Williamsville Wellness

By The Fix staff 07/08/11

Gamblers, addicts and alcoholics are all welcome at this stunning Virginia home. And despite an intense daily regimen of one-on-one therapy, the laid-back vibe and first-rate staff leave most patients feeling Southern-charmed.

Williamsville Wellness' expansive acres host just 16 clients at a time. Photo via
Location : Hanover, Va.
Phone : (804) 559-9959
Price : $25,000 (28 days)
Overall :
Accommodations :
Treatment :
Food :
Insurance : Yes
Detox : No

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Located in the leafy countryside of Hanover, Virginia, Williamsville Wellness stands apart as one of the few rehab centers catering primarily to gambling addiction; but that doesn't mean they skimp on treating drug and alcohol addictions. The center has been open since 2007 in an old brick plantation house on 400 acres of farmland, with a treatment program heavy on one-on-one talk therapy sessions—often as many as 20 a week per patient.

Williamsville's renovated plantation home holds a total of 16 residents, eight men and eight women. The center is comfortable and charming, if a bit old and balmy in the Southern heat. Still, the surrounding scenery is gorgeous and the house itself offers privacy and freedom, especially since residents don't have roommates or chores to complete. Predictably, many residents are drawn to Williamsville for help with gambling issues, though almost as many alumni we spoke to were there for alcohol abuse. All told, residents range in age from late teens to mid-60s, include men and women both gay and straight as well as people from a variety of social and ethnic backgrounds.

Aside from the novelty of being treated in such an antiquated environment, Williamsville also boasts gourmet food service that gets unanimously high marks. "The meals would be for comfort and health," one client says. "Residents had the opportunity to request dishes and any type of food from the store”; sometimes the chefs would even teach residents how to make the delicious dishes themselves. 

Snacks and coffee are also available 24/7, and the chefs are accommodating of special needs—even making special meals for residents simply if they requested. For the most part, all the food is rated "excellent," though some favorites include New York steak with mashed potatoes and the pork and ground turkey plate. More idiosyncratic to Williamsville is their juicing program, which helps teach residents the power of using fresh fruits and vegetables to make health drinks designed to keep the brain and body in top shape.

Daily life in Williamsville's 28-day program is well maintained because of a "core of respect" between clients and staff. "The days were long and intense," one resident reports; another says that while there was "lots of therapy," there was "also lots of time to just get to talk to [the] other housemates, with no chores or jobs except cleaning up after [oneself]."

Wake-up is generally between 8 and 9am where residents eat breakfast, usually cooking for themselves. Afterwards, they go through morning group sessions and individual sessions until lunch at 1pm. There are more groups until about 5pm, followed by dinner and an off-site AA, NA or GA meeting at least twice a week. While Williamsville has the reputation of being a permissive rehab (perhaps for allowing coffee, sweets and more or less unfettered use of electronics), residents are generally limited to an hour of free time during the day; still, one alum describes the busy schedule as "good training for the outside world."

The nuts and bolts of treatment aren't limited to talk therapy; Williamsville offers a balanced and integrated approach including gym time with a personal trainer, massages, art therapy, yoga and even hypnosis. The bread and butter remains, of course, the four one-on-one therapy sessions patients get every day—"The 1:1 ratio of patients to therapists was very accurate," one resident reports. Another mentions that while 12-step based therapy was encouraged, it was balanced. "12 step programs were introduced and used to a degree," he says. "Participation was encouraged during and after care, but alternatives were also used. Each therapist had the freedom to use their own training."

Although doctors are not in residence at all times (though there are nurses around), medical care is reportedly "very competent and helpful"; still, the focus on gambling means no on-site detox. Regardless, residents say that "if a medical issue arose, it was handled promptly," and that each client is able to see both visiting doctors once a week "to discuss medications and our overall well being." The psych staff also got high praise: "The shrink was one of the best in the area when I attended," an alum noted.

Rule-breaking is handled "on an individual basis," though also "immediately and effectively" whenever it occurs. Most report that any infractions they experienced were pretty mild: "All of my fellow residents behaved for the most part," one alum says. "Sometimes people would try to use their cell phone during a session, but they would give you a fair warning . . . everyone would [cooperate]."

Aside from treatment, Williamsville arranges for recreational activities to help their guests blow off steam. "We had all kinds of activities available," one grad says. "We went bowling and out to eat, ordered pizza for football games, [played rounds] of golf, [went] fishing in the pond . . . we were encouraged to use the facilities as we wished." While the overall experience at Williamsville is pastoral, residents report that off-site events are a good counterpoint to all the time in the country. "It was nice to get out in the community during our stay at Williamsville," one says.

Overall, the vibe of Williamsville is "professional and appropriate," with residents enjoying the balance of freedom and so-called tough love, although alums don’t go so far as to describe it that way. "Attending is voluntary," one alum says, "so as long as someone wants to be there, I think they will find it to be well worth time and investment." Beyond that, residents rave about the caring staff. "Treatment was a good experience," one says. "I knew I was at fault for my actions and I was able to bring up the past experiences . . . without judgment. I felt I could speak freely."

While religion is not emphasized—only the standard higher power of AA—some of the off-site meetings are slightly more religious than Williamsville's more neutral stance. "It was talked about openly and was always controversial," one alum says. "It opened my eyes to others' feelings on the matter."

Many residents report that they’re able to use the tools they found at Williamsville to lead addiction-free lives while others go as far to say that they use what they learned there every day. "Being at Williamsville Wellness was the best experience I could have had," a grad says. "I felt comfortable the minute I walked in the door and it continued throughout my stay. Four years later, I am still in contact with the therapists and employees that work there."

While it isn't a typical rehab in its gambling focus and somewhat out-of-date accommodations, alumni assure us that treatment is comprehensive. "They truly care about their clients," one resident says—a statement that alas probably can't be said for every rehab out there.

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