New Directions was founded in 1981, at a time when outpatient counseling was a rarely-used modality to treat Substance Use Disorders. Initially founded to help adolescents and their families, the name New Directions was chosen for two equally important reasons. First, we wanted to communicate to clients and their families that positive change was possible. Secondly, we felt we had a responsibility to communicate the reality of adolescent addiction to as wide an audience as possible. For years the thinking had been that childhood or adolescent addiction was a phase, or that no addiction could be overly serious if the individual had only been using for a few months. These beliefs persisted despite many adult clients stating that they began using and drinking in their teenage years. It is likely that many in our field made the connection. We, however, sought to develop a treatment program to address it.
David Gust, founder of New Directions, worked to implement new approaches to treating young people. At the time, adolescents were being treated with an adult model of care, but this strategy was often ineffective because it was too short in duration and did not regularly include individual or family counseling. David understood early that, without family involvement, the chances of recovery for the adolescent was very low. Over time he developed a structured process designed specifically for adolescents, which focused directly on the needs of the young person rather than attempting to adjust an adult program to fit an adolescent client.
While the differences between an adult suffering from a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and an adolescent with the same diagnosis are many, David noted that these were of particular importance:
- The course from initial use to diagnosable SUD is typically more rapid in an adolescent.
- Experienced and potential consequences are much different and require novel approaches to identifying and leverage.
- Adolescents are much less likely to want to attend treatment because they may see their behavior as typical of their friend group and the perceived risks from their behavior are few.
- Treating adolescents with SUDs requires specific training and experience. Said differently, if you have a heart condition, you don’t go to an orthopedist.
- Using/drinking is the social event for an adolescent, whereas it is merely a component for many adults.
- Disengaging from problematic friend groups can prove more difficult and carry more disruptive social consequences for the adolescent.
- Consistent family involvement is crucial.
As the years went by, our reputation grew. Many in our and related fields began to see the benefit of long-term treatment in the form of outpatient counseling. Soon, we received requests to treat not only children and young-adults, but their parents, uncles, aunts, and friends. This change to the composition of our overall client base occurred more or less simultaneously with our increasing outreach and collaboration with our community and colleagues.
Outpatient counseling was and will always the be the core of our business and primary focus for our counselors; however, during the past four decades, we have also acted as teachers, consultants, and trainers. Members of our staff provided their expertise to support the creation of treatment facilities in a number of states across the country. They have helped existing facilities and practices devise and manage client treatment models. And they have provided continuing education courses not only for other counselors, but to Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT), Clinical Social Workers (CSW), psychologists, and psychiatrists.
Through this work and our requirements and interest in furthering our counselors’ individual educations, we have consistently strived to stay abreast of current and ongoing research into treatment modalities, counseling approaches, pharmacological interventions, and insights from our Staff and colleagues.
Today is no different. The opioid crisis and COVID-19-related pandemic restrictions have led to consequences for our clients and their families that have ranged from concerning to devastating. Nevertheless, we believe as more and more people are coming to see that the Disease of Addiction can strike any demographic at any time, the stigmas surrounding the disease are lifting. COVID-19 kept many people from gathering in groups or, in some cases, leaving their homes, but we found Zoom. It was new and, in the beginning, a little uncomfortable, but it worked. Kind of like recovery. We believed helping our clients broaden their conception of what recovery could be was as important and as fitting in 1981 as it is today, and we have no plans to change.