Nate McCready

March 15, 2017

Using the power of a strengths-based model

Why is the Phoenix program so successful? As the operation’s Director of Programs, Nate McCready has an answer.  

“A lot of recovery is deficit-based,” he says. Other programs revolve around ‘this is what’s wrong; this is what you have to fix.’ “But at Phoenix,” he explains, “you’re a person with strengths when you get here.”

The benefit of working from strengths is something that Nate profoundly believes. A former director of programs at the Abbotsford Salvation Army, he is a person in recovery himself. Now clean and sober for 15 years he remembers his own time in treatment and recalls it being driven by the clock. “The model is usually ‘we have this big mess to clean up and if we can get you from minus 4 when you start to ‘zero’ we’ve done quite well.’”

Even after he earned his diploma in professional counselling Nate could see how the people he referred to treatment sometimes struggled under the constraints of such a deficit-based system. “As a counsellor, I would send people to Phoenix when they couldn’t find success elsewhere,” he says.

For all of these reasons, Nate prefers the Phoenix model of practice, which is more comprehensive, focusing on all aspects of help that people need.

“People can be here for the time they need,” he says. “They aren’t rushed out of treatment.” Some people move on to transitional or even residential housing. “What I really appreciate is that there’s a continuum of care here. You can come from the detox down the street with your clothes in a garbage bag and through our programs you can become employed and own a home. It’s pretty amazing.”

Right now, Nate’s biggest hope is that the Phoenix model can be grown to support other populations. Currently, it’s set up to serve men but he believes the model could be expanded to serve other groups such as women, youth and First Nations people. “We have the model and it would need to be tweaked,” he says, “but let’s tweak it.”

Asked to recall a meaningful experience with a resident Nate describes recently meeting with a man who was considering leaving treatment early. “I spent an hour with him listening to his story and hearing about how he was feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed. But he also told me that every time he felt vulnerable, he needed to run.

“I was able to help him see that this would be just another example of him running. And I believe he stayed because we could offer him what he needed.”