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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

01-11-18 | By

Treatment Center Uses Navy Seal Tactics To Promote Growth

“I think that a predisposition to substance abuse mean’s that you’re smart, capable, and have the ability to achieve great things.”
Justin McMillen is the founder and CEO of Tree House Recovery, an all-male treatment facility based in Orange County, California that is changing the standard of how addiction treatment is performed.

Treehouse started over 10 years ago in Costa Mesa, California when Justin had his own issues with addiction.

“I had a great time in my twenties but ended up in a situation where I was no longer able to control myself and really destroyed my life.”
When Justin got well, he lived with other men in the same situation. He credits living in a sober living environment and helping others as a huge part of his continued sobriety.
“We lived in this house near this huge tree that was visible from anywhere. We would pull indignant guys out of parks and offered free housing for those struggling.”

Tree House Recovery was born.

“Tree House became this idea of a sort of vision and safe haven that you have as a kid. You’re safe, home, and have a supportive and social atmosphere.” 

“I was getting candid pictures into their world that therapists or counselors wouldn’t see.” Men entered his housing that had attended multiple treatment facilities. It was then that Justin started to question conventional treatment methods.

“I started to notice that there was a serious flaw in how we were treating substance abuse in general.” 

Centered in the mecca of treatment facilities, Justin saw the need for an unorthodox treatment approach and decided to expand and grow what was working for his residents – tight bonds, community, and wellness.

“Most customary approaches are to get people into the “norm” – back with the rest of the world as a functioning member of society. What we like to say is that your predisposition to substance abuse means that you’re very smart, capable, and have the ability to achieve great things. Addicts have a personality that’s been an enigma to them. They don’t really understand it or themselves. They’ve never been able to make life work so they keep failing.”

Navy SEAL Team 3

McMillen envisioned a treatment approach with high energy and a positive environment. That’s when he came into contact with “Navy SEAL Team 3.” Justin brought in former Navy SEAL Vets and studied one of their components heavily – an exercise called “surf-passage,” designed to help weed out people and assess how individuals work on a team. From that he developed a program called “Action Based Induction Therapy” (ABIT). This dynamic therapy usually takes place on a the shores of a sandy beach. The alluring aroma and sweet and salty atmosphere is usually enough to get their clients hyped up. An example of the activity consists of:
  • The men break into two teams
  • Carry IBS boats (300 lbs) on top of their heads
  • Race to the edge of the water and get into the boat
  • Row as a team to the endpoint
  • Jump into the water
  • Flip the boat and get back in
  • Row back to shore
  • Carry the boats to the finish line back on the beach
Justin explains: “One of the most challenging things in psychotherapy is to get a real honest and candid picture of the client that someone is working with. How do you do that in a one on one or therapy session? You don’t see how they are in public. Doing this, you quickly see who has a terrible time dealing with adversity or how they are in public. You see who can’t communicate, who is a leader, who’s a follower, and who doesn’t understand how to work with somebody else.”

The Prefrontal Cortex

The Prefrontal Cortex is a highly developed part of the brain that plays a role in the regulation of complex cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functioning. During addiction, that part of the brain goes dormant and impulsive behavior can become second nature. One of the objectives in ABIT is to make that part of the brain stronger. Since implementing the program, surveys have shown that Tree House clients’ Prefrontal Cortex functionality has increased ten-fold.

McMillen describes: “By engaging in these teamwork exercises, these guys are honing their skills of social interaction which makes them higher level connectors. When they leave treatment they have a super tight bond and crave social interaction; a perfect thing to keep them from isolating – which can lead back to active addiction.”

During the exercises, the maladaptive behaviors that are learned in addiction unveil themselves. ABIT is an extraordinary window to see what is going on with the clients in terms of a social level.

Striving For Excellence

Treehouse is changing the way conventional treatment is approached and taking the extra time to teach their clients to understand themselves. By harnessing and cultivating these innate characteristics, the results have put their patients on the high end of the spectrum – rewarding them by leaps and bounds. ABIT is just one example of their
pioneering modalities.

“We’re not looking for normal. We’re looking for excellence. We looking for people to be striving to be the best they can be. Our guys are leaving, going to school, working out, and doing these amazing things. They have to fail at 20 things before they get to the point where they are going to go drink. People that are predisposed to addiction thrive if you let them be awesome. But they have to be given a platform to do it and need to understand themselves well enough. For us, treatment is no longer a revolving door.”

Treehouse Recovery is a game changer in today’s treatment world. They are currently orchestrating the expansion of evidence based treatment across the United States to change the stigma associated with addiction treatment. THR is closely working with a grant and members of the facility have traveled to Washington D.C. to implement efforts combating the opiate epidemic. As treatment modalities have been duplicated for years across the world, Tree House Recovery is truly ahead of the game, paving their own way.

For more information please visit: Tree House Recovery

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