Our Recovery Program – The Social Model (12-Step) Program

by Oct 10, 2019SUD Resources0 comments

Implementing the Social Model (12-step) Program at Heartland House

Our Heartland House team considers the individually-centered aspects of our treatment program to be one of the keystones of our success. Simply put, there are differences in what works for each individual man to sustain long-term recovery. Many elements of our program are linear and semi-structured in the way that a treatment professional program would be, but we also facilitate a social model 12 step style environment in which the men who have completed our program and continue to live in the residence provide vital support to those men coming through the program behind them.

History of the Social Model

Social model programs for substance abuse recovery trace their beginning to the inception of Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s. Social models look different from the professional counterparts of treatment facilities and programs that we see today and they often work in conjunction with one another, although some people find recovery using one but not the other.

You can read about social model recovery in the research project, “The Social Model Approach to Substance Abuse Recovery” by Dr. Lee Ann Kaskutas, Dr. P.H. In this piece, the author references O’Briant’s work, “Recovery from Alcoholism: A Social Treatment Model” (1973), in which O’Briant popularized the term social model and describes what this type of program might look like. The first social model detox program that he founded was called Starting Point, in an old fire station in a California agricultural commune.

With the assistance of architect Fried Whitman, O’Bryant developed a detailed description of what a social model living facility should look like. These are what they consider to be the most important features: 

– An outward appearance and entryway that doesn’t identify or give it the stock appearance of an alcoholism treatment facility

– A prominent central area for socializing, with living areas that are separate and distinct from the socializing area

– A non-institutional appearance to the kitchen and dining areas.

– Sleeping areas for residents, as well as areas for staff.

The common characteristic of social model facilities is that they clearly distinguish themselves from specific “lockdown” treatment type centers that have very specific rules and regulations and feel like institutions. A social model center feels more like a home where multiple people live together and are encouraged to help each other on the path to recovery. Here are more specific differences between a social model program versus a treatment facility:

  • The social model recognizes an interdependency between the individual seeking recovery from alcohol and the wider world.
  • Social model programs try to create a social climate conducive to recovery; not everyone who needs recovery will be admitted.
  • Social model programs recognize experiential knowledge as the basis of authority.
  • Social model programs encourage individuals to consider recovery a lifelong learning process.
  • Management is vested in participants; staff act as coaches or guides
    Social model programs cultivate a homelike, rather than institutional, atmosphere.
  • The primary therapeutic relationship is between the person and the program.
  • Everyone both gives and receives help.
  • The basic principles and dynamics of Alcoholics Anonymous create a fundamental framework.
  • Social model programs, in the spirit of AA, consider recovery “a gift of God” that affects one’s mental and spiritual life and all relationships with others. (reference)

Heartland House as a Social Model

One of the oldest treatment residences in southern California where social model programs are part of the fabric of our existence Heartland House epitomizes the social model program described in this reference. Our comprehensive array of services includes detoxification from alcohol and drugs, primary recovery from substance use disorder, secondary supportive recovery, and recovery sustenance, meaning lifelong support for people fully recovered and integrated back into society.

Our clients experience this social model where they live and work with each other and assist and support each other on the road to recovery. Recovery homes were the original social model and residential treatment programs operate similarly, but with a case management system. Heartland House provides both aspects of care in that we focus on the social model environment but offer case management as well. We encourage peer sharing and peer support whereas some treatment centers use a one-on-one or group counseling model without peer support.

The sober living element of our program is in all respects a social model peer support group. In sober living, the client is no longer receiving case management and is more personally responsible for their own recovery and continued growth through their change plan. As the client continues their transition into society, their peers can support them in their path to recovery. Read the blog about our sober living and continuing care programs for more insight into our social model program at Heartland House.

There are many excellent online references on social model programs and our Heartland House team is also happy to answer any questions you might have. Feel free to contact us via the link below if you have any questions about our program.


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