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FamilyLightsm holds Sober College in very high regard and expects to review it in more detail soon. We hope to have that on the web by summer '09, perhaps sooner if we get a response to our questionnaire very soon; perhaps later if we do not.  We give them high marks for effectiveness, integrity, and approaching (if not fully meeting) our Positive Intervention sm guidelines.  This operates under the very competent leadership of Robert Pfeiffer and Mindi Levins-Pfeiffer. One characteristic that truly sets it apart is the upbeat nature of the student body. (This started out to be a very abbreviated review, although when we got started, we put more detail in than we expected.  We do hope to revise this following receipt of the questionnaire, but not so much expand it).

Briefly,  Sober college is a young adult program based in Woodland Hills, California.  It's main building is in a pleasant residential neighborhood near Ventura Boulevard and the 101 (Ventura) Freeway and also near the western city limit of Los Angeles.  The culture of the program is twelve-step although twelve-step groups are by no means the only tool in the Sober College tool box.  This is one of the most flexible programs we know of, and a very eclectic one with respect to its methods. 

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FamilyLightsm is an educational consulting firm specializing in work with families with a young person with behavioral, emotional or psychological difficulties.  We offer in-depth personal guidance to families on a fee basis and free guidance on the internet. FamilyLightsm attempts to be fully objective and accepts no advertising nor referral fees.

Sober College works with young adults, male and female, from a flexible minimum of 17 to a flexible upper limit of 26. Our experience suggests that many more males than females are enrolled and the majority of residents are toward the younger end of that age range. While the emphasis is on providing a sober environment and the culture is twelve-step, we know of no specific requirement of any kind of prior diagnosis of addictive disease or disorder. However we suspect a person with no prior history of substance abuse or one not already on a path to recovery might not feel a part of the program.  We should qualify that.  Although we don't know that it has ever happened, we can imagine a young person who has never had a substance abuse problem but wants a completely drug/alcohol free environment, and for some reason is comfortable in a twelve-step culture (for example, a parent is an addict or alcoholic and the young person has positive experience with Al-Anon or Alateen) finding Sober College beneficial.

Students live in what were built to be single family homes in a pleasant residential single family suburban-type neighborhood.  At our last report, three such buildings were for males; one for females.  These houses are within a short driving distance of the main building or education center.  These houses are staffed at all times students are present, which might not include the middle of the day.  Students who have made significant progress are housed in an upscale apartment complex a bit farther away.  One apartment in that complex is staff occupied, so staff is always accessible but there is somewhat more privacy.

It is important to note that twelve-step work is guided and promoted by residence staff and others. It is totally woven into the culture of the program but is not considered part of the clinical aspect.  Clinical work or psychotherapy is handled by a well qualified and competent staff, who has some measure of confidentiality separating them from other staff. 

Education services are eclectic, with a competent educational staff, guiding students through accelerated public high school diplomas (through the adult school, without students mingling with local teens), GEDs, online courses, attendance at a local community college, and access to the entire range of colleges and universities in the Los Angeles area.  The Sober College staff guides the process, and provides additional tutoring and learning support.  Like all facets of the work at Sober College, the education staff is well integrated with everyone else and works toward the common goals within their own area of specialization.

We are providing a "nuts and bolts" description here.  We refer you to Judith Bessette's visit report, that is a bit more artful. We urge you to view the Sober College website that we think accurately portrays the the program.  We add that the descriptions of "trapeze therapy" that might appear to be fluff or window dressing are a very real and accurate descriptions of a serious offering of therapeutic benefit.  To get complete grasp of the program we also suggest close reading of five core competencies and three core ideas.  These are taken very seriously.

One thing that is most appealing is the notion of "attraction rather than promotion."  Sober College needs more than three months to work its magic with most residents.  But it has sufficient confidence in its own work to invite young men and women to "try it" for three months.  Frequently the most resistive buy in and stay as students/residents until the program is ready to hire them into a staff position.  The fact that this works speaks volumes for the upbeat experience.

