How Important Are Client Characteristics to Understanding Treatment Process in the Therapeutic Community?

Published in: American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, v. 30, no. 4, Dec. 2004, p. 871-891

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2004

by Kitty S. Chan, Suzanne L. Wenzel, Maria Orlando Edelen, Chantal Montagnet, Wallace Mandell, Kirsten Becker, Patricia A. Ebener

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Prior research has demonstrated that therapeutic communities (TCs) are effective at improving posttreatment outcomes for substance abusers. However, little is known about the in-treatment experience for clients with different backgrounds, experiences, and needs. The aim of this study is to examine the in-treatment experience for different clients by exploring the relationships between treatment process and client characteristics. A comprehensive measure of treatment process, operationalized as Community Environment and Personal Change and Development and change was administered to 447 adults and 148 adolescents receiving treatment at community-based TC programs in New York, California, and Texas. Data on demographic characteristics, substance use and treatment history, and client risk factors were extracted from intake interviews and analyzed separately for adolescent and adult residents. Multivariate general linear models were used to examine the effect of client variables on treatment process, after controlling for treatment duration and program effects. Within adult programs, clients who were 25 years or older, female, and had a prior drug treatment experience had higher Community Environment scores. Adolescents with one or more arrests within the past 2 years had lower scores on both process dimensions of Community Environment and Personal Development and Change. Our results indicate the need to understand why adult clients who are younger, male, and have no prior treatment history and adolescent clients with recent arrests reported lower ratings of treatment process. Future research should also examine the role of modifiable mediators so that appropriate strategies to enhance therapeutic engagement may be developed as necessary.

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