WILLMAR -- When a woman who's fighting chemical dependency sits in a counseling session with a group of men, the mind games and the horrors of their addictions can creep in and make recovery difficult.
Experiences of being intimidated or sexually abused by men, or experiences of competing for and winning a man's attention in order to boost self-esteem or to get someone to buy them drinks or drugs, can become mingled with the therapy session.
But if those same women are in a room without men, the tenor of the talk changes dramatically, said Jeanine Porter, a licensed alcohol and drug counselor with Divine Hope Counseling.
When women get together "they see they're not alone," she said. They talk more and start to focus on their own recovery instead of thinking about the man across the room.
Lori Hanson, also a licensed alcohol and drug counselor at Divine Hope, compares it to how teen girls talk to each other at a slumber party versus how they act at a high school pep rally.
Creating an atmosphere and providing therapy where women can launch their recovery is the focus of Divine Hope Counseling, a business that's opened its doors recently in Willmar.
Hanson and Porter are providing their outpatient services pro bono until final insurance contracts are completed. Last month the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners approved a contract that will allow the county to make referrals.
Their business provides a "holistic" and "person-centered" approach to chemical dependency and to individuals with a dual diagnosis of chemical dependency and mental illness. They cater to women who are 18 and older. Unlike most outpatient chemical abuse treatment centers, they hold sessions in daytime hours.
Addictions in women are often "shame-based" and women are often "the silent" addict, said Porter. They may be women who are raising children, good neighbors and involved in their community but are quietly and secretly consuming drugs or alcohol. Their addictions may only come to light -- to the surprise of many around her -- when they get caught.
A driving while impaired charge, for example, can be a shocking wake-up call and awareness of a longtime addiction, said Porter.
Only a small percentage of female addicts are habitually in trouble with the law, she said. Most are ordinary women who are closet addicts.
When women first start attending treatment sessions, they are "very quiet," said Porter. But it doesn't take long before the women start to realize their stories are the same as many other women sitting in the circle. "Their eyes get bigger and bigger," said Porter. "It's like a light bulb."
Having group treatment sessions with just women can make the participants feel safe, said Porter.
"You see an absolute and immediate comfort level. They have no armor on whatsoever," said Hanson. "The façade is gone."
Porter has worked with women from 18 to 70 and the "dynamics are just unbelievable" between women of different ages who share one thing in common: chemical dependency.
Besides Hanson and Porter, the treatment team includes Cheryl Walter as a spiritual mentor and Pam Kubesh as a mental health specialist. Those components are not usually offered in outpatient programs, said Hanson.
By keeping groups to six to eight people, they are also able to take time to work with people with special needs.
Another component of their business is to provide education for senior citizens, both men and women, about the dangers of becoming dependent on prescription medications. The team meets with groups or individuals, including those in senior housing complexes, to discuss the dangers and signs of abusing prescription drugs.
Divine Hope Counseling will be hosting an open house all week, from noon to 5 p.m. every day. They are located at 322 Second St. S.W., Suite 2, in Willmar. For more information call 320-231-9763.