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Article Courtesy of John Weidner, The Record
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Innovative online recovery program helps people keep New Year’s resolutions

By Johanna Weidner, Record staff, Tue Jan 11 2011

The Record WATERLOO — The new year is a time when many people are eager to make changes, kick bad habits and pursue a healthier life.

Change can be difficult for people suffering from depression, anxiety, chronic stress, addiction and other destructive behaviours, especially when they’re hesitant to even admit the problem.

An innovative online recovery program created by a Waterloo therapist can help people keep their New Year’s resolutions.

“They’re able, obviously, to start right away. There’s no wait list or stigma,” said Paul Radkowski, who has a master’s degree specializing in marriage and family therapy from Wilfrid Laurier University.

The Life Recovery Program at www.liferecoveryprogram.com won Radkowski an award from the International Association of Addictions and Offender Counselors, a division of the American Counseling Association.

The online program can help people struggling with a range of problems through videos, regular emails, homework assignments and a peer forum.

“It’s there to provide information as well as encouragement,” Radkowski said.

MMany people hesitate to get help because of misconceptions about mental illness and addictions, he said. Often people try to cope on their own for a decade or longer before finally reaching out. The online program lets people get the support they need anonymously.

Radkowski stresses that his program is not meant to replace traditional treatment and he encourages people to consult with a physician. However, the program can help people take that first step.

“It’s often a start for a lot of people,” he said.

Lists are long for community based services and the online program can keep people going while they wait, he said. Those receiving care and people emerging from residential treatment can also benefit from the added support.

Now he’s offering the three-month program at a special new year rate of $23 until Jan. 23, compared to the usual fee of $279. There’s also a six-month advanced program that builds on the foundations of the three-month program. Radkowski, who’s also a crisis counsellor, started offering the new year special a couple of years ago when seeing the effect of people losing their job during a difficult economy. Companies and agencies can also apply during the promotion for the program to be donated, those with the highest need taking priority.

Often people feel alone and isolated, the only one suffering with a problem such as drug or gambling addiction, Radkowski said. Connecting with someone, even through a video, makes them feel someone cares and understands.

The videos, about 45 minutes to an hour long, cover a range of topics and give people strategies to manage better and make positive changes.

“They’re getting information. They’re getting tools and encouragement on top of that,” Radkowski said.

Weekly emails offer encouragement, he said, and “remind people they made an investment in themselves.” And homework assignments urge people to put the skills into practice. Family members can learn about their role and how to help someone through tough times, as well.

A few hundred people have signed up with the online program since its launch in fall 2007. Plenty of positive feedback has come in since then, Radkowski said, with people reporting it helped turn their life around and beat addiction.

People can watch the videos as often as they want and go online whenever they need extra support — even in the middle of the night when many feel alone and tempted to fall back into old habits, Radkowski said.

“The message starts to get absorbed.”

jweidner@therecord.com