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On To A Winning Thing: Ted Noffs Foundation

For those who become addicted to drugs and alcohol at any early age, life often turns into a continuous battle between will and desire. Opportunities slip away, chances become forgotten and choice is no longer dictated by freedom. It is the aim of the Ted Noffs Foundation to help youth regain their self-management before the ability to is lost entirely.

The Sydney-based organisation is one of the city’s leading centres for young people and their families as they grapple with drug and alcohol abuse and the mental health and legal issues surrounding addiction. At the core of this foundation is the Program for Adolescent Life Management (PALM), a three-month residential rehabilitation program which youth can attend willingly or be referred to by their parents or the juvenile justice system. Here they undergo a series of self-efficacy sessions and learn how to adopt a lifestyle geared towards change in the interest of becoming independent individuals – those do not have to rely on drugs and alcohol to improve the way they are feeling. Head clinical psychologist Michael Kirton oversees the therapeutic program for the residents and keeps track on them for 12 months following their departure.

“We base PALM on the model of a therapeutic community and increase the decision making of the attendees as much as possible,” he says.
“They go through training groups which are predominantly social-skills based – we are training them how to think correctly via cognitive behavioural therapy and stress management.”

Michael says that mindfulness is one of the key strategies the program tries to teach young people who fall into addiction. Generally, they fall into three categories – those who have been traumatised, those who have addictive personalities and those who are poorly skilled to deal with the emotional stresses of daily life. Counsellors keep track on each resident’s mental, behavioural and emotional condition, and Michael stays on top of how their treatment plans are going and offers suggestions for their future. After all, the primary motivation behind the program is to prepare the youth for education and the workplace – life, really.

“All we need is the opportunity to show young people their own talents – they all have them, and thankfully there are psychological tools at our disposal to help uncover them,” says Michael.

The craving for immediacy is perhaps one of the defining factors of Generation Y, but Michael describes it as also one of the most destructive. He lists shifting thinking and self-talking from negative to positive as the most crucial exercise for young people – and, indeed, for everyone else – to alter the thought process and the self-harm it inevitably results in. In young people, it is a lot easier to alter this framework than it is in those who have had it firmly ingrained in them since adolescence and well into adulthood – which is precisely why Michael says such exercises should be given the same priority within the educational system as physical ones.

“We need to be putting more money into drugs and alcohol education at a young age, and teaching young people how to deal with stress and anxiety,” he says.
“They should be given lessons about their mind along with everything else. At a young age, people learn quickly – such lessons are harder to grasp as adults, because addiction tends to override them.”

“When our staff working with young people, we grow with them. They have the same problems as us, so when they grapple, we grapple.”

PALM’s success rate stands at about 30 per cent who never go on to re-offend. Of those who do continue abusing, most do it less than they did before, and this is because the counsellors listen to the residents. Full recovery can at times be unrealistic, so if the youth are adamant to continue using, their treatment will incorporate a way of living that will ease their desire to as frequently. Although the full recovery rate is not at the majority mark that one would hope, Michael says it the Ted Noffs Foundation is certainly on to a winning thing:

“We are always positive. People do get better, if you can show them a way of light.
“It is similar to getting on a diet – you may know you are going to break it, but you won’t go as over the top as you would without it.”

Nonetheless, they do take the proportion who don’t follow through with recovery very seriously. Michael says he wants to work on follow-ups and after treatment programs to increase the percentage of those who do not continue up to 60 per cent – although resources are, of course, an obstacle.

“If people fall back, we ask ourselves whether we could have been able to predict that,” he states.

He cites the case of one boy who had completed HSC and was wandering the streets off his head before he entered PALM as one of the many examples behind why the organisation does what it does. Today, that same boy is at his first year at university. Another young man did not stop using substances right after the program, but he was able to a few years later because he remembered the strategies he had learned during his stay at PALM.

“He said the he didn’t want to bring up his children the way he had been brought up, which was a generational shift,” says Michael.
“He had grasped the idea that there was another way; a possibility of something else.”

“It’s wonderful being able to see the young people improve over the three months they are here – sometimes it’s magical getting to know that young person has a chance.”

There are many ways you can support the Ted Noffs Foundation. Read all about them here.


words: Seema Duggal

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