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Visions Journal

Leanne McKenna

Reprinted from "Men's" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2 (5), p. 35

In 1999, the Provincial Men’s Committee (now defunct) was formed in British Columbia to address concerns related to men-specific alcohol and drug treatment issues. Their mandate was the achievement of high quality, accessible and gender-specific treatment and prevention services for men experiencing, or at risk of, substance misuse. The committee was comprised of 11 members who, through collective wisdom and personal and professional experience, contributed to the development of addictions treatment for men in BC.

One of the premises underlying the development of a men’s gender-specific program was that there was a growing consciousness, and awareness at the biopsychosociospiritual level, of changes in concepts of manhood. The committee was concerned with the relevance of these changes to the treatment of addictions at all stages of the lifespan.

Through the development process, it also became apparent that the profile of male clients in addiction services had changed; i.e., there was more injection and poly-drug misuse, and a lower age for the predominant treatment group.

Recovery from addiction requires both a range of external changes in an individual’s behaviour and a range of changes in each individual’s internal world of feelings, feelings about feelings, perceptions, expectations, and yearnings— in their deepest sense of self.

What a man shows in the external world may not be a true reflection of his internal world; the expression may be coloured by external messages about how an individual or a group of individuals think the world wants men to be. Messages received from family, friends, teachers, and media influence how men behave, including their relationship to alcohol and other drugs. The messages are different for men than for women.

Armed with this knowledge, the committee endeavoured to capture the success of other gender specific programs, such as the WELL (Women’s Empowerment for Learning and Living) Program, by developing the MELL (Men’s Empowerment for Learning and Living) Program.

The MELL Program

The MELL Program was specifically designed to approach addiction and recovery from the perspective and experience of being a man. Program objectives are to provide effective, innovative and flexible treatment programming that would allow men to participate in intensive addictions treatment within their own communities while maintaining their family and social responsibilities. MELL offers the opportunity for men to participate with other men in examining and experiencing their addiction and recovery in the context of being a man. It is co-facilitated by men to help group members learn to trust and speak freely with other men.

MELL is a highly structured, intensive psychotherapeutic program de- livered in 25 sessions. If needed, three of these sessions allow participants and facilitators to focus on particular modules or issues that may become relevant to a given group.

The MELL Program is for adult males 19 and over. The intensity of topics and material covered in a group setting requires clients to be in second stage recovery (approximately two months of abstinence) rather than early recovery. Abstinence is required for the duration of the program, for the benefit and safety of all group members, and because the nature of the material and depth of the experiences may trigger covert issues. If clients are prescribed medication or are under a doctor’s care for methadone maintenance, the acceptance criteria would also include client stabilization and the ability to participate in the group process.

In the spring of 2001, Jackson-Murray Consultants, a Surrey-based addiction counselling and treatment agency, was one of five BC based organizations awarded the opportunity to deliver the pilot program. Each of the trials was independently evaluated to ensure program content and appropriateness, keeping within the original mandate of the Provincial Men’s Committee.

Since then, Jackson-Murray has continued to deliver the MELL Program. It is currently offered four times a year, on a mobile basis, throughout the Fraser Health region. Offered as either a day or an evening/weekend program, the delivery times and dates are based entirely on client need.

The success of MELL is contingent on the progress made by each individual group member. Staff are thrilled with the positive feedback that continues to come in from participants.

About the Author

Leanne is Business Manager and Acting Program Director, Funded Programs, for Jackson-Murray Consultants Inc

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