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Interview with a clinical lead at an LGBTQ+ friendly addiction treatment centre

Addiction is a cruel mistress, which is why we thought you’d be interested in this interview with Stuart Fenton, the Clinical Lead and Head Counsellor at Resort 12 Programme. The programme is part of the work of The Cabin Group, an LGBT-friendly addiction treatment centre in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Stuart Fenton gave an interview in Thailand to discuss his role in the R 12 Programme, which is the first LGBTQ+ rehab facility outside of America. The rehab facility is unique as it addresses the specific needs of LGBTQ+ addicts.

A trained psychotherapist.

Stuart Fenton

Tell us a bit about yourself, Stuart?

I started my working career as a personal trainer but then transitioned on to become a school teacher at both high school and primary school in my early 30s. I left teaching to go to rehab for a crystal meth/GHB addiction and spent two years getting my life back on track. It was at this point that I decided I wanted to be a drug and alcohol counselor and psychotherapist and so I started exploring different modalities of psychotherapy.

Can you talk us through your career journey?

I am a qualified Clinical Psychotherapist and Counsellor with over 12 years of experience working in the addiction treatment field. Two years ago, I decided to go back to studying to become a certified sex addiction therapist

I’ve worked in a range of settings from residential long- and short-term rehabilitation, public and private sector rehabilitation, community health centers in both Addiction and Family Violence. For the last 12 years, I’ve simultaneously built a private psychotherapy practice, mostly working in the areas of chemical and process addictions, co-dependency issues, family interventions, and sex & love addiction.

I’ve also been interviewed by the ABC several times for being the first psychotherapist in Australia who rehabilitated from crystal meth and then continued on to become a knowledgeable Counsellor, Psychotherapist and activist and in the Crystal Meth and Chemsex field.

On site ambulance

Where does your interest in working with the LGBT+ community in the field of addiction stem from?

At the age of 20, I came out as gay and soon enough found myself amongst the Melbourne gay scene. As a young man, I travelled the world and became exposed to ‘party’ drugs such as steroids and ecstasy, but it was only when I returned to Melbourne in my mid-20’s that I started experimenting with ecstasy, MDMA and speed.

I liked the idea of being a ‘bad boy’ and was using drugs occasionally on a night out. I moved to Sydney where I became involved in a relationship with an ‘exciting’ partner who encouraged me to take risks. Eventually, the relationship broke down and once again I was on the move – this time to New York.

From the psych unit to empowering others.

Studying for a BA, I was living life as a functioning drug addict. My course was based between New York and Montreal and I would have periods of studying solidly for six weeks in Montreal then partying hard in New York. It was around this time that I was introduced to crystal meth. I started to suffer long periods of psychosis and knew I needed to be clean but this vicious cycle lasted over a two-and-a-half-year period.

After a terrible relapse resulting in being sectioned to a psych unit, I knew that I couldn’t live like this any longer. I went into rehab for 10 months and undertook the 12-step programme. I looked inside myself and found answers to how I became addicted. I learned coping mechanisms to prevent me from turning to drugs.

This personal experience led to me completing a Graduate Diploma in Counselling at the Australian College of Applied Psychology specializing in addiction, self-esteem and group work and then completing a Master’s qualification in Gestalt Therapy at the Sydney Gestalt Institute.

I am well-placed to work with LGBT people because I have gone through many of the negative things that LGBT people experience such as family rejection, homophobia, body image issues, drug addiction, internalised homophobia, grief and loss, lack of identity and much more. I know full well what it is like to grow up in a world that is basically made for heterosexuals and how disempowering that can be. It is my goal to empower and support LGBT people to come out of addiction and mental health crises and find power self-esteem and strength.

I have been sober from crystal meth and other drugs for over 15 years, but it took me a long time to get to the place I’m in today.

What is the official mission statement of the Resort 12 programme?

Our main objectives are to empower LGBT people and show them how to self-support, build self-esteem, communicate effectively with others and practice good self-care.

Team member from The Cabin

What makes the Resort 12 Programme different to other treatment facilities for the LGBTQ community, and what is unique about your programmes?

