Emerging From Addiction

Medical Matters, Lane County Medical Society

“I think labels matter. I think how we describe people is really important,” says Chris Wig, Program Director of the Treatment Court Program at Emergence: Addiction and Behavioral Therapies. “When I talk about people in our program, I don’t refer to them as criminals or drug addicts, because they’re not. These are people who are in recovery, who are turning their lives around, who matter.”

Treatment Court offers its participants a unique opportunity to intervene with services and support before criminal sentencing. “One of the things that makes treatment courts work is the relationship between the judge and the participants,” Wig says. “For a lot of people, their relationship with Judge Ilisa Rooke-Ley is the first positive relationship that they’ve had with an authority figure.”

At Emergence, participants work in a collaborative program with substance abuse providers and treatment court officials to create an avenue out of the cycle of crime. An interdisciplinary team that consists of the participant’s probation officer (PO), their defense attorney, a prosecutor, the treatment court judge, and the treatment provider works together to help the participant.

Emergence provides all participants with an individualized cognitive behavioral therapy program. It aims to reform law-breaking behavior into pro-social behavior. It arms participants with the tools they need to be contributing members of their communities. Clients participate in a number of activities while completing the program, putting their initiative and engagement at the center of their recovery. They explore their own ambivalence through motivation enhancement therapy (MET), and learn new pro-social skills and behaviors through role-playing and other modeling activities.

“We have a lesson called the ‘Bird of a Feather Hypothesis,’” Wig explains. “If you hand out with people who steal, do drugs, and commit crimes, then you will also do that. But if you go to recovery support groups, hang out with people who are clean and sober and in recovery—people who are doing the right thing—you will be more likely to do the right thing.”

In his experience, Wig finds that participants want to live up to the positive labels put on them while at Emergence. In this way, Emergence is transformative. The total program ranges from 12 to 18 months, with about a dozen participants graduating every quarter.

The whole point of treatment court is to keep people out of prison.
— Chris Wig

Treatment from Emergence is specific, and not for low-risk offenders. A participant enrolls in the program from three typical circumstances: conditional discharge, condition of probation, or downward departure. “A conditional discharge means the participant can have their conviction discharged if they complete the program,” Wig remarks. “The whole point of treatment court is to keep people out of prison.”

Wig sees the Treatment Court program as a holistic approach of equal parts treatment, resources, and skills required for success. It’s an intensive regimen of random urine tests, group therapy, counseling, probation meetings, and court appointments. “Our program is not easy, and treatment court is not required—it’s an opportunity.”

“I have a great deal of respect for our participants. The people who come to this program want to get clean,” Wig says. “They want to be sober and they want to change their lives.”

Beyond behavioral therapy, Emergence works to help participants prepare for what lies beyond treatment. Referrals to GED courses are available, since having a GED is a requirement for graduation. There are also volunteer opportunities, housing resources, and assistance with job searches. “I think that’s one of the keys to why our program is successful,” Wig explains. “It’s not just: come here, learn about drugs and alcohol, and then you’re on your own. The whole program embraces the individual and builds them up for when they’re ready to graduate.”

“People who are in recovery have families, and loved ones. They have the potential to make a great difference in our community,” Wig says, touching again on his theory about the importance of labels. “We see our best and worst selves depending on the story.”