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The New Face of Recovery and The Age of Multiple Pathways

By Tom McHale – Recovery Supports Coordinator, Northern Michigan Substance Abuse Services, Recovery Center, Gaylord MI

In recent years research has painted a very different picture of what recovery looks like, not in terms of its visual appearance, but in how people gain access to and define their recovery. The old picture of a single recovery pathway has evolved into a broad range of diverse pathways and an expanding definition of what recovery means. Examples of diverse  pathways include medication assisted recovery, harm reduction, secular recovery, faith based recovery, twelve step  programs, spontaneous remission and the list goes on.  Whether a person sees this new face of recovery as positive or negative doesn’t change the fact that 23 million Americans have recognized their alcohol/drug use as a problem and took corrective action. This is a reason to celebrate. It is also a time to express gratitude for the efforts of individuals and groups that forged the initial recovery path. The message emanating from the face of recovery is clear, however there  is  no single pathway.

I had hoped treatment facilities in the private and public sectors would begin offering clients support options based on this new picture of recovery and the diverse pathways now available, but I continue to see a great deal of reluctance to get on board with multiple pathways and I have even read affirmations from treatment facilities expressing loyalty to the one pathway. I fully understand that there are people working in the treatment industry, who are in recovery, and maintain  their recovery by using a 12 step pathway. This is great for that individual. I am concerned however with insistence on  guiding everyone down the same recovery path. It is disheartening that clients unwilling to embrace a prescribed  pathway are identified as recovery resistant or worse dismissed until they get so sick they will accept a program of recovery they didn’t accept during better times. I believe as the field of addiction treatment moves toward the implementation of evidence based practices, the pathways introduced to an individual will represent the diversity now available. Choosing a pathway is a personal decision based on the person’s beliefs, values, culture, and other extenuating  circumstances. The role of the therapist is to help the individual find his or her own personal pathway. The treatment industry has an ethical obligation to support multiple pathways until the research tells us different.

Personally, I believe that we’ve been totally unfair to the initial pathway by creating an unrealistic expectation that this  pathway alone could  help EVERYONE. As a result, this pathway became a dumping ground for individuals that society  did not want or could not serve, and the practice of forcing people to attend, compromised the supportive atmosphere for those who want to attend.

The solution to addiction and maintaining recovery is not likely to come in one nice neat package. By supporting  and  facilitating multiple pathways  we stand a much better chance of growing the number of people who stabilize in an addiction free lifestyle. Just think of how many more lives we can reach by being open to multiple pathways that all work toward a common goal: to afford everyone the opportunity to recover from his or her addiction. I  suspect that treatment facilities that learn this lesson will be the first to come out on top