Peer Support within an Iranian Recovery Community

In 1998, Mr. Hossein Dezhakam founded the Congress 60 addiction recovery community within the Islamic Republic of Iran. Congress 60 has since grown to embrace more than 110,000 members organized within its 58 branches located within the major population centers of Iran. I have profiled the history and methods of this innovative recovery community (see here), interviewed Mr. Dezhakam (see here), and posted selected translations of some of his seminal books and papers (see here).

Innovative aspects of Congress 60 include time-limited (11 months) medication support and a vibrant recovery culture that blends recovery education, athletics, the arts, and community service projects. Also noteworthy is a sophisticated system of peer-based recovery support that pervades all Congress 60 activities. I recently interviewed Mr. Dezhakam about peer recovery support within Congress 60. I think his reflections will be of great interest to those organizing peer-based recovery support services around the world.

Bill White: When did the use of formal recovery coaching begin within Congress 60?

Mr. Dezhakam: In Congress 60, we call these recovery support roles Guides and Co-Guides—what in the United States are christened recovery coaches or recovery support specialists. We originated these roles in Congress 60 from our very first days in 1998. At first, our only requirement for serving in these roles was to be free of drugs. Two years later, we required Guides and Co-Guides to have at least one-year of recovery and to pass an examination to test their knowledge and skills.

Bill White: How would you describe these roles in Congress 60?

Mr. Dezhakam: In Congress 60, we refer to our members as Travelers. The role of the Traveler’s Guide is to direct the traveler through the tapering process using the DST method. This method utilizes opium tincture as an agent of neurological repair over the course of eleven months. During this time, the Guide also focuses on teaching the worldview [philosophy, purpose, values, character, and relationships] and offers other supports to the Traveler. Within Congress 60, men Guides are not allowed to help women travelers, and women Guides are prohibited from helping men travelers.

Co-Guides of companions [family members] of Travelers also fall into two groups of men and women. These Guides are not allowed to interfere in the treatment process and focus instead on worldview. Co-Guides teach the family members “How to treat their travelers.” Co-Guides of companions help the companions reduce tension at their home and improve the environment for their travelers in order to achieve better results.

The newcomers’ Guides also fall into two groups of men and women. Since newcomers, whether traveler (drug user) or companion (family member), are very sensitive and have no knowledge of addiction treatment, the newcomers’ Guide is specialized to help people learn the basics of addiction, addiction treatment, and recovery in a warm friendly atmosphere. The newcomers are highly sensitive and they may leave with even a small mistake. That is why I decided to use a different training and focus for the newcomers’ Guides. They ease the process of absorbing newcomers into the Congress 60 community. The role of these Guides is like that of a compass in a vast troubled sea where there is no sun or star to show the path.

Bill White: How do these roles differ from the support provided by trained professionals such as psychologists or psychiatrists?

Mr. Dezhakam: Psychologists are trying to cure addiction with speech. Psychiatrists are trying to achieve recovery with medicine. To achieve addiction cure, we need a person who can perform both of these roles combined with proper education on how to change one’s thinking or worldview. In other words, addiction treatment must take place in three aspects of body, psyche, and worldview. This goal can be achieved by a group of people (addiction treatment experts working together as a team) or by a single person whom we call a Guide. (Let us not forget, by addiction cure I mean a state in which a cured meth-user can go to sleep in a meth warehouse without thinking about or craving meth.)

Bill White: These recovery support roles seem very congruent with Persian values of humility, hospitality, and generosity. Do you think these roles would be effective across all cultures?

Mr. Dezhakam: Human beings share the same moralities. Everyone admires values like honesty, righteousness, helping others, and so forth, and most of people dislike lying, fraud, hurting others and so forth. It is interesting that even thieves tend to share the stolen things based on justice or fairness! They avoid lying and betraying each other! Therefore, all human beings are fond of good and they dislike evil. They are very well aware that good is good and evil is bad. That is why I believe the work of Congress 60 is effective at every culture with a small adjustment. Recovery values work across diverse cultures.

Bill White: How do you prepare Guides and Co-Guides within Congress 60?  

Mr. Dezhakam: Just like a baby learning how to talk in a family, newcomers start learning and growing. They learn how to serve others upon their entrance to Congress 60. When they reach the proper milestone of growth, most are eager to take part in the Guide examinations to prepare them to serve others.

Bill White: The tests for Guides and co-Guides sound quite rigorous. What areas of knowledge and skill do these tests examine?

Mr. Dezhakam: Perhaps more than 2,000 scientific articles have been written on addiction by highly educated people. I believe not even one individual is cured. I have mentioned before that addiction is considered as cured when a former drug user can spend a night in a warehouse full of drugs without even the slightest craving or temptation to use. Those scientific articles are about categorizing and describing addiction mostly, but they are not proposing a logical treatment or cure for addiction. 

That is why I have to educate addiction treatment masters without vanity. Their mind must be empty of any type of scientific illusion and prejudices. So I had to reinvent the wheel! I had to build addiction treatment science from scratch. Candidates must score 17 out of 20 correctly on an exam to be accepted. Out of 5,500 volunteers this year, about 700 individuals will be accepted. The examinations were held at more than 60 centers across our country. This is the first step to become a Guide within Congress 60. The second stage (after being accepted at examination) is as follows:

1.  Confirming the volunteer via his Guide to make sure he is worthy of becoming a Guide
2.  Confirming the volunteer via Marzban [leader] of the branch to see if he is morally fit to serve as a Guide
3.  The approval of the physical education department to see if the volunteer is active in sports.
4.  12 sessions of internship in different legions and in our partner clinics.
5.  At last, interview with Didebans (Congress 60 managers) to receive final approval. 

People study for years to be accepted as a Guide within Congress 60. 

Bill White: How many people are eventually accepted Guides?

Mr. Dezhakam: This year statistics are as follows: 

Gentleman travelers Guides: 480 individuals

Lady travelers Guides: 22 individuals

Companion of travelers Guide (female): 367 individuals

Companion of travelers Guide (male): 16 individuals

Companion of travelers Guide (lady travelers section): 7 individuals

Newcomers Guide (men travelers): 432 individuals

Newcomers Guide (lady co-travelers): 360 individuals

Newcomers lady travelers: 21 individuals

Newcomers male co-travelers: 9 individuals

All in all, 502 individuals have been accepted as male and female travelers Guides; the rest are for other sections. The sum is 1723 individuals.

Bill White: How many total Guides and co-Guides are active within Congress 60?

Mr. Dezhakam: The sum across all of branches of Congress 60 are as follows:

Male traveler Guides: 729 

Male newcomers Guides: 230

Female companion Guides: 506.

Female newcomer Guides: 226

Female traveler Guides: 37

Newcomer female Guides: 16

Male companion Guides: 20

Male newcomer companion Guides: 10

The sum of all of our Guides is 1775 individuals.

Those who have been accepted in Guide examinations of 2021 are not part of these numbers. We also have about 250 smoking cessation Guides who are serving at William White legions. We have about 50 Guides dedicated to weight loss as well.

Bill White: Mr. Dezhakam, thank you for sharing this information on the recovery support roles within Congress 60.

Mr. Dezhakam: It has been my pleasure.