When we are aware of the magnificence of this world we live in, we become more exposed to some pretty amazing ways others shine a light of hope that leaves an imprint on our world. In 2014, I was introduced to Paula Heller Garland, who at the time was president of Texas Association of Addiction Professionals. Heller Garland has been an addiction professional for more than 20 years, and her work has focused on advocacy and bridging the gap between prevention, treatment and recovery. She is a lecturer at the University of North Texas in the Department of Disability and Addiction Rehabilitation where she values the opportunity to mentor future counselors. Since meeting Heller Garland, I have followed her work at the University of North Texas Collegiate Recovery Program (UNT CRP) and found myself inspired by the light UNT CRP is shining to support its students. I recently sat down with Heller Garland to talk about UNT CRP.
Q: What is UNT CRP?
A: The CRP is a safe place a student in or seeking recovery can belong. We offer structured and unstructured programming to help support the recovery effort. Many college students are faced with the pressure to engage in unhealthy behaviors that jeopardize mental and physical well-being. In an abstinence-hostile environment, such as a college campus, students in recovery have difficulty and often have to decide between college and recovery. The CRP brings balance to student life and allows a student to focus on continuing recovery while pursuing their education.
The goals of the program include:
- Educating students, faculty and staff about substance use disorders, mental health illness and other quality-of-life concerns;
- Improving students’ success rates as identified by retention, GPAs and graduation rates; and
- Increasing opportunities for current and new students by promoting wellness and long-term recovery programming initiatives.
Q: How did UNT CRP come to light?
A: Robert Ashford, a student in recovery, came to me about three years ago with a desire to start a student organization to support students in recovery. The CRP started from that organization, Eagle Peer Recovery. It was something I had wanted to do for a while, but I found no student momentum behind the program when I initiated it. Having a student take the lead was key. I shepherded the initiative and provided guidance when necessary, but the boots-on-the-ground work was directly a result of student work, sacrifice, dedication and vision. Eventually, our department put its own resources and space behind it, and we all have worked to grow it into a full-fledged, supported by academic fees CRP.
Q: What makes UNT CRP unique?
A: We are the first fully integrated behavioral health CRP in the country. We have students in recovery from a broad spectrum of disorders, from mental health to substance use disorder. We have on-campus recovery housing and are in partnership with a collegiate-focused outpatient program opening on campus by spring. We don’t require a student be in recovery for a specified period of time before becoming involved. We believe in all paths to recovery.
Q: What is the dream moving forward?
A: We’d like to have a building dedicated specifically for collegiate recovery, a building that has all services under one roof: peer recovery programming, recovery housing, academicians and researchers, and an operating recovery-focused counseling center providing services where students can complete practicum and internships. What we have now is amazing and has happened in a much shorter period of time than imagined; however, it is time for society to recognize addiction and behavioral health for what it is— not a bad and chosen behavior but a public health crisis—and to step up to support the recovery community with all the resources we offer to those recovering from any other illness.
It is time to throw a benefit dinner for the parents who cannot afford to send their son to college after having spent their life savings on treatment because insurance got away without having to pay, to form a food tree for the wife who lost her husband due to an untreated disorder, or a three-day walk that raises money to further research of the biggest public health issue we are facing today. Beating people up would be unacceptable were they trying to recover from any other illness.
Here’s to more and more people coming together to support people living in or seeking recovery to find success in higher education! For more information, visit the UNT CRP program website.