Speaking of "upbeat," we urge you to meet Rick Macrory. Our consultant, Tom Croke visited Sober College on a Wednesday morning.  Wednesdays begin with a meeting of everyone at Sober College, run by Rick Macrory. The meeting was all about enthusiasm and affirmation.  The particular Wednesday at issue was October 15, 2008.  That meeting was the meeting of "100 Faculty and Staff" referenced on the Sober College website where "the song" featured on the website was written.  The manner in which it was written was exactly what is described on the Sober College website.

In characteristic fashion, my hosts disclosed that this day was not a typical day at Sober College.  Wednesdays are not typical of other days of the week because of the program-wide meeting, and this Wednesday was not typical of other Wednesdays because of the song writing project. But it is typical of the positive energy that this unique and charismatic individual brings to the Sober College program. 

Features we would like others to emulate: Flexibility, competence, effectiveness, and commitment to affirming, upbeat environment that motivate residents to stay and work on their issues.

Considerations for change: Although the competence of staff at Sober College offsets most of the potential negative consequences, we have experienced problems with other programs with similar systems.  We prefer that programs have an identified internal case manager for each student /resident /client/ patient who is on top of the situation with each and is the key communicator with anyone outside who needs information. At Sober College the responsibilty for each student is fragmented with different disciplines with only upper management overseeing the different roles.  We emphasize that Sober College seems to make the system work but it is a system we believe is flawed and we generally see these flaws working to the detriment of clients on other programs with similar methods. 

While we have great confidence in what Sober College does with this in practice we would prefer clarification at the policy and publicity level with respect to what happens when parents pay in advance for the services of Sober College and the student leaves early against parent permission.  In practice, Sober College appears to us to work with those families in order to continue to serve the purposes for which the student went to Sober College when such events occur and makes case by case decisions that appear to use to at least defensible and, we have believed in all cases we are aware of, totally appropriate to the given situation.  We believe, however, that it serves the interest of Sober College and the families if there were a more specific statement of policy on this.

We have a concern with young adult programs in general, that when parents pay in advance and despite the best efforts of parents and the young adult program the student leaves and does not return, the programs should not retain the advance payment if the parents are not receiving some contracted value in return.  We emphasize that we have no reason to suspect that Sober College has ever acted inappropriately in this regard.  We wish that Sober College, that has acted as a leader in young adult programming in a most positive way, would take the leadership in putting forth policies that preclude that kind of abuse from other programs which may have acted outside the parameters of our guidelines.

This is a program in which we have a superior level of confidence

While you wait for us to present a more complete review, please look around this website.  Look at our Guidelines -- a fairly comprehensive statement of what we believe quality is all about.  If you come to a search and planning process with limited experience, this is an opportunity for you to find some principles to measure schools and programs against.

Keep coming back to see the updates. Look at "What's New" (Announcements).  In spring of 2009 we expect to have returns from schools, programs, and related organizations published, giving deeper insight into these than has ever been available on the web before. 

Link to Sober College web site removed at Sober College request.  URL for that website is www dot sobercollege dot com.

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Disclaimer: No  program review, no matter how positive, is a blanket endorsement. No criticism is a blanket condemnation.  When we express our level of confidence in a school or program, that is our subjective opinion with which others might reasonably disagree.  When we assert something as fact, we have done our best to be accurate, but we cannot guarantee that all of our information is accurate and up to date. When we address compliance with our guidelines, you need to remember that these are only OUR guidelines -- not guidelines from an official source.  We have also set the bar very high, and do not expect any school or program to be in total compliance.  It is not appropriate to draw a conclusion of impropriety (or even failure to live up to conventional wisdom) from our lack of confidence in a school or program or from less than perfect conformity to our guidelines.  Some will say we expect too much. Readers are responsible for verifying accuracy of information supplied here prior to acting upon it. We are not responsible for inaccuracies.

Last updated  4-11-09 Sober College link removed 9-12-13

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