Ibiza Calm – Creating Calm in the Balearics
John Mckeown speaks of the challenges of developing a treatment in uncharted territory.
Back in 2012 I was holidaying on the island with my son, we stayed at a friends who is very much into self-development. He suggested an idea to set up some recovery retreats in Ibiza for people to do work on themselves in beautiful surroundings. Sometime later, I spoke to yet another friend who had moved to the island who was surprised by the complete lack of recovery services available. This was enough motivation and I decided to put some work into it.
I returned to the UK and researched what was available in terms of organisation’s specifically working with addiction on the Island, and sure enough there were none. We decided to look further into establishing an organisation to fill this gap, but rather than running retreats, we took it a step further and opened a treatment centre. At this point there were just 2 of us, myself and my colleague Stephen Clark. Stephen lives on mainland Spain and has many years of experience of operating businesses from there.
I encountered some funny comments during conversations with friends and colleagues, usually along the lines of “Ibiza! Isn’t that a crazy idea?” The assumption always being it was a place to go to get high, and not get well.
The other assumption was that there would be resistance from the authorities on the island, as it may affect a particular tourist group. We went ahead, and the reality was that as usual they were simply assumptions.
I have many years of setting up rehabilitation programs in unchartered territories. I was clinical manager at RAPT (Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust) where I helped establish and oversee the 1st 12 step treatment programme based in HMP Downview, with HMP’s Coldingley, Wandsworth, Pentonville and Norwich following suit. At the time there was a widespread drug problem within the prisons, this was largely ignored or denied, making it almost impossible to discuss it. As a consequence, addiction treatment did not exist in these facilities, particularly abstinence based treatment. We came up against some resistance, but with persistence and respect for the rules of the prison and staff we overcame these barriers. We were their guests and we needed to include all departments of the prison in the discussions of our progress.
Thanks to some amazing governors and staff we were able to introduce urine-testing and drug-free landings, we established very successful treatment with great outcomes.
Another experience was taking 12-step day treatment to Liverpool. It’s hard to imagine now but until SHARP Liverpool (action on addiction), there were no abstinence-based day programs on Merseyside, just a lot of harm reduction and methadone maintenance. Resistance from the community was high, especially from the drug and alcohol action team (DAAT), but also from other service providers. It took us many years and much patience to establish SHARP but it’s now an established service with hundreds of clients graduating through the 12 week programme.
What I’ve learned from going into new environments is that people resist new initiatives because of fear of the unknown – a lack of knowledge and understanding about what we mean by addiction and treatment. However, it is also important to say that people also fear new initiatives as they perceive them as competition. The reality is that if what they are providing is any good it will co-exist and dovetail with the new provider and become a fruitful partner. Therefore, it is our responsibility to respect other people’s views but also challenge them in a professional way when necessary, to be confident and not deny the efficacy of our own hard-gotten experience. That is where good training and supervision comes in. Individuals who have been at the forefront of our field here in the UK like Tim Leighton, Nick Barton and Tristan Millington-Drake are great examples. Tristan once said to me that we are all pioneers extending the frontiers of recovery and as such must expect to encounter resistance – it is par for the course – and therefore it is incumbent upon us that we conduct ourselves in a manner that reflects the nature of the treatment model we offer. We are ambassadors for all who share our experience and perception of addiction as a condition that can be relieved.
To our surprise, we have not experienced any resistance from the community on Ibiza. Our ideas have been welcomed and supported by some fantastic individuals who understood and embraced the idea of setting up an addiction treatment clinic on Ibiza.
We spent the last three years building relationships with the local community, doctors, and friends in the fellowships, to establish Ibiza Calm. We wanted to do things correctly and knew that we would need the appropriate permissions. There was no precedent for addiction treatment on the Balearic Islands but thanks to an amazing woman, retired doctor, Lola Fernandez, we have been able to receive the appropriate permits. We opened on the 10th of June 2015.