FOR the last eight weeks, local youths struggling with a range of addictive behaviour were aided in their recovery journey by a course combining meditation and cognitive behavioural therapy in the hope they walk away with healthier habits.
The course, Meditation and Addiction, was offered through the District of West Vancouver's Youth Outreach Program at the Ambleside Youth Centre from April 25 to June 13.
The district's Youth Outreach Program supports youths and families in the community in crisis, facing a variety of issues, including conflicts within the family, problems at school, relationship challenges, physical or sexual abuse, and drug and alcohol abuse. The program offers one-to-one support as well as support groups and provides opportunities for at-risk youths to get involved in their community.
For the course, offered for the first time in the municipality, program staff reached out to their clients, and eight, ranging in age from 15-24, decided to participate. The youths are facing a variety of addictions, from substance abuse to eating disorders, and are at different stages in their recovery.
"A lot of these kids have struggled for many years and they haven't yet found something that's helping them on a long-term basis so they're still looking for a more holistic healing in their lives," said Jan Riddell, supervisor of West Vancouver Youth Outreach and the Ambleside Youth Centre.
The course was led by Valerie Mason-John (aka Queenie), who works as a life coach, an anti-bullying and leadership facilitator, and is the author of six books. She also leads a weekly recovery meditation group at the Vancouver Buddhist Centre.
Riddell met Mason-John through a recent professional development course.
"We started to brainstorm ways in which we could bring her expertise and skill to the Youth Outreach Program," said Riddell. "The idea of supporting youth who are struggling with addiction with the meditation tool seemed to make a lot of sense."
The course was developed in England by a psychiatrist colleague of Mason-John's, Paramabandhu Groves. He based the course on the book Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: A New Approach to Preventing Relapse, written by Zindel V. Segel, J. Mark G. Williams and John D. Teasdale.
"This is a course which has been tried and tested and delivered a lot in the UK," said Mason-John, a Sunshine Coast resident.
A course for anyone with addiction or depression, Mason-John has delivered it both in the United Kingdom and Canada in rehab units, and to professionals, young people and those with a range of addictions, including anxiety, eating disorders and consumerism. She has recently been given a publishing deal to co-write a book with Grove on meditation and addiction.
"It seemed a natural fit to work with Jan's organization because a lot of the work that I do is with young people working around anti-bullying or bullying or behaviour stuff so it seemed a natural fit to do this course specifically for youth," she said.
For the course, Mason-John was supported by her friend, North Vancouver resident Upakarin, a meditation teacher and practitioner with a background in mental health.
"The goal of the course is to give the youth more tools for their tool bag really, tools which will help them for the rest of their life," said Mason-John.
For example, one major life skill the course focused on was the importance of breathing - of stopping, pausing and taking a breath. Others included increased awareness of what's going on in their thinking, the vicious cycles that they can find themselves in, and the triggers that may lead them to relapse.
"Another tool or skill is learning to like themselves more and not to judge themselves, to let go of that critical voice, to let go of that judging voice, which is telling them that they're not good enough, which is telling them that they're a failure and actually learning to appreciate themselves and accept themselves for who they are right now in this moment," said Mason-John.
In addition, they worked to make participants aware of the choices they have in their lives that they may not be aware of, said Upakarin, giving them an increased sense of freedom and spaciousness.
The course is a positive means of teaching young people that there is a way to cultivate positive emotion without reaching for a drink, cigarette, or their drug of choice, said Mason-John.
"What we're doing is we're teaching youth new habits, healthy habits," she said.
Sessions were interactive and were a blend of meditation, breath work, themed exercises and discussion.
At the course's end, participants were given a copy of Mason-John's book, Detox Your Heart, and guided meditation CDs, tools to allow them to continue working on their own.
As well, they will continue to be supported by staff through the District of West Vancouver Youth Outreach Program.
The course was offered for free to participants, the result of the support of community sponsors, which include the Canadian Iranian Foundation.
Based on its success, it's hoped the course will be offered again.
For more information on the West Vancouver Youth Outreach Program, visit www. westvancouver.ca/youth.
For more information on the work of Valerie Mason-John, visit her website, www. bullyvictimbystander.com.