Recovery High: Where biomedical intervention hands off to social innovation

Recovery high schools do not operate on the biomedical model of treatment for youth substance abuse. Nope, we leave that to the experts, as in M.D.’s. We also keep the medical community very close at hand in the event that biomedical intervention must be introduced or re-introduced into the mix if a student is struggling with their commitment to abstinence or experiencing mental health issues beyond our capacity to manage. So if we are not based on the biomedical model of treatment then what are we based on? Biomedical intervention has a distant cousin that, although equally as important in the rehabilitation of a youth with a substance use disorder, if often not given the attention it is due. This is social intervention. That is, creating the environmental context and opportunities for personal connections that support a positive and constructive image of self. How do we do this? I like to tell people that recovery high schools are a clever experiment in social and environmental engineering; removing the negatives in the environment like drugs and alcohol, access to drugs and alcohol, and paraphernalia that promote them, removing peer deviance and authority figures who are not in tune with the needs of a student in recovery and wrapping the student in layers of support, empathy, understanding, and respect. It’s a mindset really, an attitude the teaching and support staff have toward the student and students toward each other that these kids feed from and eventually heal as a result.

We have to recognize that this is not the real world and students have to learn to cope in the reality that is society today. How do we prepare students for this? Think of it as a sliding window. When a student arrives, the window is shut pretty tight to the outside world, but we slowly open the window as we integrate students into surrounding communities, prepare them for job placements, higher education, regular family life, running into old acquaintances on the street. The idea being that by the time the student is ready to walk out the doors, they have the self-confidence, the self-awareness, and the resilience to embrace their new future and ditch the old one. Mind over matter. One step at a time.

Yours truly,

Eileen Shewen BSc.,MBA, PhD Founder and CEO

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