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Caron Pennsylvania 4 stars

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Caron’s “tough-love” approach doesn’t leave out the “love”—or the “tough.” A traditional 12-step rehab with a solid 50-year track record, Caron takes clients’ sobriety as seriously as its discipline.

Caron PA. Photo via

Location: Wernersville, Pa.

Phone: (800) 854-6023

Web: caron.org/locations/caron-pennsylvania.html

Price: $33,570

Overall: 4 stars

Accommodations: 3 stars

Treatment: 4 stars

Food: 4 stars

Insurance: No

Detox: Yes

By The Fix staff

03/24/11

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Caron Treatment Center Pennsylvania

Mary Poppins once said, “I am kind, but I am extremely firm.” She could have been describing Caron’s approach to rehab. For over 50 years, Caron’s flagship facility in Pennsylvania has provided a no-nonsense, 12-step treatment program that many clients describe as the push they needed to change their lives. (Caron often refers patients to Extended Care at Caron Renaissance in Boca Raton, Florida. A smaller facility, Caron Texas, is located near Dallas.) While it lacks the luxury trappings of the fanciest rehabs, Caron has it where it counts: a top-notch staff that doles out rigor and compassion in equal measure. 

Caron’s clientele skews white and middle-class, but with 250 residents at a time, there’s always some diversity. Women and men are strictly separated in everything from group therapy to meals to Sunday chapel. Additionally, there are separate programs for teens and for young adults under 25—both of which tend to pile on the restrictions a little thicker than the regular adult programs. Alcoholism is the most common addiction among middle-aged patients, but heroin and other drugs account for many of the younger ones. Most patients stay for one month, but a fair number stay up to four. 

The accommodations aren’t the most glamorous, resembling college dorms more than anything else, but they tend to be well managed and offer plenty of reasonably attractive outdoor space. In primary care, everyone gets either one or two roommates, while extended care provides a shot at a private room. Although a rotation of light chores is required, nobody seems to find them onerous. One alum reports that having to keep his room tidy “helped with humility.”

Considering the scale of the operation, Caron’s food is surprisingly well-reviewed these days. Residents describe the dining area as a “high-end college cafeteria” with multiple entree choices at each meal. On the whole, the cuisine is reasonably healthy, and the salad bar is a big favorite. For those who aren’t as health conscious, a pizza option is always available at lunch and frozen yogurt is popular for dessert. Snacks such as cereal and fruit are available all day long, and non-decaf coffee was recently introduced, though it’s closely monitored. Residents typically gain weight, which may or may not be a plus.

Days at Caron are big on structure and routine with few breaks between activities, although there is time in the evening for reflection and step work. For the first 30 days, access to offsite opportunities is almost nonexistent, but residents can participate in weekly yoga classes, acupuncture, and massages on campus, as well as 35 minutes at the gym three times a week. Sometimes the structure can be constraining: one former resident complains that individual therapy sessions sometimes got scheduled concurrently with the group gym time. But weekends are generally more relaxed. Those who stay on for more than 30 days earn the opportunity to go sailing, hiking or camping, access the community pool (there isn’t one on campus), and attend outside 12-step meetings.  

Rules are taken as seriously as recovery itself. In addition to the strict gender separation, phone use is limited to 15 minutes each day after a 5-day “blackout” period. While T.V. was once off-limits, it’s now available in the morning before breakfast as well as between 9 pm and 10 pm. Discipline tends to be firm but reasonable. For example, bringing drugs to chapel results in discharge, but smuggling in a cell phone or talking to the opposite gender results in a constructive talking-to and a temporary loss of privileges. The rule residents gripe about most is the requirement to walk everywhere in groups of three.  

However, most don’t feel unfairly targeted by the restrictions. “The staff was very, very good,” one alum says. “They knew who tough/bad patients were and coaxed them along as much as humanly possible.” Another comments, “We were never screamed at, and they always made [discipline] a learning experience and tied it to our recovery.” A third adds, “There was some ‘tough love’ in that they make you take a good look at yourself and won't allow you to lie to yourself any longer.”

In fact, the staff is one of the best-reviewed aspects at Caron. On the medical side, the doctors are reportedly highly accessible, caring and helpful at addressing all patient needs. Residents also praise the counselors, with small group therapy sessions being one of the highlights of their treatment. “The unconditional love and support was amazing,” says one. “I felt safe, loved and was treated with the utmost respect.” 

Caron is a 12-step rehab through and through, but it emphasizes an individual take on spirituality rather than religion. According to one alum, “The spiritual guidance I got from the staff at Caron was invaluable. I am an agnostic and came away with a much better grasp on this critical aspect of recovery than I had before.” Another atheist alum echoes this sentiment, explaining that emphasis falls on the first three steps and  “helping each individual interpret the steps in a way that was meaningful to them.” Sunday chapel is very popular among the alum we surveyed. The eccentric, loveable Father Bill keeps his services non-denominational and even incorporates ideas from Judaism and Buddhism into his talks. 

The occasional client may find Caron’s approach too restrictive and wish they offered alternatives to 12-step. But most describe it as a great experience that enabled them to stay sober, thanks in part to a strong aftercare program and a real commitment to patients’ recovery. “Caron is a wonderful facility,” says one. “People there care, and they truly want to help every individual get and stay sober. It's a special place, and perhaps the only place, where I felt that I could honestly get and stay sober.” For a large rehab without a swimming pool, Caron’s not cheap, but sobriety is priceless and many have found it here.

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