Betty Ford Center

Betty Ford Center

By The Fix staff 03/11/11

Opened in 1982, Betty Ford Center is a fabled California desert rehab facility still considered by many to be the grand dame of rehabs—although it's a bit old-school in its approach.

The grandmother of rehabs, Betty Ford Center. Photo via
Location : Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Phone : (877) 951-9788
Price : $32,000 (starting price for 30 days)
Overall :
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Insurance : Yes
Detox : Yes

Betty Ford Treatment Center Review

Perhaps the most famous alcohol and drug rehab in the world, the Betty Ford Center—founded by the troubled wife of President Gerald Ford, after she underwent treatment for her addiction to alcohol and opiates—came into existence in 1982. Built with millions of dollars of contributions, the First Lady's eponymous 20-acre campus, located in tony Rancho Mirage, California, made addiction treatment seem glamorous for the first time. Thirty years later, the fabled center, which serves 75 clients at a time (two on scholarship), receives up to 5,000 calls a day and is the mothership of rehabs—as well as a primary choice for recovery-seeking celebs like Jerry Lee Lewis, Anna Nicole Smith and, most recently, Lindsay Lohan. While TMZ would have you believe that bold-faced Betty Forders regularly skip out of the complex, down a few drinks, and return to assault resident clinicians, by most accounts, LiLo’s recently reported imbroglio turned out to be mostly hype. In fact, the famously strict facility requires all its clients—especially celebrities—to adhere to the same rigid schedule. Cell phones and computers are confiscated upon entry. Barring special circumstances, no one is allowed to depart the Betty Ford treatment center campus for the duration of the 28-day stay.

Residents are startled out of bed at precisely 6:30 am every day by a peer on a microphone. Soon after, they immediately get to work on their daily list of therapeutic assignments, from setting tables to restocking and cheese, yogurt and juice in the dormitory snack fridges. A fleet of industrious housekeepers take care of more cumbersome duties, perhaps a bit too efficiently. “The place is really, really, really clean,” says one former resident. “It has this cold and clinical feel.” After daily vitals are checked, clients engage in an hour-long meditation on the banks of a large, duck-adorned lake, while listening to “meditation” music on their iPods (the only electronic device allowed on campus).

Overly waifish models best beware: according to one recent grad, clients whose BMI (Body Mass Index) is below the minimum are put on “cardio restriction” and required to spend an hour meditating in the Center’s “Serenity” hall until they pack on some extra pounds. Given the quality of the cuisine here, that won't be too hard: breakfast consists of a host of “yummy” hot and cold options that are reminiscent of Sunday brunch at Grandma’s country club—with an omelet stand and huevos rancheros, along with a huge selection of yogurts and fresh fruits towering over a bountiful pile of baked goods. Lunch and dinner selections are said to be equally tantalizing.

A co-ed 12-step meeting and daily topic lecture follow breakfast in what one alum describes as “a lecture hall so big, I thought I was at UCLA.” Throughout the day, clients attend a variety of intensive group therapy sessions – the staple, or “brand” if you will, of the Betty Ford Center. In addition to two process groups per day, there are special groups for clients dealing with eating disorders, grief, trauma, sexual recovery, self-esteem, and co-dependency.

Not everyone is satisfied with their stay at the Betty Ford Center. “The staff is largely composed of older women,” complains a male grad. “They’ll ask things in group like, ‘What color do you feel like today?’” Another visitor derides their treatment program as “formulaic and assembly line 00 really old school.” But many clients rave about the facility that Mrs. Ford launched: “They have the best children’s program [for children who have parents in the main facility],” says a recent alum. “Even kids whose parents aren’t in there can go.”

Innovating beyond the AA “chip system,” clients are presented with a key chain containing beads representing the issues they've successfully “processed” (not, alas, by Betty herself: at 93, her visits to the facility are pretty limited these days). And everyone is always processing something. “The day is packed and exhausting—you can’t just hang by the pool and chill,” says one resident. “You are on a full timetable and must comply.” If time permits, meditative therapy, biofeedback, acupuncture, workouts in the state-of-the-art gym, yoga and fitness classes are all encouraged—and included in the cost of treatment.

As far as accommodations go, the Betty Ford Center is not as glitzy as you might expect. “Since it's near Palm Springs people have this idea that it’s an incredibly glamorous resort but it’s not,” says a recent grad. “It’s not like there are 1000-count sheets or anything. They’re more like 500—adequate, not fabulous.”

Staffed by round-the-clock nurses and on-site MD's, Betty Ford considers itself a medical clinic rather than a traditional rehab. Consequently, its decor and furnishings have a slightly antiseptic feel that distinguish it from the homier and funkier rehab atmospheres of places like Sierra Tucson. The walls are painted a palette of non-offensive beiges and blues, not unlike a hospital waiting room. Typical rooms feature twin beds and matching desks and dressers along with a private bathroom and small outside patio (which clients are prohibited from smoking on or entering after 11pm). However, the place comes to life at night during special evening walks where the beauty of the Palm Springs Desert radiates under the moon and stars.

For those looking to get the most bang for their buck, the Betty Ford Center may be the go-to place (assuming hospital facility-like buildings erected above “spooky” Native American burial grounds aren’t a deterrent). Clients should expect to come out with a full overhaul—as well as lifelong bragging rights that they survived “Camp Betty.”

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