In the summer of 2011, Bridges to Recovery, which already operates mental health treatment residences in Pacific Palisades and Santa Monica, Calif., opened a new facility in nearby Bel Air. Though indistinguishable from neighboring residences, this spacious, gated, hilltop site is licensed to offer acute crisis mental health treatment for individuals facing complex psychiatric disorders.
Here, and at the other two Bridges to Recovery sites, one thing is clear: Bridges appeals to those who want a top-notch alternative to long-term treatment in a traditional psychiatric hospital, an alternative that feels more personal, more like home.
“This type of arrangement—where Bridges locates a system of treatment within a converted home in a residential area—is really unique,” explains Katie Gregory, executive director, Bridges to Recovery. In fact, the location of each Bridges facility—or “community,” to use her terminology—reflects the demographics of likely clients.
Environment: “structured ... but in a way you don’t really feel it”
Those who select care at Bridges to Recovery do so because its three locations offer a highly structured system of treatment in an environment that allows for an unusual degree of individuality, privacy, and comfort. “Many of the people that come here would not do so voluntarily unless we provided the environment that they are used to,” says Gregory.
The Bel Air house was selected and furnished to appeal to the needs of an “executive-level” demographic. Here, those seeking treatments come from as far away as Europe or Hong Kong, or from as close as the surrounding neighborhood. And, although Bridges doesn’t necessarily attract (or seek) movie-star types from nearby Hollywood, Gregory says that it has attracted high-profile professionals—or their family members—who seek intensive treatment in a uniquely comfortable and private environment.
During treatment, which typically lasts from one to six months, individuals at the Bel Air house may reside in one of six private suites, which range from a multi-room residential suite of approximately 800 square feet to a smaller, hotel-like space. All are equipped with desks, telecommunications, and private baths. Like all of the Bridges facilities, she says that the Bel Air site reflects a balance. “Everything is carefully structured, but in a way that you don’t really feel it.”
Common areas include an expansive, vaulted living room that offers an expansive view of Los Angeles; a well-equipped kitchen where meals and snacks are prepared to the specifications of Bridges’ staff nutritionist; individual and group therapy rooms; and a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces for art, meditation, fitness, yoga, massage, or relaxation.
“In Bel Air, the feel is expansive and open,” says Gregory, noting that other Bridges locations offer a different feel and reflect different target demographics. The nearby Pacific Palisades facility consists of two homes (a residential building and a therapeutic/operations building), on a more compact, wooded property.
The feel of the Pacific Palisades site is smaller, more intimate and more traditional in design and furnishing, yet it too offers a range of quiet, comfortable spaces for rest, common activities, and individual or group treatment. Often, says Gregory, the Pacific Palisades site offers the best fit for individuals with higher-acuity issues. And, in keeping with the Bridges approach, Gregory says that although the location has provided treatment since 2002, “no one even knows we’re there.”
The same cannot be said for Bridges’ third location in Santa Monica, since its role as a mental health treatment facility became known to the community shortly after it was proposed. Rather than trying to quiet neighbors who raised concerns about safety and property values, Bridges sought to “bring awareness of the need for mental health treatment into the community,” says Gregory. “That meant being available and open to the community. We had a big open house and invited people—adults and children alike—to tour the facility and learn about our mission.”
The most compact of the three residences, the modern, ranch-style design of the Santa Monica home generally appeals to what she terms a “younger, hipper” demographic. Here, the sleeping areas are somewhat smaller and most individuals share accommodations with a roommate. However, the common areas are larger by comparison, reflecting the more communal nature of many young adults.
Therapeutic approaches matched to individual needs
Bridges admits individuals for treatment of a range of primary psychiatric, mood, and personality disorders as well as co-occurring addictions.
“We see a lot of individuals with complex psychiatric issues including bipolar disorder, delusions, severe depression or severe OCD,” says Trevor Small, PsyD, Bridges’ clinical director. “These are people that just can’t function effectively in their own worlds.”
Often, he says that individuals’ dysfunctional behaviors are induced or exacerbated by trauma and that they affect relationships, career, or aspirations. According to Gregory, many individuals seek treatment at Bridges after an unsuccessful treatment episode somewhere else.