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How Workshops Aid in Healing, Recovery, and Emotional Growth

July 5, 2018

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The Meadows

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By Georgia Fourlas, DSW, MSW, LCSW, LISAC, CSAT-S
Clinical Director of Workshops, Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows

For those who are looking to overcome negative behaviors, or even simply identify the source of some of their emotional suffering, intensive workshops can be a springboard to recovery and renewal.

Workshops are brief and often intense sessions designed to address an area of concern or personal struggle. They are transformative programs that help individuals identify negative patterns and break the cycle of maladaptive behaviors that may be holding them back. Workshops often last three to five days but can last up to two weeks.

Workshop participants work on sensitive issues in a concentrated format. This allows them to gain insight into unhealthy, embroiled patterns of behavior, and to practice new relational skills within a safe environment. Workshops are a great option for people who do not need inpatient treatment but want to participate in a program that can bring them more immediate results than they are able to accomplish in weekly individual therapy sessions.

What You Can Expect in a Workshop

Workshop participants can expect to be in programming all day and often continue into the evening with group activities and ancillary services. Workshops typically contain a lot of psycho-education with therapeutic activities designed to break through barriers and strengthen recovery. Workshop providers often have therapists who are dedicated solely to facilitating workshops. This means that the therapists are specifically trained in conducting a particular workshop and have extensive expertise in the subject matter. For example, you will often find specialized trauma therapists, certified sex addiction therapists, and licensed marriage and family therapists running workshops related to their areas of expertise. Other providers may have therapists who work in their inpatient treatment center rotate into facilitating workshops occasionally when they are offered.

In addition, some private practitioners who function as long-term, ongoing therapists may also provide workshops to their clients. These may occur over a weekend or another block of time that the therapist chooses. Workshops provided by a private therapist may or may not occur in a group environment.

Many workshop providers offer on-site accommodations which allow participants to stay cocooned into the treatment process, offering a supportive environment even outside of group sessions. It is possible to stay in your own home for some workshops if you are able to find a provider within driving distance of your home, but this is not ideal. If on-site accommodations are available, participants can maximize their experience by staying on site. Intense work is most effective if participants are able to “check out” of the regular daily stresses of everyday life and just focus on the healing. Work duties, family responsibilities, world news events, and technological devices can distract a person from focusing on themselves and their personal healing.

Who Benefits the Most from Workshops?

There are a number of different types of people who can benefit from workshops. Anyone who wants to begin an emotional healing process, take an emotional healing journey already in progress to the next level, or who needs a little recovery renewal, could benefit greatly from a workshop.

Beginning a Healing or Recovery Journey

Some workshop participants may want to start a journey of healing and recovery but need to build a solid foundation first through some intensive, focused work. Other participants may not have any addictions or mental health conditions, but do feel that they need some help with a particular issue. People who do not have a history of addictions or other mental health issues still struggle with the same life issues as those who are addicted or mentally ill. They may pursue a workshop to address those needs.

Maybe it is a mother who cannot stop enabling her addicted child. A child abuse survivor who never really got a chance to address the trauma they experienced. Possibly it is a person who continues to find themselves in destructive and abusive relationships. A student who is gifted and has always had success in high school but finds that in the freedom of college, they get stuck for hours watching online pornography and fail to complete course assignments. It could be someone who just lost their beloved spouse and feels overwhelmed and stuck in grief. Or even someone who just wants to learn more about mindfulness practice. These are only a few examples.

Sometimes participants may have considered inpatient or outpatient treatment and have determined – maybe with the help of their therapist—that they do not qualify for that level of treatment. The therapist may recommend workshops as a viable alternative.

A Recovery Refresher

Workshops can provide a refresher or a source of renewal for those in recovery or those who have already completed an inpatient treatment program, an intensive outpatient program, or both and are active in a 12-step recovery program.

People who are already in recovery from substance use disorders or intimacy disorders often find in their recovery process that other issues pop up that need to be addressed. Sometimes we call this “Whack-a-Mole,” referring to the carnival game where the player is challenged to continue to hit “moles” as they pop up out of a game board, with the “moles” popping up faster and faster in an endless cycle that makes it very difficult for the player to keep up—As they hit one down, another pops up. Addiction and other mental health issues can be much like this. For example, a person might stop drinking only to find that their online porn use starts taking over more and more of the time they used to spend in the bar. Or a person may find some healing with depression only to discover that they are having increasing issues within their relationships. Workshops are designed to help these people address arising issues and navigate their way through the obstacles they are facing on their journeys.

Who Should NOT Attend a Workshop?

Most workshop providers will not accept someone who is in active addiction with drugs or alcohol and may also exclude those active in sexual addictions. Typically, there is a minimum requirement of 30 days of abstinence prior to attending a workshop. Individuals who are a danger to themselves or others are not a good fit for a workshop until after they are safe. Individuals who are psychiatrically unstable are also not a good fit for workshops. This is not an exhaustive list of who would not be appropriate but this covers the main exclusions. Participants can expect to enter a screening process to determine their eligibility for workshops at the specific facility and for the specific workshop in which they are attempting to enroll. Each facility and each workshop have unique criteria for admission that they will consider. Their intake departments can guide participants and help determine eligibility.

Types of Workshops

There are many different types of workshops available, so people seeking help should have very little difficulty in finding a workshop that suits their own particular needs or issues. There are workshops designed to help people generally break through obstacles with no specific focus on the type of issues to be addressed. There are workshops that are specific to the issue or obstacle that a person may be attempting to overcome. There are workshops that use a specific treatment modality or type of therapy. There are also workshops that are based on a specific popular book or on the work of someone who is highly respected in the addictions or behavioral health field.

