Resident Feedback: What Works in Addiction Treatment?

Group Therapy Room

The Carriage House: Group Therapy Room at Sanford House

Group Therapy and Treatment Electives

We have several types of group therapy at Sanford House which occur on a daily basis. There are educational or didactic groups; activity groups; recreational groups and process groups. In process groups, the women share feelings and give feedback within the confines of trust, respect and empathy for one another. One of my favorite groups is “house meeting”, where residents make observations about how we do things at Sanford House and choose activities and outside support group electives they will attend during the week.


Weekly Progress Charts, are designed to help our residents track their progress in treatment and help capture information that is helpful to our clinical team. In addition, clients may also be given a written assignment. We may ask them, “What have you learned about being in residential treatment? Write about what you have learned from the structure, environment and relationships with others.” Recently, a resident completed such an assignment and shared it with the group during a house meeting. The other members of the group chimed in with the following:


What Works About the Structure in Treatment?

  • “The groups, mealtimes, regular schedule to exercise which is so important!”
  • “Community dining. Spending time together at meals. The talk at the dinner table.”
  • “Daily outside support groups. The variety.”
  • “Recreational activities. Spiritual opportunities.”


What Works in the Treatment Environment?

  • “I feel emotionally safe here.”
  • “Being with all women.”
  • “Giving and receiving honest feedback.”
  • “The ability to make choices.”
  • “A sense of freedom.”
  • “Lap blankets!”
  • “The professional  dress of the staff makes us feel like they respect us.”


What Works About Relationships in Treatment?

  • “The positive way the staff communicates with one another about us.”
  • “Feeling human and significant.”
  • “Support from all the staff.”
  • “Listening to other’s stories.”
  • “Learning to trust again.”


In a 2013 presentation at the National Association for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), Dr. Philip Herschman presented information on what works in treatment according to recent data and his Comprehensive Model of Addiction Treatment. He stated that in most studies of treatment conducted over the last 40 years, the average treated person is better off than 80% of the untreated sample. In addition, the outcome of behavioral health services equals, and in most cases, exceeds medical treatments. These studies also demonstrated that the most active ingredient that drove positive outcomes was the “therapeutic alliance, or that relationship a client has with her counselor.”


In listening to feedback weekly, if not daily, from our residents, I am well aware of the positive therapeutic alliance that occurs not only between client and counselor, but also the relationships the exist for her from all the Sanford House staff. It is reflected in many of the comments above.


I have been working as a professional counselor for over 30 years, but I often remember my days as a new therapist – anxious about performing the right intervention or practicing the correct model of treatment. I had a wonderful mentor who guided me with the wisdom or words I have used and never forgotten, “Just remember, Christine, it’s all about the relationship.”


It has served me well.




Author Christine Walkons (MA, LPC, CAADC, CCS-M) is an emeritus Clinical Director for Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers. She has been working in the addiction field for over 30 years, developing residential treatment, outpatient and intensive outpatient programs. Christine lives in Elberta, Michigan among the scenic dunes of Lake Michigan and divides her time between Grand Rapids and her small northern village.