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Those looking for a major change in scenery on their road to recovery needn't look farther than DARA, a top-of-the-line rehab with an island location in Koh Chang in Thailand. The center is as lush and exotic as you might expect, and offers alcohol and drug treatment in 30, 60 and 90 day varieties, though no detox. The program includes airport pick-up, a full medical exam at a nearby private hospital and all the luxury amenities their facility affords visitors—all at surprisingly affordable prices.
At DARA, visitors can expect an extremely diverse demographic including both ex-drug dealers and recovering ER surgeons. "My fellow residents were from all over the world," one alum said. "Some of them were not fluent in English." For the most part, DARA residents were multinational, wealthy expatriates, middle-aged or all three, though one person noted that there were "more young people than expected." Still, the age range represented was between 16 and 60, and all colors, creeds and sexualities were among them. Those interviewed reported few cultural clashes between residents.
When it comes to housing, visitors have plenty of options. Koh Chang has 36 private villas available. Villas are categorized according to a three-tiered standard-deluxe-executive scale, though all include air-conditioning, spacious en-suite bathrooms, personal refrigerators, DVD players, cable TV and wifi.
Along with the cushy living arrangements comes a gourmet meal plan. "I miss the food so much," one graduate laments. Meals are gourmet style and served with plenty of local curried, Thai flavor, though Western-style meals were prepared as well. Coffee, tea, soft drinks and chilled bottled water are all available as drink options, though the first three are restricted due to their caffeine content. Salad and fruit bars are available for breakfast every morning, though some noted that meals are not particularly health-conscious ("Fortunately, Thai food is naturally healthy in many respects," one grad added). Still, many admired the presentation and the wide variety of both omnivorous and vegetarian options. Favorites included the papaya salads, Thai duck, crab and spicy veggies—though some complained of an excess of red rice.
Daily life is reportedly very laid back, and light on both roommates and chores. "Having your own chalet and not having to worry about cleaning and washing clothes is what made DARA so effective for me," one resident said. "It was a very relaxing environment so you could focus on phase work and recovery." Though days are busy, alums report enjoying plenty of activities that were "never overwhelming." Days begin at 7:30 am with exercise or meditation, cooked breakfast and group therapy beginning at 9:15. After that comes lunch, and afternoons full of one-on-one counseling, personal training, massage, group therapy and private time. Evenings include group activities like movie nights or dart games. Clients need to return to their rooms by 10 pm, but there is no official "lights out" policy.
The laid-back, tropical vibe at DARA doesn't mean that treatment here isn't serious, however. "Rules were taken very seriously by the staff," one resident said. "As many addicts are rule breakers, it's important to be given boundaries and receive consequences if these are crossed." Tardiness or absenteeism in particular results in lack of other privileges, and after-hours fraternization has ended in "a pair of clients being asked to leave." Still, for the most part, "rules were quite fair," and staff reportedly "showed decisiveness and compassion in their decisions." One alum that was a senior manager in a global organization had this to say: "[I] know a lot about HR management, and I thought the team at DARA were superb at managing people in situations where tiny things get blown entirely out of proportion."
Aside from daily treatment, DARA also offers plenty of recreation and focus on the physical aspect of things for a balanced rehab experience. Aside from personal training and massage, activities offered also include yoga, stretching, PADI diving, ping pong, pool and off-site excursions—"loads of options and time to do them," as one alum put it. The only thing missing seemed to be equine therapy, but even without it, the days were still packed.
DARA is also flexible on the use of electronics: cell phones, laptops, TVs and DVD players are allowed. "After program hours, we were free to do what we wanted," one grad said. Still, others reported that the days were so busy that free time was usually reserved for sleep rather than vegging out. Others greatly appreciated the non-restrictive nature of the DARA approach: "It was a big part of me choosing DARA,” said one.
Though there are no doctors in residence at DARA's centers, there is nearby access to several local clinics and an on-site day nurse. Still, residents report some clashes with her. "The nurse was well-meaning but not appropriate for Western clientele," one alum said. "A lot of people had difficult interactions with her but this is typical of a rehab, I guess." Though DARA is somewhat lacking in medical staff, medications are still monitored and distributed on-site; if anyone gets seriously ill, they’re taken to Bangkok Hospital.
Overall, residents are overwhelmingly pleased with their time at DARA. "CBT, classes and counseling were very helpful,” a graduate said, adding, “Also, in my case, couples counseling helped with codependency." Others mentioned a deeper sense of awareness of addiction as a disease of both body and mind, and a balance of discipline and freedom.
Those interviewed all said that they were able to maintain their sobriety after leaving DARA, and had overwhelmingly good things to report. One said that she "loved [being] back to life," while another mentioned a "professional, caring, compassionate, kind and incredibly understanding" staff of counselors. One alum put it even more simply: "I just wish it was available to all who need it."
10/2017: This review was updated to reflect DARA's change to only one location, and that their therapy is now completely CBT instead of 12-step.
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