Introspect: ‘Social model’ drug rehabilitation center teaches teens familial responsibility

In Features, Introspect
Patti Ochoa, director of Touchstones, started the Orange based adolescent drug and alcohol treatment facility in 1992. Photo by Jennifer Karmarkar/Daily Titan Staff Writer

Sometimes miracles have a way of blindsiding a person.

Just ask Tiffany S. A chronic run-away, the 16-year-old had been drinking alcohol and using a laundry list of drugs, including methamphetamine, acid and crack cocaine.

“My parents asked me if I wanted to look into some support groups and I agreed to go,” she recalled. The next thing she knew, she was living in an inpatient drug treatment center, where she would stay for the next eight months.

Tiffany, now 20, has been sober since 2006. She is one of an estimated 1400 teens who have gone through the doors of Touchstones, an adolescent drug and alcohol treatment facility in Orange.

Situated on a residential street just west of Old Towne, Touchstones has provided treatment to teens since 1992. Director Patti Ochoa launched the center after the county recognized a need for residential services for adolescents. It is still the only social model residential treatment facility for teens in the county, Ochoa said.

“Social model means we create a family environment where everybody has responsibilities,” she said. “Most kids come in here and think there’s a laundry fairy. While they’re asleep somebody swoops in, picks up their laundry, washes, dries it and puts it away. Here, they learn that if they don’t do their laundry, it’s not going to get done. They learn the responsibilities of the family (which we) role model for one another.”

Touchstones uses the "social model" of drug rehabilitation by creating an environment where teens learn familial responsibility. Photo by Jennifer Karmarkar/Daily Titan Staff Writer

Except in the treatment environment, staff and residents are theoretically equal and share the cooking and other chores.

For Tiffany, the social model component was one of the things she liked best about Touchstones.

“Just watching my peers and my counselors demonstrate made me trust them and allowed me to open up,” she said. “I got a mental brainwash just sitting in meetings and (being) in that environment and slowly opening up. It was a simple yet difficult process.”

Touchstones differs from hospital-based treatment because there is no medical staff. Males and females are housed in different wings, separated by a living room where the teens participate in group sessions and 12-step meetings. During the week, they attend school four hours a day in a classroom adjoining the main building.

While most adult treatment programs are 28 days, Touchstones was designed as a six-month program because cognitively, teens are not able to grasp concepts as quickly as adults, Ochoa explained. Some teens stay longer.

“You can’t just teach them the strategies and then send them right back out on the street and expect them to use it,” she said. “They’re always going to revert back to what they know. They’re going to revert back to what’s comfortable.”

Treatment is structured in three phases, with privileges and responsibilities increasing incrementally with length of time in the program. During phase three, the teens are allowed to go home once a week on an overnight pass. This allows them to practice the strategies they have learned in treatment and develop a 12-step foundation in their community, Ochoa said.

When residents complete the program, they are presented with a coin inscribed with the serenity prayer, while their peers provide positive feedback.

“We call it ‘coining out,’” Ochoa said. “They never actually ‘graduate,’ they just move on to the next phase.”

She said more than 80 percent of teens who complete the program remain clean and sober.

When Kenny P. went through Touchstones in 1998, he was 17 and just looking for a way out of jail.

“I was a candidate to go to rehab and they tricked me by saying it was only a 4-6 month program,” he recalled. “I said to myself, hell, I’ll be in jail for 45 days and work my tail off (in treatment) and I’ll get out in four or five months.”

Kenny said he found it challenging to sit in a group of 20 other teens and be vulnerable with his emotions.

But he stayed the full six months and eventually returned to Touchstones as a group counselor and mentor. He credits Ochoa and Touchstones for introducing him to Alcoholics Anonymous, which ultimately saved his life.

As for Ochoa, one might say that she was blindsided by a miracle herself, because she never planned to work in the treatment field. A trained journalist who had worked for the Orange County Register, Ochoa was doing public relations when a friend who ran a treatment center asked her for a favor. Ochoa wrote the proposal he needed and figured that was the end of it.

Three favors later he handed her a box of business cards that read: Patti Ochoa, adolescent program director.

“I said ‘Bob, I have a job’ and he said ‘just do this until you run out of cards,’” she recalled.

That was in 1982. The cards ran out years ago but Ochoa stayed at the treatment field.

For more of this week’s Introspect visit: http://www.dailytitan.com/2010/02/former-addict-intervenes and http://www.dailytitan.com/2010/02/introspect-heroin-sweeps-oc.

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3 commentsOn Introspect: ‘Social model’ drug rehabilitation center teaches teens familial responsibility

  • I went to touchstones in 2005-2006 I was good friends with tiffany and wish so badly to find a way to get in touch with her. I graduated in april 2006 from touchstones and didnt keep in touch. I thoroughly regret it and miss everyone. If Tiffany or anyone that knows her sees this please tell her to email Theresa at [email protected] 🙂 love you all alumini of 05-06 we need a reunion pronto!

  • I lived at Touchstones in 2005. I stumbled across the photo of my old living room and it brought tears to my eyes. I never “coined” out while I was there and didn’t stay the full 6 months, but I got SO much out of the family I found there. I was 16 and so lost with myself. It was the hardest thing in the world for me to be there, but it was all worth it. I remember having a meeting where everyone’s parents come and share love and support with each other while working on issues that had brought each of us there. One of the most important memories I have was in one of those meetings where 2 chairs were put in the middle of the room and my father and I sat across from each other reading off what we loved about each other and things that bothered us. We ended up yelling at each other, crying, explaining things that had happened to us in our lives from our perspectives, and although it turned ugly, we ended up hugging each other, tears on our shirts understanding things we never knew kept us apart. I had spent literally 6 years believing that the man who sat across from me abandoned me and my siblings. If not for touchstones I would have never known how untrue that was. There was so much love there. I had no choice but to look at myself and try to understand WHY I used drugs. WHY did I feel numb, WHY did I have so much pain, and in the end, even though I pushed and rebelled against the program at times, things stuck. I am sober today BECAUSE of touchstones. I would be dead if I never walked through those doors, and I know that is a FACT. I just wanted to tell Patti and all the staff that remember my stubbornness, I was not a lost cause and am doing well THANKS TO YOU!!! You all are amazing for what you do and I LOVE ALL OF YOU! Even some of us who walk away always remember your words. 🙂

  • I was a resident of Touchstones for 7 months in 2000. I made a lot of great friendships there and have a lot of good memories. Does anyone know if Tisha or Condy still work there? They are the BEST!!!

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