Geoff Mascall is the manager of Primrose Lodge, a UKAT residential addiction treatment centre in Surrey. In this blog, we ask Geoff about supporting people intensively, as they break free from their addictions.

A Primrose Lodge client said in July 2018, “I could not have received better care, advice, understanding and above all the hope to recover.” How does your addiction treatment programme offer people hope?

There are so many things I could talk about – but I’ll give you one example. I describe our weekly aftercare meeting as a room full of hope. Every Wednesday, 7 pm, we run this session. It’s free for up to a year after treatment and we often ask specific aftercare clients to talk to some of the current residents, if this would be of benefit to both parties. We get a good number turning up each week – between 16 and 20 people.

Aftercare sessions do give people a lot of hope. For clients in residential treatment, they see that it’s possible to get clean and sober – and more importantly, to stay clean and sober. And for clients who have completed their residential addiction treatment, aftercare says to them that we’re still here and we still care, which we very much do. People sometimes say aftercare is a bit like coming home. It’s a really warm, welcoming environment – a recovery-focused meeting with therapeutic support, but fairly relaxed too.

Regardless of where you’re at in your recovery – whether you’re feeling great and want to share that to encourage others; or you’re struggling with difficult emotions or a tough situation – aftercare can support that.

So the aftercare group is a way for peers to help each other – why do you think peer support is important in addiction recovery?

I think the message of recovery and hope comes across loudest through peer support. People who are six or nine or twelve months into their recovery can be extremely helpful to people in their first days and weeks. Not only do they show it can be done, but they can also challenge people in a very unique way. They can say, “look, I’ve recently been in your shoes and I got through it – and here’s how I did it.” It’s very powerful for the person hearing that message. They’re often more able to identify with someone who is only a few steps ahead of them.

And it works the other way round too – our former clients benefit because they connect with how they felt at the start of their recovery and they see how far they’ve come.

Another client, Carrie, commented in May 2018: ‘The decision to come to Primrose Lodge was a difficult one, but upon arrival, I was met with more kindness and understanding than I dared to hope for.” How do you ensure every client feels welcome at Primrose Lodge?

There’s a quote I really like by Stephen Covey about trust. I have it up in my office actually. “Without trust, we don’t truly collaborate; we merely coordinate or, at best, cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.”

Building trust right across our staff team is essential for our clients to feel safe and supported. It’s about valuing each other and pulling together when we need to. We know we need to care very intensively about our clients from the moment they arrive – to establish trust with them. This can only be achieved when our team works together really well.

For example, we take a team approach to pretty much all decision-making here. We have a morning meeting every day, then we come together regularly throughout each day. Everyone is involved during the day – our therapists and support workers, our chefs and housekeeping staff, the medical team and administration staff – because everyone makes such a vital contribution to supporting our clients.

And every decision we make, we ensure it’s made with compassion. For example, in the rare cases, we have to discharge a client, we make sure it’s done very safely. We talk with their family, where that’s appropriate. We would never discharge someone late at night. We make sure people can get home safely or on to their next stages. For opiate users, we can provide kits and training to deal with an opiate overdose. Transitions are risky periods and we do everything we can to manage this risk.

What can people expect from the addiction treatment programme at Primrose Lodge?

We have a 4-week rolling programme. We start each day with meditation, run by our support staff. Then everyone goes into our process group, which is a classic therapy group. We split into two groups of 9 and 10 people for this, so everyone has the chance to have their say. Then we have a step presentation – this is where people read out their life story or the written work they have prepared on steps 1, 2 and 3, and get feedback from their peers and therapists.

Next, we have lunch. We do family servings at meal times. Our chef puts a big dish down in the centre of each table. Everyone helps each other to the food. This is about the breaking of bread together. Our chef noticed a change in our clients when we started serving meals in this way. They think about each other a bit more because meal times are about sharing and helping one another.

In the afternoon, we have two further groups – another step group and a workshop. Coming soon, we’ll also be offering dialectical behavioural therapy sessions. Twice a week, our health coach provides a session called ‘Mindful Health’, which includes yoga and meditation. Then we finish each day with a reflective process group, to bring it all back together and ground the group.

At the end of each therapy day, we go for a short walk – this is for staff and all the clients who want to come. We’re really blessed with our location – there’s a pond and a farm college nearby. It’s lovely scenery to walk past – proper countryside. It’s relaxing for clients and staff to wind down in this way. The opportunity to get off-site is really welcome. The peace and tranquillity are wonderful. It also helps our clients to know the outside world is still there. The walks are a gentle way to burst the bubble of intensive residential treatment each day. This means that leaving treatment does not build up into a big area of fear for people.

On Saturdays, we do an outing. All clients, who are fit and healthy enough, come out with us. We go to the cathedral, Guildford Castle, Farnborough Museum and a local art gallery. This is very much about reinforcing the message of fellowship and showing that when people work together they can create something amazing. These outings highlight creativity and they often inspire people spiritually. It’s also a chance to enjoy a sober day out, which can be quite a new experience for people who have used drugs or alcohol for many years.

“The centre educated family members to the nature of addiction, face to face, which has greatly helped me reform relationships” (Mr M, June 2018). How do you support and involve the family in the recovery process?

On Sunday afternoon, we do our family group. This is a chance for relatives to come along and find out more about what we do. They can ask as many questions as they want and we offer them therapeutic support with their family member’s addiction.

Afterwards, there are two hours set aside for family visits. Family members collect their relative and then they go off-site together. It’s a chance to head out for a breather and it’s another way that we help our clients to reintegrate in the world. People can have access to their children too, as we can’t have kids inside the treatment centre.

On leaving treatment in June 2018, Greg said, “Primrose has pointed me in the right direction and now it is up to me to walk the line.” How do you prepare and inspire clients to take charge of their addiction recovery?

Firstly, all of our therapeutic staff have the knowledge and evidence-based, which informs every intervention they make. They know which tools and treatment modalities to use, to help create awareness and effect change. At its heart, our addiction treatment programme is about offering a safe environment for people to confront their addiction while they are with us. This includes looking at the impacts of addiction on themselves and others. We introduce clients to the 12-step recovery programme and actively encourage them to continue once they leave the centre, as it’s widely and freely available.

We also have three addiction recovery meetings in our treatment centre each week – Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous. These meetings are open to the public, which offers our clients the chance to meet people in long-term recovery. The AA meeting is really popular actually – about 60 people come to that each week – it’s great for our clients to experience such a strong and committed group and many of our graduates use the ‘Sober Sunday’ meeting as their home meeting.

There are also ways for clients to stay involved here at Primrose Lodge. As well as our free aftercare programme, sometimes we have volunteering opportunities too. We have a former client who was an alcohol user, for example. She had relapsed after a period of sobriety. She came to Primrose Lodge for a detox, extended with us to do our full rehab programme. She now volunteers at Primrose Lodge, half a day a week. She supports our outing every Saturday – she’s really helpful in guiding people, as sometimes we have 19 people out in public. It’s also great for our clients to see someone who has come through the programme and is doing really well. It can give them another bit of hope – the inspiration that they too can achieve sobriety.

Find out more about addiction treatment services at Primrose Lodge

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To speak in confidence about treatment for addiction, call UKAT on 0808 250 4523 or 0203 811 7269.