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Transformational Education and Recovery


A person’s recovery from substance use and abuse is not lifelong and all-powerful; rather, it is something that individuals with proper support networks can manage. Having a supportive community network can help many people find additional strength, hope, and motivation to pursue a path of health and growth that will put their behavioral health challenges into a more manageable life process, resulting in less stress and anxiety (Peele, 1992; Peele & Brodsky,  1992). The college experience can serve as a healing source in students’ recovery processes by expanding their existing network of support and providing positive outlets that reinforce self-expression and awareness through coursework, peer and faculty relationships, and occupational exploration (DiRosa & Scoles, 2019). College recovery student life services should be viewed as a resource for information, friendship, and socialization for students. This supportive educational environment must be a place where self-determination and recovery transformation are nurtured and acknowledged, and through this transformative process, education can become integrated into values and principles of recovery and resilience.

Recovery education is a conscious mental and usually purposeful process relying on thinking, reasoning, and examining thoughts and feelings (Jung, 1968). This psychological, transformative, adaptive, educational process must explore, reframe, compare, interpret, confront, and analyze people’s current and past social experiences (Jung, 1966, p. 68). Ongoing recovery education, sustained recovery coaching, and early intervention workforce initiatives must be an integral part of any transformative recovery support network (White, 2009). All these structural activities are meaningless if students do not cultivate or create a flow of changes on the inside in order to sustain a sober flow of sobriety on the outside (Scoles, 2019).

Transformative recovery education believes that “learning is understood as a process of using a prior interpretation to construe a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of one’s experience to guide future action” (Mezirow, 1996, p. 162). The real transformative learning environment in support of recovery tends to involve the incorporation of the following four steps:

  1. Creation: thoughts and feelings that formulate new interactions with symbols felt to be personally relevant to individuals
  2. Reflection: intellectual thinking and intelligent analysis of previously incorporated attitudes about the meaning of life events
  3. Integration: the evolution of a conscious attitude that is expansive, integrated, and differentiated from prior attitudes
  4. Action: changing daily life activities to reflect this renewed perspective (Dobson, 2008, p. 150)

The focus on education as a transformative learning experience that creates, reflects, integrates, and acts on past and present life experiences brings a different and broader teaching perspective to life on a college campus.

White (2004), reflecting on the history of transformational change in addiction recovery, suggested a few lessons learned from that experience that have implications for collegiate recovery programs. He believes that transformational change in recovery is characterized by two overlapping experiences: a breakdown and a breakthrough. Recovery is both constructive and destructive; this change can occur over many years or a span of moments. Academic mentors in collegiate recovery programs, as well as faculty teachers, can facilitate student transformational change by:

  • Heightening student awareness of the incongruity between the idealized and real self
  • Creating opportunities for students’ self-reflection
  • Being with students during the transformational change experience and supporting any negative fears related to the experience
  • Helping frame transformational change experiences within recovery-oriented personal narratives
  • Facilitating the transition from transformational change experiences to drug- and alcohol-free identities and lifestyles
  • Linking students to communities of shared experience or encouraging them to build such communities (White, 2004, p. 32)

The Community College Experience

Since the mid-1980s, Community College of Philadelphia’s Addiction Studies program within the behavioral health and human services curriculum has been sensitive to the needs of the recovery community for the provision of transformational educational services to support people with behavioral health challenges. The ability of students to move from their addiction to become recovery leaders is embedded in the College’s commitment to offering courses that affect transformational skills. Building on the recovery capital of the behavioral health/human services (BHHS) success, the Office of Collegiate Recovery Services (OCRS) was established to provide management support to recovering students in pursuit of higher education.

The OCRS is designed to address a gap in traditional behavioral health services offered to people in recovery returning to college. This concerted effort by the College, to provide specialized and integrated college-based recovery services that build on student transformation, is now an integral part of student life services. This initiative makes it possible for individuals who are in the process of early recovery from use of substances and other behavioral health challenges to pursue their education while also having access to the necessary support services that focus on sustaining positive recovery. While in treatment or community transitional housing, students attend classes at the college as a part of their recovery continuum of care. The OCRS works in conjunction with a variety of community-based behavioral health services to help facilitate students’ transition into college. The goal of this partnership is to offer supportive educational and mentoring services to assist students in making new beginnings or speedy returns to the classroom and ultimately the workforce (DiRosa & Scoles, 2019).

A part of the OCRS’s enrollment management and student persistence strategy is to create an atmosphere of sanctuary and support by guiding students along directed pathways that explore related academic and career interests. One of the pathways that the college has come to recognize is the use of credit-based courses of study. The idea of being in a class with students and faculty who have shared life experiences and can instinctively understand the recovery process in which they are engaged is undeniably a motivating and protective factor in persistence. Also, many of the students in early or sustained recovery maintain relationships with respective recovery communities to give back and help others through their recovery and transformation processes. Educators and students must be committed to a multidimensional/cross-cultural perspective on the paths to recovery (Nahavandi, 2015). This perspective is not overly technical or abstractly intellectual, but is psychosocially and spiritually concerned about the wellness of the students. An effective collegiate, behavioral health, recovery-oriented system of care must attempt to deal with the whole student: physical, emotional, political, and spiritual (Mayes, 2010, p. 175).


  • DiRosa, F., & Scoles, P. (2019). The healing pillars of collegiate recovery: A community college model of recovery and education. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, DOI: 10.1080/19496591.2019.1644116.
  • Dobson, D. (2008). The symbol as teacher: Reflective practices and methodology in transformative education. In R. Jones, A. Clarkson, S. Congram, and N. Stratton (Ed.), Education and imagination: Post-Jungian perspectives (pp. 142–60). New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Jung, C. G. (1966). The collected works of C. G. Jung, Volume 16: The practice of psychotherapy (2nd ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Jung, C. G. (1968). The collected works of C. G. Jung, Volume 9, Part I: The archetypes and the collective unconscious. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Mayes, C. (2010). The archetypal hero’s journey in teaching and learning: A study in Jungian pedagogy. Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing.
  • Mezirow, J. (1996). Contemporary paradigms of learning. Adult Education Quarterly, 46(3), 158–72.
  • Nahavandi, A. (2015). The art and science of leadership (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
  • Peele, S. (1992). Alcoholism, politics, and bureaucracy: The consensus against controlled- drinking therapy in America. Addictive Behaviors, 17(1), 49–62.
  • Peele, S., & Brodsky, A. (1992). The truth about addiction and recovery. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
  • Scoles, P. (2019). The flow of recovery. Counselor, 20(1), 33–7.
  • White, W. (2004). Transformational change and addiction recovery. Counselor, 5(4), 30–2.
  • White, W. (2009). Recovery management and recovery-oriented systems of care: Scientific rationale and promising practices. Counselor, 10(1), 24–32.
Pascal Scoles, DSW, LCSW
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Pascal Scoles, DSW, LCSW, is professor of behavioral health/human services and director of the Office of Collegiate Recovery at the Community College of Philadelphia. He received his doctorate in addictions and health from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice, his MSW from Rutgers University, and his bachelor’s degree from LaSalle College in Philadelphia. For more than forty years he has been an educator, therapist, teacher, and consultant to treatment facilities, city and state governments, and the criminal justice system.

Francesca DiRosa
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Francesca DiRosa, PhD, is assistant professor of behavioral health/human services at the Community College of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.