The disproportionately high numbers of LGBT people who struggle with addiction and trauma speak for themselves. LGBT individuals are between three and four times more likely than others to become dependent on drugs or alcohol while three out of four suffer with mental health issues.

Studies have shown that treatment of LGBT people for addiction and trauma is much more successful when it addresses the specific challenges faced by members of this community, in an environment exclusively dedicated to their needs. Our focus is on treating the whole person.

Our smart residential facilities, set in tranquil grounds in a scenic location close to Chiang Mai, are exclusively dedicated to the needs of LGBT people experiencing substance and behavioural addictions and mental health issues.

LGBTQ+ therapist for LGBTQ+ patients.

All of our therapists identify as LGBT plus, and they have first-hand experience of addiction and other problematic behaviours prior to their recoveries. This means that they have an enormous amount of empathy, understanding and compassion for the LGBT cohort. This includes understanding the culture, terminology and concepts frequently used within the LGBT community, meaning that clients never have to interrupt the flow of their therapy sessions to explain words or concepts to the therapist – the therapist has been there before and understands what they’re talking about.

We have developed a world leading clinical program that fosters long-term recovery. At R12, the welfare of our clients is paramount, and this is why all clients who complete the R12 programme can access the R12 Alumni Project, which includes ongoing weekly counselling (online) and continuing-care groups. We are always furthering our offerings to meet client’s needs, and we are currently creating a trauma-informed treatment programme to support clients coming in with specific trauma experiences. We have also developed CAP – the ChemSex Abstinence Project, an intensive new programme at R12 helping gay and bisexual men break free of the problematic sexual behaviour combined with crystal meth, GHB and online ‘dating’ apps.

Backed through our parent company, The Cabin, we offer a global network of expertise. Our services are proven to deliver exceptional success rates, and clients benefit from the care of our empathetic, nurturing and friendly therapists, as well as the unique experience of peers supporting peers. In my opinion, this is what makes R12 the number one choice for LGBT people.

What types of therapeutic treatments, themes, skills, processes and changes can a client expect to encounter?

The holistic aspect of our R12 programme offers meditation, mindfulness, sound ball healing, art therapy, yoga and TRE. In the clinical area, clients receive Gestalt, CBT, DBT, ACT, EMDR, and somatic body awareness work. We also offer LGBT+ specific groups, relapse prevention, feedback groups, community groups, 12 step groups, spirituality sessions, stillness with the Monk, Food and body image groups and sex addiction and love addiction sessions.

Room at the resort

Can you run us through a typical day of activities on the Resort 12 Programme? What sort of facilities can guests expect to encounter?

Addiction and trauma treatment takes hard work, focus and energy. So, at Resort 12 we make sure all our clients’ day-to-day needs are taken care of and that their time with us is supremely comfortable and relaxing. Within our tranquil, therapeutic landscaped grounds, we offer LGBTQ clients 20 individual, en-suite guest bedrooms similar in standard to a stylish premium hotel. Our dedicated, covered open-air restaurant serves healthy and delicious fusion cuisine, while our exclusive recreation facilities are impeccably maintained.

Therapists who have been through their own addictions.

What would you say to someone in the LGBTQ community who is considering joining the Resort 12 Programme, but is questioning whether recovery is possible for them?

This is a common question – is recovery possible? As I mentioned before, all the therapists that are at R12 are in recovery themselves, making them the best role models for anyone who has doubts. As therapists, we have walked this path, and I believe we have the professional skills to deliver resources and strategies for those that are struggling, and therefore empowering clients to achieve recovery.

You need to allow yourself enough time to recover, so if you are thinking of coming to R12, it is really important to set aside a minimum of 60 days to learn the strategies, tools and resources to overcome addiction.

Finally, what’s the most rewarding aspect(s) of your job?

Receiving emails six months or 12 months after someone’s treatment episode telling us how wonderfully they’re doing and how much better their life is. Knowing that we played a vital role in that occurring is a highly rewarding feeling.

 

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