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Rehab Reviews

Caron Pennsylvania 3 stars

Caron's hilltop HQ treats teens and adults in a New England boarding-school atmosphere—discipline included. But if evangelical rallying cries and impromptu stage shows prove too much, a free cocktail is just a stroll away.

Caron PA. Photo via

Location: Wernersville, Pa.

Phone: (800) 854-6023

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

Price: $33,570

Overall: 3 stars

Accommodations: 2 stars

Treatment: 3 stars

Food: 2 stars

Insurance: No

Detox: Yes

By The Fix staff

03/24/11

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Caron Treatment Center Pennsylvania

For those wanting a traditional 12-step approach to recovery in a strictly controlled environment, Caron Pennsylvania, a venerable 110-acre institution that’s been around for more than 55 years, provides a firm but caring framework for recovery. The stately old Keystone State campus—where the ambiance is decidedly “New England boarding school”—occupies an historic resort in the rolling hills of rural Wernersville, and the architecture is symbolic of the center’s time-tested approach to recovery. (Caron’s young adult program serves 18-to-25-year-olds who, says one grad, “in spite of their trust funds, all seem to want to be rappers.”)

The Caron rehab facility enforces a rigid separation of genders, and insists on a no-nonsense treatment regimen. While caffeinated coffee is now allowed, non-recovery-related reading materials are still subject to approval by your counselor. Adult smokers can puff only at designated locations, and the adolescent and young-adult units are totally non-smoking. Caron’s time-tested treatment plan generally eschews trendy fads like yoga, art and equine therapy that pervade more recent rehabs. Clients cough up cell phones and MP3 players immediately upon check-in, and you only get them back if there is a "clinical rationale" to do so. Anybody can use the house landline at any time, though, as phone passes are a thing of the past.

Life at Caron starts early and is highly structured—clients are up at 6:30am and engaged in treatment programs until lights-out 11pm, with four hours of free time interspersed therein—and there’s little autonomy: Everyone must traverse certain parts of the campus in groups of three. The stiff institutional atmosphere makes the Caron rehab facility feel “like a cross between a dormitory and a hospital,” says one grad. “They want you to feel like you're in treatment—not at a luxury resort.” While some alumni rave about the staff, others complain. “It doesn’t seem like they get rock-star techs and doctors,” notes one grad. “It’s a lot of church-lady women that have been there for 30 years.”

The Caron Treatment Center's facility is clean and attractive, but not overly grand. Residents are required to do their own laundry and make their beds every morning, which might not exactly come as second nature to the majority of the clientele—largely white, upper-middle- and upper-class patients that include hedge-funders, politicians and occasional celebs (Liza Minnelli and Steven Tyler among them).

Adults dig into a buffet offering standard fare—meat and potatoes, a vegetable and a salad bar. The on-site adolescent unit—catering to youngsters aged 13–19, complete with its own grownup-free group meetings—serves clients in a separate dining facility with a more limited menu.

During their four hours of free time, clients have the option to pump iron at the gym, shoot hoops or run on the treadmill. Less athletic sorts can stroll around the scenic campus or make jewelry. Those in the adolescent unit take retreats off campus, go camping and watch PG movies on Thursday and Saturday nights.

An encouraged campus ritual is the Sunday morning “chapel” meeting led by a quirky Catholic priest and former Army chaplain named Father Bill Hultberg, who serves as Caron's in-house "spiritual advisor." “Father Bill does this same spiel week after week,” says one alum. “It’s kind of like an evangelical rally—he preaches passionately about God and recovery. Then he plays rap music and Britney Spears.” At the conclusion of every performance, Father Bill invites select clients to join him on stage before the 400-person campus and perform a song, play the guitar or express their gratitude to Caron staff. Most are happy to indulge him—including Tyler and Minnelli, who reportedly entertained their peers with a few tunes.

But Caron offers far more than just music. The facility’s rigid structure often serves as an effective antidote to the freewheeling lifestyle many of its clients had indulged in prior to their arrival. “They really helped me pull myself together," says one enthusiastic alum. "I needed the discipline and their firm hand. I would definitely go back if I relapsed.” The Caron rehab center actually boasts a specialized relapse program where people that have already endured the initial 31-day program—and memorized all the talking points on addiction and recovery—can pick up where they left off. An in-depth exploration of the mechanisms of relapse is an integral (read: mandatory) aspect of the relapse program.

And the special few who can't make it through the program receive a kind of booby prize upon their departure: A bar at the base of this mountaintop rehab offers relapsing clients a free cocktail in exchange for their Caron sobriety chip.

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