At White Bird Clinic in Eugene, addiction treatment can include tai chi, yoga, acupuncture

The Register-Guard, Aug. 22, 2016

whitebird-logo-no-textAt White Bird’s Chrysalis Behavioral Health clinic, clients who battle substance abuse meet with people who share similar struggles in group counseling sessions.

Others get help in one-on-one meetings with a mental health professional.

And these same clients also may be found doing something a little less expected on their journey to learning how to cope without alcohol or drugs.

Chrysalis, which has been offering drug treatment solutions for many decades in Eugene, has long provided acupuncture services and tai chi classes for its clients.

More recently, about a year ago, it began offering yoga classes and reflexology for clients, too.

“We realize that it’s easier for a lot of folks to relax their body than to relax their brain,” explained Larry Weinerman, Chrysalis program coordinator. “When people are addicts, it affects their mind-body-spirit. We’re trying to do integrated health where we’re working on all parts of their bodies.”

It’s a journey

Chrysalis is one of several White Bird programs, which also include medical and dental clinics, services to assist homeless people and a mobile crisis unit. White Bird was founded in 1969 by medical workers, graduate students and others who “gathered to explore ways to respond to some of the fallout of the 1960s,” according to its website.

An outpatient clinic, Chrysalis is White Bird’s behavioral health unit. It provides substance abuse and mental health treatment, which sometimes go hand-in-hand.

Many of its services are used by lower-income residents, Weinerman said, though they will treat everyone who needs it.

Some of Chrysalis’ clients are required to get treatment, and others choose the program on their own.

The client and counselor together make a treatment plan, Weinerman said. People are asked to have at least two contacts per week, which can be two groups, a group and private counseling or those plus alternative therapies.

“What does the client want? What resonates with the client? We’ll make the treatment plan based on that,” Weinerman said.

For those who seek out treatment on their own and aren’t mandated to follow particular guidelines, Chrysalis offers compromises.

They do what’s called humanistic harm reduction. Sometimes clients say they want to stop heroin, Weinerman explained, but aren’t quite ready to stop alcohol.

“Our goal is drug-free coping. But we know it can be a journey for different people, and not everybody is the same,” Weinerman said.

“If they could have just stopped using on their own, they would have just stopped,” he added.

A big problem

Among the addictions Chrysalis treats people for are addictions to painkillers, including opiates, such as morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and other drugs prescribed by doctors or dentists for pain after surgery or injury.

“We’re learning from the study of the brain a lot of times psychic pain and physical pain use the same pathways. And opiates help with psychic and physical pain,” Weinerman said.

They also can be highly addictive.

According to the Oregon Medical Association, Oregon has the second-highest rate of opioid drug abuse in the United States.

There were 154 opioid overdose deaths in Oregon in 2014, according to the Oregon Public Health Division. Opioids killed more than 28,000 people in the United States in that same year, more than any year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The Oregon Legislature passed a bill last spring to address the problem.

The law streamlines healthcare providers’ access to a prescription drug monitoring program, making it easier to detect opioid abuse. The law also makes it easier for people to get a medication known as Naloxone, which can reverse an opioid or heroin overdose.

In addition, this summer the U.S. Congress sent a bill to the president that would be “the most sweeping drug legislation in years,” reported The New York Times.

The measure gives medical professional and law enforcement more tools to help drug addicts, according to the Times report.

New coping system

When people are using drugs, they’re not eating healthy, exercising, sleeping well or taking care of themselves, Weinerman said. Their whole coping system is based around their drugs. In addition, those addicted to painkillers can be dealing with physical pain.

At Chrysalis, they’re trying to broaden the coping system each client has, and that’s a primary reason for offering the alternative therapies.

“How do you deal with stress? If the only way you dealt with stress in the past is by using drugs, we’re trying to get you to use healthier coping systems to deal with your stress,” Weinerman said.

At a recent tai chi class, in the yurt where the alternative therapies are offered, four students followed Weinerman’s instructions through a variety of movements.

The students move slowly and gracefully through fair lady, half step, needle at sea bottom, crooked elbow, step, fan through back.

“Get yourself in the best position possible,” Weinerman advises.

Though he’s talking about the tai chi positions, he could just as well be talking about a successful recovery.

One client, age 75, finds good balance in adding tai chi to his recovery efforts. He still attends the tai chi classes, having already graduated from the counseling portion of the program.

Weinerman thinks that tai chi gives clients confidence in their ability to change.

“It does it because it works on the mind, the body and the spirit. People who are addicted are usually not using their body at all, and they have really strong negative self-talk,” he said.

When they learn this ancient art that includes breathing and relaxation, they are learning to be strong.

Tai chi can be difficult to learn, he said. Yoga is more accessible, which made it a good addition to the program.

“I think all of it together is kind of helpful in making people maybe think twice,” said Melanie Alban, who is the program’s yoga teacher and reflexology practitioner. “Just breathing, taking a breath, before you do anything. Sometimes that can change an outcome.”

Reflexology improves circulation and helps with detoxification, Alban said. It’s also an opportunity for touch, she said, and just having someone take care of you.

Acupuncture is helpful both for people dealing with initial withdrawal from drugs and also for those moving into long-term recovery, said Dr. Dave Bove, medical director for Chrysalis, as well as coordinator for the acupuncture program.

Four acupuncturists treat drop-in clients five times a week.

For someone in acute withdrawal from alcohol or drugs, “acupuncture has a very calming and regulating effect on the nervous system,” Bove said.

For those in the later stages of recovery, if they can stay in a less stressed place in their life, then they’re less likely to start using again, Bove explained.

“For it to be lasting and sustainable it has to be a whole-person mind-body-spirit approach,” Bove said.

Contact Information

white-bird-clinic-buildingChrysalis Behavioral Health: 350 E. 11th Ave., 541-683-1641 or 800-422-7558 (non-emergency) and .

White Bird: 341 E. 12th Ave., (541) 342-8255 or (800) 422-7558 (non-emergency) and