Photograph courtesy drhowardsamuels.com
Thanks to repeat customers like Lindsay Lohan, some of L.A.’s toniest drug rehabs have gotten a reputation for being little more than high-end spas with pools, high-thread count sheets, five-star cuisine, and few optional therapy sessions.
This is frustrating for me because, as the founder of AfterPartyChat, an L.A.-based site that’s wholly focused on addiction and recovery, I want active addicts to know where to turn if they need help. Also, the all-LA rehabs-are-spas meme simply isn’t accurate: many of the city’s treatment centers are impressive institutions filled with highly accredited staff. To get another take, I checked in with psychotherapist Dr. Howard Samuels, who owns and operates The Hills Treatment Center (and happens to be 29 years sober himself) about how to run an effective high-end rehab in a city known for both decadence and extravagance.
Is it hard for a high-end treatment center to get respect?
Yes. But I actually think part of the problem is using terms like “high-end treatment center” or “luxury treatment center.”
They give off the idea that the rehab is a hotel or resort where people are lying around the pool drying out while the staff gives them virgin Bloody Mary’s. And that couldn’t be further from the truth as far as my treatment center is concerned.
That said, I believe that you have to have a treatment center that’s attractive and easy on the eyes because the whole point is that you want to seduce the addict into recovery. For an addict, going into treatment is pretty much the person’s worst nightmare: they’re going to be locked up where they can’t have a drink or a drug and they’re going to have to admit that their life is out of control and they can’t do anything about it. So you want to put together a beautiful place in order to make the transition for the worst nightmare of their lives more bearable.
What is your response to people who argue that nice rehab centers don’t encourage sobriety because addicts won’t mind coming back?
The attitude that wants to punish the addict is very ignorant. Why don’t we then punish the person who has cancer by putting the cancer patient in a hospital that’s not nice? Look, if I have a family who spends a quarter of a million dollars trying to help their child get sober, [a no-frills place like] Cri-Help could be the answer. Some kids have to get grateful for what they have. And I was one of them. I was a kid who had everything but I went to Phoenix House [a bare bones non-profit rehab in 150 states] and lived in a room with 25 guys and had to wear humiliating signs and clean toilet bowls with toothbrushes. I was a convicted felon [for a 1971 drug possession charge] and I needed to grow up. Even though treatment is what saved my life, I wouldn’t sign up for that type of treatment anymore because it’s very shame-based. I just happened to hit a bottom when I was there and I realized that I didn’t want to live that life anymore. That kind of treatment is archaic and not productive.
Facilities aside, how is The Hills different from the treatment centers that are known for being little more than spas?
We have rules here. I once got a call from a famous actor who was arrested, and when I told him about my treatment center, he didn’t want to come. He had no interest in getting up at 7:30 a.m. to clean his room or going to groups all day and 12-step meetings at night and following the rules and regulations we have. Here clients are in three group sessions every day plus individual sessions and every night they’re at an AA meeting. And so he ended up going to one of those places where they cater to the individual, where all they really offer is one-on-one therapy and massages. That’s not a treatment center. That’s called a resort with therapy.
There’s the sense that high-end centers cater only to celebrities.
We live in Hollywood. How could we not have celebrities who come in? But we also have police officers, housewives, executives and everyone else. Celebrities, honestly, are sort of a pain in the ass. That kind of clientele comes with a lot of excess baggage and extra people in their camp who often try to control the situation or are even threatened by the idea of the celebrity getting sober because it means that the person will have more control over his or her life.
I’ve heard local addicts say they don’t want to enter treatment in Los Angeles because it is where their addiction developed. Does that matter?
I say if you live in L.A., go to a treatment center in L.A. If you go to treatment in Arizona or Palm Springs or Florida or somewhere else, you’re going to be at a total disadvantage in terms of having a sober support system when you get out. Because the truth is that hardest thing about rehab is implementing it when you leave.