Overcoming 'Failure to Launch' with Bob Forrest - Page 2

By Dawn Roberts 11/11/14

Recovery is a dirty business. Bob Forrest has the track record—and the forward thinking—to clean it up.

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Bob’s Plan to Overcome “Failure to Launch”

The methods Bob embraces are not transcribed from someone else’s book or theories.  He has been influenced by a innovative thinkers, from Alice Miller to Carl Jung. He believes in making clients accountable for their actions. His advice to clients is geared to help them move towards a life of purpose and helping others.  There are mandatory workdays at soup kitchens and homeless shelters. At first the clients moan, but after a time, many like the work and even look forward to it. He often refers to “getting back to basics”. When Bob utters this phrase, he means really basic concepts, getting a job and paying your own rent, showing up when you say you will, and giving what you can to others in need. He helps clients to create a fulfilling life and manage it, something many young rehab veterans have never done.  The “failure to launch” phenomenon is pandemic in certain communities where it’s not unusual to find people well into their 30s who have yet to establish a career or independence from parental financial support. None of this is exclusive to Malibu, in communities across America you can find recent rehab graduates living in an apartment their parents are bankrolling. It’s no sin to accept help from family. But for the sake of recovery the age-old concepts of self-sufficiency and selflessness are fundamental to the process. It is the glue that helps a shattered life come together again.

Overcoming Learned Helplessness

There is a culture of young people who rotate in and out of recovery centers.  One of the downsides of becoming “institutionalized” is that years go by, and the 20-something with an addiction problem and no job can easily turn into a 30-something whose point of reference has become institutional life. Bob’s business partner (and Acadia founder) Evan Haines recently wrote an essay about learned helplessness that characterizes its origins and extensions. This phenomenon is one of the big issues that both Bob and Evan tackle in the work with clients.

People who spend too much time in the highly-structured environment of treatment centers become most comfortable in those zones. The effect on their personalities is tragic. They become unsure of themselves outside of group therapy sessions, fearful of going out and living real lives.

In Bob’s work with the youth population, he has seen clients compartmentalize perceptions of a “work life” or “recovery”, failing to integrate the two. One focus of his work is to encourage clients to get out into the real world and to develop “emotional autonomy.” This is accomplished through a combination of therapy and life coaching. In life coaching, clients are walked through the process of getting jobs and making financial contributions to their own existence. The payback for being self-sustaining is huge. Replacing those hours once spent using drugs and alcohol with a job, one’s own apartment and a life that they feel proud of, is a strong antidote to falling back into old destructive patterns of living.

Evan made it clear that the goal of the treatment methods they work on, are not to shelter their clients from living. They will go out into the world and surely get bumps and bruises along the way. Sometimes they’ll fail, but by making mistakes and moving through them, strength is developed. People learn and make steps towards becoming fully actualized adults, which is the goal of treatment.

Bob does not position himself as a policeman or disapproving parent.  One of the strongest take aways I received from my talks with Bob is that he is able to offer unconditional support to clients. This kind of support is something that many of them haven’t had before. Once they are able to trust and take it in, instinctively they want more.  Clients become self-motivated to achieve goals they have participated in setting.

Working in recovery requires the ability to look at ones own actions in the uncompromising light of day. There is a fine line between supporting a client emotionally, and co-signing further development of learned helplessness. The therapists that work with Bob in treatment constantly ask difficult questions of themselves, keeping a living set of checks and balances on each other. I asked Bob how he guards against bringing client dramas home with him, or allowing them to take over his life. With candor he replied, “therapy and marriage counseling.”


One issue I wanted to explore was relapse. Research indicates clients can go through four rehab stints and nine years of trying before sustained recovery occurs. Bob often comments that inpatient treatment itself may not be a necessity—this, coming from someone whose current livelihood is tied to an inpatient model. There is ample research that suggests the outcomes for people who go to treatment are no better than those who don’t. The investigation coming from different sources is often contradictory. Some research reveals an absolute correlation between length of treatment and reduced incidence of relapse. There is a school of thought that sets up 90 days of treatment, combining residential, outpatient and aftercare services.  The National Institute of Drug Addiction (NIDA) characterizes programs shorter than 90 days “of limited effectiveness” and has recommended remaining in treatment “significantly longer.”

Forrest agrees with the idea that long-term care is more effective. He thinks the key is in extended aftercare to help clients rebuild their lives, brick by brick. Like many others in recovery, he knows relapse is part of the process. During a relapse, he notes that “Some people will die…we’re all going to die. I could have a heart attack today.” Such comments could be taken out of context as flippant. As a former addict, he’s well aware of the possibilities and an outspoken pragmatist. If a client relapses, Bob confronts the individual in a loving way. He doesn’t believe you can shame clients into sobriety. By allowing the person to identify the ways their lifestyle is not working out for them, he helps the client to see triggers for relapse. He continues to work with them on developing new coping strategies. For his clients, the answer to sustained recovery is to create a life of purpose and accountability. It’s a day-by-day effort that adds up, but takes far longer than 90 days. He has no specified end date for treatment, and will work with clients and their families for as long as it takes to achieve their goals.  

No matter what route taken, recovery is a lifetime process. It’s a deeply personal journey, some parts of which will be faced alone. Bob is above all else an optimist. He recognizes his own shortcomings, but never stops working to prevail over them. He is an atheist who is a true believer in the resilience of the human spirit. Forrest works in a business that has wilted the joy out of many lives, but somehow he comes back for more, ready to help the next troubled soul. The fact that he has a wife and two young children (in addition to an adult son) is testament to his hope for a better future. Maybe his ability to live recovery in a joyful and creative way is his most potent gift. 

Forrest has big plans for the future, and can imagine pioneering recovery compounds well beyond the confines of the Pacific Coast Highway. For now, our conversation is finished abruptly, the ongoing drama of client’s lives often interrupt his day. He knows he needs to modify his work with clients, in order to create a sustainable system to help more people recover. All the same, when the phone rings and someone is in need, Bob is the guy you can count on to answer the call.

Dawn Roberts is a writer and music business survivor. She lives in the Catskill Mountains in the Hudson Valley with two dogs, a cat and a recording engineer. She last wrote about options to quit Suboxone.

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Dawn Roberts is a writer and media consultant in New York. Follow her on Twitter.