In this article, we talk a great deal about the importance of the therapeutic community in the MARR programs. And for good reason. We view the therapeutic community as a microcosm of the real world, the world our clients will eventually return to as they grow into their sobriety. The same problems that someone has in the world at large are present in the treatment setting. This provides an opportunity for clients to learn about themselves and practice new ways to interact with others.
The Community Construct
Although our female clients are exposed to a great deal of therapy, individual and group sessions, and psychoeducation in the daily programming of MARR, it is in the context of the therapeutic community that true and lasting change occurs.
The therapeutic community is not just a handful of people living together. They are individuals committed to recovery and one another. When women come into treatment they have often been very isolated in their active addiction. Some women may not have lived with other women in many, many years, or ever before in their lives. The disease of addiction thrives in isolation and takes over one’s mind, thoughts, and soul. The therapeutic community is a major impetus for ending the isolation and combating the disease.
Women and Conflict
Our society has undergone a great deal of social change in recent decades; however, women are socialized to deal with conflict differently than men. Through many kinds of messages throughout their lives, women are often taught to be more compliant, agreeable, and conflict-avoidant. Women are taught to put others needs before their own, whether that be their children’s needs, spouse’s, friend’s, etc. When coupled with the shame and guilt that the disease of addiction brings, this often leads to entering treatment never feeling truly “heard” and not having the skills to advocate for one’s self. To compensate for this lack of voice, they may learn a host of maladaptive communication skills or manipulative behaviors in order to survive their addiction to get their needs met. Women coming into treatment often struggle with healthy boundaries and assertive communication skills.
As our community is working together to accomplish everyday tasks, new behaviors are being learned. And as to be expected, conflict between clients often erupts. Just as in a marriage when two people fight over the toothpaste when the real problem is actually something deeper, these conflicts can often crop up over seemingly trivial issues. A huge benefit of the community model is the ability of one woman to look at another and see the deeper issue, to be able to know her hidden pain. Many of our clients have walked similar roads, and they all have an understanding of what we carry through our lives as women; therefore, when one is reduced to tears over the “toothpaste,” another can intuitively recognize what is truly happening beneath the surface.
Although uncomfortable in the moment, we see these confrontations and conflicts as learning opportunities. Clients practice the new behaviors they learn in treatment in this safe, structured environment. At MARR, we attempt to empower these women to advocate for themselves and each other and teach ways of openly communicating their own needs. In the therapeutic community where honesty and healthy assertiveness are your new survival tools, old behaviors no longer work. Clients get to see in real time that these new skills are effective. At MARR, we teach and model new communication and conflict-resolution skills. It takes time and practice to gain the courage to confront the truth and communicate effectively, but it is less scary to try within the safety of a trusting community. Through their daily activities and interactions, these women learn the skills they need to continue their life in sobriety after MARR.