoga, meditation, outdoor adventure activities, music, technology and more. Plus, the therapy uses and teaches a strengths-based, solution-focused approach which the clients experience as warm, supportive, and empowering, rather than primarily a lecture format. Potomac Pathways has identified many of these elements as important for increasing client retention and improving positive outcomes for the “subpopulations of youth” which we serve (Dembo, R. and Muck, R. D., 2009).
• Homework: Most outpatient programs focus exclusively on substance use and ignore some of the other irritating factors in the teen’s life that contribute to the problem situation. Sobriety is only one part of an overall recovery program, which includes addressing problems in school, in the family, and for the individual (Brannigan et al, 2004). Many of our clients struggle with learning differences or ADHD, poor grades, poor school attendance, and need support for homework completion. Potomac Pathways currently provides an ADHD support group for teens and is expanding to be able to do more to give support to teens after school. In this supportive environment, students are able to learn positive skills that can contribute to their success in school.
• Outdoors: Outdoor programming has been shown to increase teens’ motivation in treatment (Russell, K., 2005). Potomac Pathways provides a host of outdoor adventure activities for clients in recovery, including: high- and low- ropes course activities, caving, canoeing, kayaking, Native American ceremony on Adventure Island, climbing wall, hiking, skiing/snowboarding, horseback riding. The events include therapeutic work around processing the recovery metaphors that the clients get out of the activities. The events help teens discover the fun in sobriety. And it occasionally happens that a client decides to develop a career in outdoor adventure programming because of these events!
Potomac Pathways endeavors to exemplify these “key elements in effective adolescent substance abuse treatment” (Branningan, R. et al., 2004):
• Assessment and Treatment Matching: Program conducts comprehensive assessments that cover psychiatric, psychological, and medical problems, learning differences, family functioning, and other aspects of the adolescent’s life.
• Comprehensive, Integrated Treatment Approach: Program services address major aspects of the adolescent’s life including substance abuse, learning differences, family relationships, co-occurring depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
• Family Involvement in Treatment: Research shows that involving parents in the adolescent’s drug treatment produces better outcomes. Programs includes a high level of family involvement.
• Developmentally Appropriate Programs: Activities and materials reflect the developmental differences between adults and adolescents.
• Engaging and Retaining Teens in Treatment: A strong therapeutic alliance is required for engaging and retaining teens (Winters et al., 2009; Diamond et al., 2006). Treatment program builds a climate of trust between the adolescent and the therapist, and between peers.
• Qualified Staff: Staff members are trained in adolescent development, co-occurring mental disorders, substance abuse, and addiction.
• Gender and Cultural Competence: Program addresses the distinct needs of adolescent boys and girls as well as cultural differences among minorities.
• Continuing Care: Program includes relapse prevention program, aftercare planning, referrals to community resources, and follow-up.
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