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People Don’t Change…

By Mark Jacobson, LMFT, MCAP, Chief Operating and Clinical Officer

I’ve heard people say this my whole life. People don’t change

But I’ve got news for you: People do change. I see it every day.

Sometimes people don’t change and the speed that others may want, but working in a mental health and addiction treatment setting, I see clients who come in broken and ill, over time, and with the right guidance and a little bit of hope and willingness on their part, become different people.

How is this possible?

Let me ask you this: Are you the same person you were when you were nine or ten years old? Were you the same person in high school that you are now? Are you the same person you were on your first date as you are now if you’re in a relationship? Do you know how to wash dishes, make your bed, fold laundry? Did you always know how to do those things, or did someone teach you?

These are just some of the behaviors that I see people doing here at Meridian, a drug rehab, alcohol rehab and mental health treatment center.

Why? Because we tell them it’s important for their recovery or mental health, and we encourage them to do it. Every day. Self-care is one of the things that goes by the wayside when people are actively using drugs or alcohol or are suffering from untreated or unmedicated mental illness. They’re all building blocks in a foundation of mental health that we teach and re-enforce every day.

How else do people change in drug rehab?

Well, first, and most obviously, they stay sober.

Day after day. The inpatient part of our drug rehab and alcohol rehab program is typically four to six weeks long.

It’s just the beginning of a long journey of self-discovery and increased insight for clients. We help clients identify patterns of thoughts and behaviors, tease them apart little by little, and break them in favor of new, positive ones.

We also help them get in touch with emotions they didn’t know they had or had been “stuffing” or self-medicating.

Through what is called “process” and “psychoeducational” groups that are led by highly skilled and experienced (and incredibly dedicated and caring) mental health and addiction treatment professionals, as well as individual, one-on-one sessions, our clients slowly change and grow into the people they and their families want them to be.

They go from being miserable and trapped on an endless carousel of addiction or mental illness to be happy, fulfilled and successful. In our drug rehab and alcohol rehab center, they attend therapy groups, outside support groups, go shopping, bowling, a picnic, the beach—things so-called “normal” people take for granted. And they do it all sober. That’s a big change.

At Meridian, we prepare people to become independent, functioning members of society—slowly, one step at a time. We break their day down into one hour at a time, one group at a time, one session at a time, giving them the tools and techniques, and the support and encouragement they need to establish and reach their goals.

What’s the “secret sauce” that helps create change?

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You may be curious to know just what goes on at a drug rehab, alcohol rehab or mental health facility. What’s the “secret sauce” that helps the change I’m talking about happen?

It’s not easy, but it’s simple.

It takes caring, experienced staff, and willing, honest clients.

Most of the growth that happens here takes place in therapy groups. Clients get to know each other—well—and share their innermost thoughts, dreams, feelings, frustrations, and experiences. The things that cause them guilt and shame, anxiety and depression, hope and fear.

Some clients are more open and willing to share. Others take a while to warm up. Everyone is different. But it’s the group experience—knowing you’re not the only one feeling the way you do—and getting honest, sometimes-brutal, feedback from peers that creates the environment where real change can happen.

Clients learn the coping skills they’re lacking—how to deal with anxiety and depression, what to do with cravings, how to handle cripplingly strong emotions. They learn to be more assertive and have their voices heard. They learn to quiet those negative voices in their head and replace them with positive ones. They learn to love themselves. And others. They learn to live with other people without killing them and be part of a supportive, nurturing community.

The next step in recovery

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When clients move from our inpatient to outpatient program, the change doesn’t stop there. (At this point, some of the clients are unrecognizable from the people who came in six weeks before. Some people change their physical appearance—shaving, dressing better, taking care of their hygiene—even getting good sleep makes a huge difference.)

Clients are required to get a job once they graduate from our Intensive Outpatient Program. They get up every morning at 6:30 am and start their day with a support group. Then they have a short check-in group before heading off to work. After working all day, they return to the center for—more therapy groups! Three hours’ worth, in fact.

In our evening intensive outpatient (IOP) groups, clients continue to work on the core issues they began working on during the inpatient phase of treatment.

This could be anything from childhood trauma to self-esteem, anxiety, major depression, repeated active addiction and relapse, grief and loss, lack of trust, relationship issues, personality disorders, communication issues, and more.

They also receive the support, feedback, encouragement and accountability of their peers. One of the unique things about Meridian is that we don’t have Evening IOP therapists like most other facilities. All our evening groups are facilitated by the same therapists the clients had from the beginning.

There’s no substitute for the consistency of having therapists and peers who know you intimately, can understand you, tell when you’re not talking about something that’s bothering you, know your trials and triumphs. This is the “magic” of the group treatment experience (and Meridian), and it’s irreplaceable.

My staff and I often get chills when we interview a client who’s ready to transition from inpatient to intensive outpatient treatment, after just four to six weeks in our drug rehab and alcohol rehab.

Sometimes the change is remarkable. What they look like, how they speak, what they say, their goals, their assessment of what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown—it all comes together in an amazingly short time.

And that’s just the beginning...

The intensive outpatient program part of clients' stay at our drug rehab and alcohol rehab is where the “rubber meets the road” and clients practice what they’ve been learning about themselves and their addiction or mental health issues.

It’s where the frustrations of real life reveal themselves, and the coping skills they’ve been learning about are put into practice. It’s where some clients continue their explosive growth, and where others relapse and start back over again and figure out what went wrong. But in the long run, if they stay with us, they may “skin their knee,” but they’ll learn how to “meet life on life’s terms” and learn to cope.

So next time someone tells you people never change, tell them they’re dead wrong. At Meridian, people change every day.

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