Celebrating Wellness in Addiction Treatment

Embracing wellness to better engage in lifelong recovery

During the month of May, several events are recognized on our national calendar—to name a few, it's National Mental Health Month, Older American's Month, Physical Fitness Month as well as Women's Health Week, May 8-14. However, according to Jennifer Dewey of the Wellness Program at the Betty Ford Center: "Wellness is every day."

Wellness is an integral component in fulfilling our mission of being a force of healing and hope for individuals, families and communities affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs. And it is reflected in every aspect of our continuum of care at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

In a recent conversation, Jennifer Dewey shared about the vital work of the wellness team at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, CA.

What is the primary focus of your team?

Our wellness team is dedicated to providing activities and encouraging movement for both patients and staff. While our program focuses mainly on patient care, we do provide access for staff to the gym and to our outdoor pool during scheduled times. The gym is fully equipped for cardio workouts and strength training, and we offer a variety of wellness classes. Plans are underway to add a Qigong class for staff. Also, a Disc Golf course was recently installed on our campus and is available for use by both patients and staff.

What does a typical "wellness" day look like for our patients?

Every day of the week we meet with patients, on all levels of care. The purpose is to provide a minimum of 90 minutes per day for each patient in a variety of exercises or some other type of movement activity. While our goal is to meet with them at least once a day, they have the option of interacting with our team multiple times during the day.

Realizing that each person is unique, we strive to meet each individual right where they are at—whether they are active or fairly inactive. The overall objective is to encourage them to "move" and to become more aware of what it means to create a healthier lifestyle.

The movement exercises may range from practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques to yoga and moving meditation groups to fitness center activities and outdoor recreation. In addition to disc golf, our campus has a grass volleyball court and outdoor pool. While all patients can use the pool daily for aquatic exercise, the pool is also a vital resource for providing relief and aqua therapy for patients coping with chronic pain issues and physical limitations. During each week, the team also facilitates small group therapy discussions on numerous wellness topics.

Why is wellness so important in the recovery process?

Our philosophy is that the word "wellness" encompasses the entire body—the social, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and physical dimensions of everything that we're made up of. The bottom line is that in order to get clean and sober, we need to take care of our "home"—the body we live in. Wellness gives us the ability to heal. We want to help our patients get well and take responsibility for how they are taking care of their "home"

It's all about embracing wellness in order to better engage in lifelong recovery. You don't have to just do intense exercise; any kind of movement is better than none. Movement activates all sorts of positive responses within the body—from improving oxygen flow to the brain to the release of endorphins that are essential for feeling better. If a patient feels better, they begin to get better. As we reintroduce movement back into our patient's toolbox, they are actually gaining coping skills that will help them in recovery.

How do you encourage lifetime wellness, beyond the structure of treatment?

It's important to prioritize wellness and build it into our daily living. For example, nature offers the best therapy ever, and as we step outdoors, the world becomes our gymnasium or playground. One of our popular wellness activities is outdoor adventure-based therapy. Our wellness team, along with designated counselors, take our young adult patients on day outings of planned activities, such as hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, zip lining, biking, or paddle boarding. Qualified patients typically have completed 7 to 10 days of treatment, and the medical team gives them a release to participate.

Young adult patients are often so consumed with everything they have to "give up," it's important for them to see what they "get" for being sober and clean. These outings produce dramatic results—emotions are very different sitting on a mountain top as compared to being in a group room setting. It's a chance to experience sober fun, firsthand, and it builds relationships and connections as well as creates positive memories of their time in treatment.

Through this outdoor experience, our patients also get to see us actually modeling the message we’ve been preaching every day—that sobriety and movement go together in establishing healthy patterns for long-term recovery. A good day is when all patients, on all levels of care, have engaged in wellness of some shape or form. This is what we do every day.

Additional information:

National Wellness Institute: Six Dimensions of Wellness

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