The following is a guest post by David SemancoClinical Director of Serenity Acres Treatment Center.

Like several of my colleagues, I have a lengthy commute. Serenity Acres is located in rural Crownsville, Maryland, outside of Annapolis, and I happen to live in northern Virginia, about an hour and twenty minutes away – with favorable traffic. I conduct a lot of work-related phone calls and listen to a lot of audiobooks to pass the time.

But I wouldn’t make this commute if I didn’t believe in what we do here. I begin each trip with the end goal in mind: to have the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives in a very special place, and in excellent company. Each day, all of my professional training and experience is fully applied in that effort.

Similarly, at Serenity Acres, we begin the treatment of each patient with a plan for their continuing care after they’ve left our facility. All clinical efforts are guided according to the outcome desired: sustainable recovery. To that end, since its founding Serenity Acres has emphasized individualized, one-on-one mental health and addiction counseling — an approach for which our treatment center is still best known.

We are proud of that foundation and remain dedicated to one-on-one therapy as an important mode of therapy today. But sometimes, careful collection of evidence demands a course correction. The map, as they say, is not the territory.

Since I came to Serenity Acres four years ago, my clinical colleagues and I have evaluated the balance of individual therapy sessions to rigorous group therapy. We realized that patients’ continuing care goals would be enhanced by adding more opportunities for group therapy to the weekly treatment regimen, co-ed group therapy in particular.

The therapeutic format patients will most frequently encounter after they leave our facility, such as 12 Step and outpatient treatment programs, will be group-oriented in nature. So by adding more clinically-guided, co-ed group therapy to our own program, we not only reduce patients’ emotional dependence upon their individual therapy counselors, we also put patients’ issues under the scrutiny of a peer group. Unlike 12 Step programs, residential clinical group therapy encourages interaction, even confrontation, between participants. In this more intense setting, there are fewer places for addiction and mental illness to “hide.” Interpersonal dynamics help patients to keep each other honest.

Patients can then bring that honesty into their continuing care groups, many of which, naturally, will also be co-ed in nature. We want to help our patients become more comfortable with working through their issues in mixed company, because we live in a world were men and women need to learn to interact with grace and understanding. Like too many of us, patients frequently lack the tools to achieve this ideal, and it can contribute to their other problems with chemical dependency and mental illness. Group therapy helps to show them a better way.

I hasten to add there remain many opportunities for our patients to address gender-specific issues in gender-specific groups on a daily basis.  Additionally, patients will continue to have several individual counseling sessions with their addiction counselors and mental health therapists each week.  Again, striking the balance appropriate to each patient is key.

We know that each patient has different needs, but we also know that by establishing best practices, we can help our patients become fully functioning members of the broader society. Our destination is a mental state that is neither over-reactive, nor under-reactive. A place where problems are dealt with openly and honestly, rather than paved over with chemicals.

The road is long and hard – but it’s worth the trip. 

David Semanco is Clinical Director at Serenity Acres Treatment Center. He oversees the center’s team of addiction and mental health counselors, develops clinical programs and works with clients in group and music therapy. David has experience providing addiction treatment in hospital, residential and outpatient settings. He specializes in traditional therapies as well as innovative methods which have demonstrated success in evidence-based research. David is President of the Virginia Association of Addiction Professionals (VAAP).