What is a Therapeutic Community?
A therapeutic community (TC) is a group-based, highly structured, and powerful treatment approach to addiction recovery. It nis not a mental health facility, a hospital, or a correctional facility. It is an academy where students learn a better way to live. Therapeutic Communities have been around since the 1950’s and go much further than simply helping individuals to stop using drugs and alcohol. They provide a supportive environment where individuals learn why they used and help them develop all the tools necessary to stay sober and live a healthy, happy life. Within Therapeutic Communities, participants change their destructive attitudes, behaviours, values, and life-styles.
Lasting Recovery Takes Time!
Lasting recovery takes time! Learning a totally new life-style cannot be achieved in a short-term program. To expect people with a history of addiction to turn their lives around and maintain sobriety after only a few months of treatment is simply unrealistic. This is why treatment at a Therapeutic Community lasts up to 5 Years.
How does the JVA Therapeutic Community work?
The motto of a Therapeutic Community is “Each one, Teach one” (not to give orders, but teach, teach, teach). This implies that individuals assume responsibility, not only for their own recovery, but also for the recovery of their peers. They recognize that the recovery of each member is related to the recovery of all and conduct themselves accordingly-this, in turn, reinforces their own recovery. Personal growth and proper living are achieved by peers serving as role models, providing support through interaction, and confronting each other in group sessions. By doing all of this, participants come to understand and resolve the cause of their addiction and also gain the tools they need to stay sober. This approach is so successful that there is no need for psychiatrist or psychologists.
Condoning is viewed as a serious negative behavior that must be confronted and reported when observed in others. Peer monitoring maintains the community well-being by challenging the number one street code – “don’t snitch or tell on a friend”. As most students have historical patterns of secrecy and lying, a student “turning a blind eye” reinforces this negative pattern and invariably contributes to any guilt felt toward himself and the community.
Program participants are expected to observe the behaviours and attitudes of their peers and take action to promote change. The more senior participants teach by example and provide instruction and leadership. They act as big brothers and sisters to the more junior members. They show them how to work, encourage them, reach out to them, “pull them in”, monitor them and correct their negative behaviors. Furthermore, program participants are expected to provide assistance to others in areas where they have special expertise. Those with skills and experience provide seminars and workshops and those with academic proficiency provide tutoring in subjects such as language, computers, mathematics, reading, and writing.
In a Therapeutic Community program participants are considered equals in their struggle to change their lives. While they have no formal authority over their peers, they have considerable informal authority in their community management roles. They are taught to become leaders by handling increasing amounts of responsibility in their job functions and general supervision. As junior members are primarily in learning roles, less demand is placed on them to lead. As they progress through the stages of the program, their attitudes and behaviours change while their responsibility, accountability, and self-worth increase.
Why the Need for a Long-Term Program?
The most fundamental but often overlooked aspect of addiction recovery is that for any treatment to be effective it must include three essential elements:
- Treatment of the symptom ( The Behavior)
- Treatment of the cause
- Developing the tools to stay sober
The Symptom: The abuse of drugs or alcohol, along with other addictive behaviors such as gambling, shopping, or sexual compulsion, is not the cause of an addiction – but merely a symptom. Not to make light of it, but after a few weeks of abstinence, the immediate craving – the symptom – starts to diminish and the individual begins to look and feel healthy. But this is only the first step towards recovery. Those who receive just a few months of treatment often end up relapsing often end up relapsing because they do not address the cause of the addiction.
The Cause: The cause of an addiction is what drove the person to drugs or alcohol in the first place. It is some underlying issue or issues that makes the person unable to cope with life as it is. Unlike the symptom, the cause is often difficult to discover, and it takes a great deal of time to be properly addressed. Not doing so will likely result in relapse
The Tools to Stay Sober: The ensure life-log sobriety our students must acquire the ability to hand life’s many challenges. They must change their life-style, attitude, behaviours, and values and develop the necessary tools to stay sober. This takes time. While practicing healthy living day in and day out, the brain gradually begins to heal and form new patterns to replace old behaviors.
John is often asked why he embarked on this demanding mission. A typical response is:
“The other day, a student made a rather serious mistake…that’s expected. It gave me an opportunity to spend some time with him. After our “heart to heart” we hugged and I told him that I loved him. He responded with tears and said, “My father never said that to me…and how can you love me after all the stupid things I have done?” I reassured him that his mistakes were behind him, and that he was on his way to a new life. That is what the John Volken Academy is all about. Forgiveness and change. There are tears, there are laughs, there is hope, there are struggles, there is change…The transformations are incredible! Every day I am grateful to God for the opportunity to be part of changing lives.”