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What to Look For in a Treatment Program

Deni Carise, PhD and Chief Scientific Officer, is often asked what to look for in treatment programs. 

Ethical, quality, successful substance abuse treatment programs are comprised of a handful of critical clinical elements. In no particular order, these include:

  1. Accreditation. Is the treatment program accredited by The Joint Commission (especially if they are providing detoxification or residential services?) Accreditation increases the utilization of best-practices or Evidence-Based Practices in treatment and the Joint Commission is the most comprehensive accreditation available..
  2. Look for appropriate staffing & staff credentials. If you are considering a detoxification or residential treatment facility, there should be sufficient medical staff including licensed physicians, psychiatrists, and registered nurses to address all medical and psychiatric concerns. The primary and family therapists should be licensed and have at least a master’s level education. A good rule of thumb is each Primary Counselor should have about 8 patients assigned to them in detox or residential care and no more than 12 in an outpatient group. Family Therapists should also be available in outpatient care.
  3. How many hours of clinical services (individual and group) does the treatment program deliver each week? Your loved one should be getting at least daily individual sessions from the Primary Therapist, Case Manager, Social Worker or other credentialed staff.
  4. Do they offer proven-effective, Evidence-Based Practices (EBPs) such as Motivational Interviewing, Relapse Prevention, The Matrix Model, Supportive-Expressive Psychotherapy, Social Skills Training, and medications such as buprenorphine, naltrexone or others to assist with detox or cravings to use?
  5. Do they have Individualized Treatment? Good treatment programs tailor their services to meet the needs of the individual. Treatment components should be different for a young adult struggling with heroin versus an older person with alcohol problems, etc.
  6. Is Family Involvement and/or education a priority? Do they have a family program, family therapy sessions, family support groups, or couples therapy?
  7. Continuing Care. All residential programs should emphasize that the residential stay is just the beginning, they allow the person time, in a safe environment, to start the healing process. Care should always include outpatient services.  Keeping patients engaged in continuing care over a period of 12 months has been shown to be an effective model for sustained recovery.
  8. Can the treatment program tell you their “outcomes” and define how they arrived at that number? Be wary if any program says they have an “85% success rate.”  How did they define success? How do they know it’s 80%?
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