Verlin Chalmers exudes trust, wisdom, and a kind of rock star coolness that you can’t help but be drawn to. His smile is at once knowing, innocent and impish. His eyes literally twinkle. Maybe it is because he is a guitar player and songwriter. There are people you meet along the road of life, who are just plain cool.
I first met Verlin over a cup of coffee as I was writing another article. He happened to notice that I was using a Mac, and promptly announced that I was sitting in the designated “Mac Section.” As we talked more about Apple and debated Steve Jobs and his “brilliance” and drooled over iPad rumors, I became more and more interested in this poster-child of the sixties—a trademark baby boomer.
I have always been drawn to, and frankly, jealous of, yet one more generation of American hero—those privileged to grow up and participate in the 1960’s. A prophetic time, witnessing, contemplating, and participating in what is the single most alternative cultural values experiment in the history of the world. Had the revolution worked completely, free healthcare, and solar powered flying cars would not seem as crazy as they apparently sound today.
Part of the sixties that is undeniable is the other experiment that is often more famous than the counter culture ideas; rampant drug and alcohol use spawned abuse, and it is safe to say, that is the other blade of the double edged sword of the sixties.
Today, almost everyone has a friend or relative that suffers from the ravaging effects of addiction. Although many of the drugs that were widely available in the sixties and seventies are not around today, addiction is at an all time forgive the pun, “high” in the US. Healthcare costs and the cost of lost productivity easily eclipse tens of billions of dollars. Drug-related deaths are up over 500% since 1980. The number of people taking prescription drugs illegally is up by 500% as well, just since 1990.
Clearly Nancy Reagan’s theories left much to be desired. The common traditional approach to treating addiction has been the emergence of the “Treatment Center.” But treating symptoms and taking stabs at modifying behavior is clearly only part of the solution.
Enter Verlin Chalmers, whose presence at this particular point and dimension in space and time, allows a lifetime of precisely caring focus to benefit those in desperate need of an answer. The benefit of knowledge gained passing through a time continuum. Or you could call it Karma.
Suffice it to say right here in our own backyard, whether working as a young man in a factory making soy milk for babies allergic to cow’s milk, or at age 24 as the youngest director of the St. Helena Drug and Alcohol treatment program, to starting a coffee house/free clinic in Georgetown in the seventies, life, it seems, has taught Chalmers what he needs to know. More importantly, what we need to know.
Chalmers has developed a unique method for addressing not treating addiction at its core. Known simply as “The Road,” symbolic of a not easy journey, at whose end will hopefully yield the true person, stripped of the heavy burden that addiction can weigh.
“To begin my training at St. Helena Hospital, they sent me to the Hazelden Treatment Program where I spent 30 days going through exactly what the clients went through. This was my introduction to addiction and my first practical focus on behaviors that effect health,” says Chalmers.
He quickly became curious as to why we sometimes do things that we really don’t want to do but feel compelled to do them anyway. How is it that a person truly does not want to drink, use drugs, or over-eat, yet continues to do so, to excess? He began to study the research and approaches that worked and did not work. This led him to become curious about the workings of the brain and its effect on behavioral control. When Chalmers first began in the field of addiction, the now controversial shock treatment was being used.
“There were many theories. It’s a moral weakness. It’s a death wish. It’s a nutritional problem; oxygen deprivation at birth; genetic, symptomatic of underlying emotional problems; family systems problems; spiritual problems; a brain disease. The professional search for an answer raged on while people continued to try and fail,” Chalmers explained.
Clearly better research is needed. Today, roughly the same amount is spent on tooth decay as is spent on addiction research. And as expected, the percent of success, 25-35%, is far too small. Over half of all people in treatment today have been there before, requiring an average four or more tries before anything even close to stable recovery is achieved, with an average cost of between $15,000 and $30,000 for each 28-day program. The financial cost aside, the effect on family members, children, work, family finances, friends and society are unimaginable.
New methods such as harm reduction, aversive conditioning, hypnosis, IV drips, sauna programs, multiple forms of therapeutic or educational approaches are all trying to improve the rate of success. Each approach has some measure of success, but still, far too many ultimately fail, returning the addicted to the very same destructive patterns they desperately want to avoid.
Approximately one year ago Chalmers started The Road, a new treatment approach designed for alcoholics and addicts who have been through treatment before but who are still struggling. He took 36 years of treating addiction and all the research he could find and created a simple and effective approach that costs far less than what is available. Traditional treatment is far too short (28 days). This limits critical individual counseling sessions to four or five at most, and the educational material cycles around the 28-day period, and is not sequential. With half of all graduates failing in the first three months of returning to their home environment, Chalmers wanted to try to fix those limitations and see if success could be improved.
The Road is four months long, which is four times as long as most treatment programs. Next it is individualized and includes over 32 hours of individual therapy. The treatment process happens while the person is in their normal life, dealing with the real issues they face every day. As they move through their normal activities, they identify and target specific areas that are challenges—not in a group setting, but individually.
Tasks are specifically designed to help them address areas that are sabotaging their success. With individual one-on-one time, it is possible to carefully trouble-shoot exactly where therapeutic effort needs to be focused. Because time spent with others on the same path is critical, The Road includes staying in a clean and sober home.
Because the treatment components of The Road are designed around exactly what the individual needs, to begin The Road an individual must first go through a lengthy diagnostic and evaluation process to see both, if they are appropriate for this type of treatment, and to discover exactly what is sabotaging their success. The evaluation enables Chalmers to choose the right treatment components needed for success. This individualized plan is then blended into a plan (or “Road Map”), which includes core factors that research and Chalmers’ experience show contribute to long term success. Since hope and focus are the key elements in removing addiction from the grip it holds over a person’s life, The Road focuses on where the person is going, and builds a solid foundation for real hope.
Is The Road ideal? Can it work in every situation? Is it a replacement for traditional treatment? Absolutely not. However, Chalmers’ exciting brainchild is showing itself to be highly effective for individuals who have already received some of the benefits of traditional treatment but need something more to succeed.
Although it is too early to say how longer-term programs like The Road will compare to other approaches, so far, after the first year, for clients who have entered The Road with alcohol, methamphetamine, heroin, or a variety of other drugs, early indications are extremely positive.
Verlin Chalmers was born in Honolulu Hawaii in 1948. He spent his childhood with his family and father who was a preacher dedicated to a life of tent meetings and alter calls, following the “Sawdust Trail” across the South and North-Eastern US. He graduated from John F. Kennedy University with a major in Clinical Psychology, and became a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in 1983. He has trained in various forms of therapeutic approaches such as Gestalt, Cognitive Therapy, Rational Emotive Therapy, EMDR, Biofeedback and Addiction Training at St. Helena Hospital’s Hazelden Treatment program. He has worked with several rock bands and artists, always with an interest in helping individuals get unstuck and moving towards success.