UNT opens Life of Purpose outpatient treatment center for students seeking recovery

Thursday, May 5, 2016 - 14:34
The directors of Denton Life of Purpose on the University of North Texas campus are Carly Shannon, clinical director and a UNT alumna, and Brent Harper, executive director.
The directors of Denton Life of Purpose on the University of North Texas campus are Carly Shannon, clinical director and a UNT alumna, and Brent Harper, executive director.

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- Forty-two percent of college students in a National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse report said they had engaged in binge drinking – consuming five or more alcoholic drinks at a time – during the previous two weeks, with one in three of the students admitting they drank primarily to get drunk. In addition, 8 percent of the students said they consume an average of 16 or more alcoholic drinks per week.

These statistics could be the signal of a problem – one that might hinder a student's education.

Students who are recovering from alcohol and substance addiction, but do not want their treatment to keep them from pursuing university degrees, will have a resource for them at the University of North Texas. Life of Purpose Treatment, an intensive outpatient program designed specifically for college and university students, will open its second location on the UNT campus in Denton.

Life of Purpose Treatment was founded in 2013 at Florida Atlantic University. The Denton program will be housed in UNT's Chilton Hall, adjacent to the office of the UNT Collegiate Recovery Program.

Since 2013, Collegiate Recovery has provided support to students through weekly wellness meetings, a designated wing in a UNT residence hall and Eagle Peer Recovery, a student organization offering alcohol-free parties, tailgating and other activities. Staff members with Collegiate Recovery are expected to work with Denton Life of Purpose staff to serve students who enrolled at UNT, but interrupted their time on campus to complete an inpatient treatment program. The programs also will serve students who plan to enroll at UNT in the future.

A client will usually come to Denton Life of Purpose after being discharged from an inpatient treatment center and receive a minimum of nine hours of clinical therapy a week for two months. Life of Purpose academic case managers will help clients eventually enroll or re-enroll at UNT, and remain in good academic standing, said Linda Holloway, chair of UNT's Department of Disability and Addiction Rehabilitation.

"If the student needs a medical withdrawal from UNT to focus on recovery, the case manager will negotiate for that. If a student has completed inpatient rehabilitation, the case manager may recommend that he or she take community college courses first before enrolling at UNT," Holloway said. "In the past, some treatment programs told clients to not start or return to college until they had been sober for four or five years. But there are many pathways to recovery, and Life of Purpose helps students get into or get back to college as soon as possible."

She said the academic case managers will work closely with students' academic advisors and the Dean of Students Office, and refer students to Collegiate Recovery and other services on campus focused on academic success, such as the Learning Center.

Carly Shannon, clinical director for Denton Life of Purpose, said students will meet each week with their academic case managers, who will review the syllabus of each class, discuss deadlines for assignments and create strategies for academic success.

"Case managers view each grade with the students. If students perform well on exams and do so consistently, we will provide rewards per the students' interests within recovery," she said. "If they are struggling with their grades, we will introduce them to weekly tutors. If they continue to fail even with the academic interventions, we will likely need to assess."

Tommy Wiley, a student assistant for the Collegiate Recovery Program, said returning to college was a key step in his own recovery. He first enrolled at UNT during the 1995 fall semester, but left when his substance use impacted his academic progress. He returned to UNT in 2015 after meeting the former director of the Collegiate Recovery Program and attending the program's wellness meetings.

He's now a sophomore rehabilitation and addiction studies major planning to graduate in December 2017, and leads a weekly 12-step recovery meeting as one of the program's assistants.

"A big step in my recovery was going back to school to earn my degree," he said.

In addition to establishing its Denton branch, Life of Purpose Treatment provided funding to establish the Office of Substance Misuse and Mental Health Recovery Research in UNT's Department of Disability and Addiction Rehabilitation.

The office will bring together faculty from the Departments of Behavior Analysis; Counseling and Higher Education; Kinesiology, Health Promotion and Recreation; and Psychology, as well as faculty from the Department of Disability and Addiction Rehabilitation, for collaborative education and training, research and evaluation, technical assistance and technology development. Holloway said the office will provide its first small research grants by the 2016 fall semester and hopes the office will attract visiting faculty and researchers.