Trauma Workshops

Trauma workshops are very popular and offered by a number of providers. Trauma workshops may address general traumatic events or may specialize in a certain type of trauma. There are workshops geared towards childhood trauma, sexual trauma, and military trauma. Trauma workshops are designed to address the residual effects of traumatic events, reduce reactivity to past trauma, and minimize the strength of triggers from past trauma that can lead people back to addictive or other maladaptive behaviors.

Rio Retreat at The Meadows has two trauma workshops that were both designed under the guidance of Pia Mellody. They follow the Overview of Developmental Immaturity Model that is outlined in her book Facing Codependence. These workshops are called the Survivors Workshops and are focus solely on childhood trauma. Survivors I is run every week of the year. It is a vital component of inpatient treatment at The Meadows, and it is also offered for individuals who want to deal with childhood trauma but do not need inpatient treatment. Survivors II is a continuation of Survivors I and can deal with a wider array of traumatic events that range from childhood to adulthood.

Relationships and Intimacy Workshops

Intimacy disorders represent another topic that is commonly addressed in workshops. It should be noted that depending on the severity of the intimacy disorder, inpatient treatment is sometimes necessary. However, many people find that a workshop sufficiently addresses their challenging intimacy patterns. Sexual compulsivity, love addiction, partners of sex addicts, and those who consistently find themselves in destructive, abusive, or exploitive relationships may find a workshop to fit their needs. Intimacy Disorder workshops are designed to help individuals cope with the obsessive and compulsive nature of sexual or intimate behaviors. Addressing intimacy issues in a workshop can go a long way in reducing shame and empowering people into recovery.

Rio Retreat at The Meadows offers a Men’s Sexual Recovery Workshop. This workshop was designed using Dr. Patrick Carnes’ 30 Task model. The workshop for partners of sex addicts, Healing Intimate Treason, is designed by Dr. Claudia Black who frequently stops by the workshop to meet the participants. The Love Addiction/Love Avoidance Workshop is based on Pia Mellody’s book Facing Love Addiction— Pia often drops in to meet the participants of this workshop.

Grief and Loss Workshops

Grief and loss workshops are extremely effective in helping individuals who are grieving, and particularly those people who feel they may be stuck in the grief. While it is common to think of death and dying as the reason to come to a grief workshop, there are actually many more reasons that people attend. Some people may have lost a marriage or their career or their health. It can be a relief to just be in a group with other grieving people who would like to honor their grief while also moving forward in their lives. Mending Heartwounds is the name of the grief workshop at Rio Retreat Center.

Couples and Family Workshops

Individual work is not the only type of work that can be accomplished in a workshop. Couples and family workshops are also popular.

Couples workshops can include general couples work or can be specialized for couples who are dealing with specific issues, such as sexual addiction. Couples’ workshops usually involve more than one couple per workshop. Rio Retreat Center has Couples Bootcamp which is for couples who want to improve communication and renegotiate boundaries with one another.

Family workshops are a bit different since they are often limited to one family and can be customized to the specific needs of that family. Family workshops are great for families that have difficulty getting everyone to commit to long-term therapy or for families that live in different geographical locations. Family Matters is a customized workshop for families that want to heal from any number of issues.

Specialty Workshops

Specialty workshops include specific therapeutic modalities or the work of specific experts in the field. For example, Rio Retreat Center offers a mindfulness workshop and an equine therapy workshop. Many other facilities offer divorce workshops, workshops that address money and work disorders, eating disorder workshops, workshops based on the work of Brené Brown, and more. All it takes is a simple Google search to find a workshop that might fit whatever issue you need to address.

Why Should You Attend a Workshop?

Workshops are known for giving people “more bang for their buck.” They can offer a cost-effective way to address a wide variety of people with a wide array of presenting issues. The ability to delve deeply into sensitive issues while having the safe container of the workshop structure and support of the group environment enables participants to get to a level of healing beyond what they thought could ever be possible in such a short time period. Participants are frequently amazed at how much progress and relief they were able to experience in only a few days. Workshops cannot replace the value of long-term, ongoing therapy; but, they can enhance an individual’s ability to clear an obstacle they may be encountering in their ongoing work or build a stronger foundation in recovery as they delve deeper into the roots of the problems that fed their addictions or other mental health issues. Therapists who send their clients to workshops often report that the clients come back to them with resolutions to issues that have been long-term struggles and with a renewed commitment to healing.

Workshop participants often describe their workshop experience as “life-changing,” life-altering,” and “transformative.” Recovery beyond their wildest dreams is how some people have described the relief they have gotten from workshop participation. Groups are large enough for participants to benefit from the energy of the shared experience with others and small enough to allow for personal and intimate sharing and support. Participants are able to achieve a higher level of emotional health and are able to make substantial progress in their healing journeys.

The common goal of most workshops is to help people improve their emotional health. Individuals who are emotionally healthy are able to regulate and manage their own emotions and behaviors. They are able to manage life’s challenges, build strong relationships, and recover from setbacks. Workshops are designed to provide participants with the tools they need to participate in life to the fullest extent possible through productive and meaningful interactions with others. Workshops can help you find the path to emotional health. Even with the help of workshops, life is never going to be perfect, but it can be more manageable, breathtakingly beautiful, and profoundly joyful.

About Georgia Fourlas, DSW, MSW, LCSW, LISAC, CSAT-S

Dr. Georgia Fourlas is the Clinical Director of Workshops at Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows. Dr. Fourlas has been working in the field of behavioral health for more than 20 years. Dr. Fourlas has extensive experience working as a crisis counselor, a trauma therapist, and an addictions therapist. More than ten years of her experience has been working with patients in an inpatient setting with both state-funded and privately-funded agencies and patient populations. Learn more about the workshops offered at Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows.

Note: This article originally appeared in Together Arizona magazine. It is reprinted here with permission.