Three Critical Elements of Successful Recovery Programs

Three Critical Elements of Successful Recovery Programs

“The greatest gift of life is friendship, and I have received it.” – Hubert H. Humphrey

Designing Successful Recovery

I am involved in several intensive outpatient programs (IOP) that provide treatment and support for those with serious or critical mental health and substance abuse issues. These programs help our clients regain stability and develop skills to better navigate the journey in life that lies ahead. Those who are in crisis, considering mental health inpatient treatment or residential treatment for substance abuse, or recently discharged from an inpatient program, find the support and treatment they need in programs like this. Intensive outpatient programs are safe, cost-effective, and clinically efficient mental health and substance use treatments, helping clients in a compassionate, uplifting, and highly supportive environment. These programs are effective for three main reasons: they provide structure, support, and train the client in emotional regulation skills.

Using Structure

Programs that I am commenting about meet four or five days each week for three or more hours per day. This time schedule provides framework for the program as well as structure for the client’s day. The client knows where they are supposed to be, when they are supposed to be there, and what they are supposed to be doing. This schedule provides purpose within certain limits and time constraints and tends to be an important part of what makes treatment effective. Establishing structure can be a helpful way to reduce temptations and cravings. People are often more productive and feel more emotionally in control when they are guided by routines. Clients report that the structure of the program helps give them a reason to get out of bed, feel less apathetic, and increase motivation and energy. New routines can be established, and the healing aspect of structure can be generalized to other parts of life following treatment.

Developing Support

In addition to structure, treatment programs supply support and encouragement for the participants. The staff supports the clients and they in turn provide inspiration for each other. When people come to treatment for alcohol and drug addictions they often are coming from environments that support their addictive patterns. Frequently clients do not have good emotional, spiritual or relational support. They have very few people in their network who support their recovery or appreciate the efforts they are making to change their lifestyle. Positive, supportive friends in recovery are able and willing to help you in your recovery program. You will find camaraderie, encouragement and a belief in your ability to stay clean and sober. Support groups offer useful information, accountability, advice, approval, and a listening ear. It can create a sense of belonging, keep motivation for recovery high, and offer hope. Positive caring support helps identify relapse cues and triggers to avoid and increases overall recovery success.

Practicing Skills

In our programs, we train skills to regulate emotion. Substance abuse disorders are often filled with emotional dysregulation from mental health problems and from the addiction. Clients often enter treatment feeling disquieted, agitated, irritable, and generally out of sorts. They also report increased levels of depression and anxiety. Substance use such as methamphetamine, heroin, and alcohol all undermine emotional regulation. Co-occurring disorder treatment that handles emotional problems and substance use disorders at the same time has been shown to be most effective. Emotional regulation skills work to increase self-confidence, self-esteem, frustration tolerance, and manage stress better. The group supplies support for practice of the skills and the treatment programing provides the structure.

Carry it Forward

These three areas we have been discussing above can be used as an important framework upon which to build any solid recovery program. They’re not just important treatment elements – they are essential life elements. Each piece plays a vital part of health and healing. The neglect of any one element may weaken the integrity of the program and compromise successful recovery. Using structure, developing support, and practicing the skills will result in a positive, long-term, successful recovery program.


Recovery is a journey. Enjoy the ride!