Gateway Foundation Pilots Program for Men Struggling with Substance Abuse

CHICAGO, May 15, 2012Gateway Foundation Alcohol & Drug Treatment recently piloted a new program that taught effective communication skills as a tool to help enhance relationships and aid one’s commitment to lasting recovery. Piloted in spring 2012, the Immediacy in Effective Communication program was well-received by 36 adult men who were primarily in substance abuse treatment for alcohol, cocaine or heroin issues at Gateway Foundation’s Chicago West treatment center.

“We recognized the opportunity to promote self-awareness and trust building would be valuable in teaching men effective communication skills. One goal was to promote collaboration in messaging—understanding and appreciating others’ state of mind or position to foster empathy,” says Gateway Foundation Clinical Director Dr. Phil Welches.

Retrospection, Reflection, Reframing

To lead the program, Gateway Foundation enlisted Tim O’Malley of Chicago’s Second City. O’Malley, who graduated from a residential substance abuse treatment program at Gateway Foundation Lake Villa several years ago, has an intimate understanding of the struggles associated with substance abuse and remaining sober. While guiding groups through the Immediacy in Effective Communication pilot program, O’Malley taught the skills of improvisation to promote listening, supporting the ideas of others’ and building trust while injecting humor. Many of the interactive exercises O’Malley explored are based on the improvisation teachings of Viola Spolin.

Program activities required individuals to channel retrospection, reflection, reframing—all skills promoted in the substance abuse treatment program. Group members learned about new coping mechanisms, such as mirroring, agreeing, surrendering, saying yes as well as exploring heightening emotions and actions. Tailored to individuals with substance abuse issues, the workshops are intended to:

  • Create a “group personality,” surrendering personal wants for the good of the group.
  • Build on positive imagination, teaching how to use imagination in communication.
  • Give and receive constructive feedback.

Gateway Foundation developed an evaluation and the feedback from attendees overwhelmingly concluded the Immediacy in Effective Communication program accomplished the following:

  • Fostered creativity
  • Helped pilot program participants learn to listen better
  • Helped participants learn to respect others
  • Helped them feel comfortable with themselves and take risks in communication
  • Allowed participants to “have fun” and appreciate humor
  • Helped them learn new and different ways to communicate

“In improvisation, the whole group is greater than the sum of its parts. Contrary to our competitive instincts, to succeed in improvisation, you have to collaborate and treat others as you would like to be treated,” explains Program Trainer Tim O’Malley.

To help adults and adolescents succeed in their life-long commitment to maintaining a healthy lifestyle free of alcohol or drug abuse, Gateway Foundation Alcohol & Drug Treatment provides individuals the necessary knowledge and tools, including effective communication techniques.

“Communication is at the cornerstone of establishing connections and positive relationships—a basic human need for us all,” explains Dr. Welches. “When relationships suffer, a person with a history of substance abuse can feel alienated or disconnected which—depending on the person—could lead to depression and trigger a relapse.”

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