Serenity Vista

By The Fix staff 06/10/17

Recover in tropical paradise at this non-institutional, non-medical, 12-step program which offers private, individualized, and affordable luxury treatment.

Serenity Vista, a single story building with green grass, palm trees, and mountains in the background.
Location : Boquete, Panama
Phone : 786-245-4067
Price : $17,820 USD for 45 days upgrades for private rooms available.
Overall :
Accommodations :
Treatment :
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Insurance : No
Detox : No

Located in the beautiful mountain highlands at the base of the cloud forests in Panama, Serenity Vista offers luxury treatment and surroundings at an affordable price. The program consists of individual recovery retreats with a maximum of three or four guests at a time, program length choices of 45, 60 or 90 days, and activities and amenities usually only available at a much higher cost. They use an integrative, multi-modal approach: 12-step, spiritual, holistic and clinical. Clients receive individualized attention and privacy during their stay. It's a non-medical, non-institutional, abstinence based program which helps "people find serenity by teaching them why they're hurting in the first place and showing them how to find the answers without picking up the substance of their choice."

Serenity Vista welcomes you "regardless of whether you consider yourself an addict or alcoholic, codependent, or whether your motivation is to enrich your life, your recovery, or simply have a great sober vacation refresher with meaning, depth, and lasting value." The program includes small group sharing sessions daily, life-coaching, spiritual exploration, music, artistic expression, yoga, meditation, horseback riding and various other activities. They specialize in learning to live in the solution, not the problem.

Though there are different lengths of stay to choose from, a minimum 45-day stay is recommended. When asked about why they came here in the first place, former clients we surveyed gave a variety of reasons. "Alcohol addiction," one reported. "Had hit bottom in all facets of my life." This person stayed 90 days. Another person came due to "food obsession and self-image distortion. Low self-esteem, a desire to start fresh and let go of bad habits and take care of myself." Another said "I was in terrible shape. I couldn't stop using drugs and alcohol. I was close to losing everything."

When choosing somewhere to go for treatment many factors can come into play. Former clients at Serenity Vista told us almost universally that treatment and accommodations quality were on their list of most important factors. When asked to describe the demographics of their co-residents, most former clients told us it was fairly mixed: "Mixed, male and female. Age 30-50. All sexual orientations, races, incomes and occupations," said one. "I had all ages with me, from an 18 year old male to a 32 year old female, to a 65 year old male," said another. One person even told us, "I had the unusual experience of being on my own throughout my time at Serenity Vista."

Everyone we spoke with rated the food at least "okay," with most leaning toward excellent. They take nutrition seriously here and the tropical setting lends itself perfectly to lots of delicious native fresh fruit. When asked about the meals, former clients told us: "The chef would prepare them and bring a lot of variety, accommodating to food allergies. Coffee was available and tea. Sweets and snacks, just a few things, but there were a lot of fruits which made the transition easier and made me want less sweets," and, "Healthy, gourmet, balanced diet with cultural diversity. Panamanian food also served. Family style meals- coffee, sweets and snacks always available. Daily fresh fruit smoothies!" Another summed up a common experience when entering recovery: "I hadn't eaten three meals a day for a few years, but once I stopped drinking I was hungry! Panama had an abundance of tropical fruit which was always available (mangos and bananas from the garden). We ate a good cross section of Panamanian, Canadian and American food. I also enjoyed when we went out to dinner twice a week." However, one person was not satisfied: "My only complaint was the limited amount of food at some of the meals. Especially breakfast."

The accommodations at Serenity Vista were rated generally well by former residents, with some rating the rooms as just average. Daily life consists of lots of therapy, with different counselors and different modalities. In keeping with most luxury rehabs, there are no chores except for keeping one's room and common areas clean: "Daily living was very relaxed. We started our day everyday by taking the dog for a walk, followed by breakfast and then meetings on and off the rest of the day, except for activity day and spa day. We had to clean up after ourselves and keep a tidy room in common area." "We had groups and counseling. We also attended 12 step meetings several times a week. We often were taken out to eat. We were only required to make our beds. No chores," said one resident. One former resident found joy in the routine and taking responsibility: "I would wake up and walk Ceiba every morning. There are various routes with stunning views and scenery. Although I begrudged waking up so early, my dog walk was the highlight of my day. Followed by a hearty, healthy breakfast with freshly made fruit smoothies. Three days a week we attended AA meetings. Tuesday afternoons were spa days and Thursday afternoons were arts, mainly ceramics, which I really enjoyed."

As far as activities and amenities, "Every Tuesday was spa day," a client told us. "It involved access to gym, pool, massage at local spa establishment. Very high end. Saturdays were local activities from hiking/mountain climbing, horseback riding, bike tours, sailing and overnight camping on a Caribbean Island, a visit to a coffee plantation and zip lining. Really quite varied and enjoyable." Also, "We were able to go for walks or runs on any given day as long as they felt that we were at a point in our stay that we could be trusted," another said.

There is limited personal electronic use and TV: "Beginning after the first week every Sunday computer and phone time for an hour," one resident said. And "TV is only allowed to watch recovery-based DVDs and movies that are required to be watched." Regarding these restrictions: "At the beginning this was hard but after all it felt really good to disconnect and really concentrate on my healing. It was what I needed."

Serenity Vista is not a medical treatment facility, so there are no doctors on site. The non-medical treatment--the meetings, counseling, spiritual recovery, and other therapeutic activities-- were rated highly by the alumni we surveyed. "Although primarily 12-Step based, the program and staff offered an eclectic approach to addiction treatment," said one client. Another added, "It was 12-Step based, but also very holistic and had a variety of counselors with each one with a different approach. I enjoyed the sessions the most." And yet another added, "I rather enjoyed the meditation groups."

Even though Serenity Vista is a 12-step facility, they do not push religion: "This is what I loved most about Serenity Vista, their openness regarding spirituality. They never pushed us into a certain belief but simply open us up to question ourselves and find what worked for us." According to another resident, "Heavy emphasis on spirituality and numerous alternatives were offered, but not promoted. The concept of the necessity of achieving spirituality in your life as a pillar in your recovery was greatly emphasized." So, it seems it is up to the individual as to whether or not he wants to take a spiritual or a religious path. Spirituality was "emphasized more with some counselors and less with others. I was completely fine with it."

The program sounds in some respects like it mirrors the physical paradise in which it exists. However, there are rules and the program can be strict. "It was a tough love approach with some counselors, and much more permissive with others," one former client told us. Another characterized it as "Very strict. Definitely tough love. But also understanding, caring and compassionate. They are well balanced. It wasn't an easy 45 days and I don't think it would have helped me if it were." Staff deals with the infractions or violations in a fair and open manner: "Confrontation, discussion and resolution, often processed at breakfast with the full community present and involved," one alumnus told us. Another warns about one possible outcome: "When a rule was broken, you were confronted about it. One person was asked to leave for a major infraction." So, they are fair but strict, for the good of all.

Most, but not all, of the alumni we surveyed have stayed sober since their stay at Serenity Vista. Of those who relapsed, most seem to have recovered and are back on the right track. "I've had two relapses but have been able to use the tools given to me by Serenity Vista to overcome them and get back to the sober life that I've always wanted," one person told us. Of their experience, one alumnus had a couple of suggestions for improvements: "Better beds. Better hot water supply system. Keys to rooms." But most were extremely happy with the experience: "Having been in treatment years before I can say these people are really, really special and would recommend this facility to all who are serious about getting honest about their past and present in a non-judgmental way." And, "I left a different and changed person with a good concept of living sober and how to maintain it with self care."

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