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The Willow Tree program represents the synthesis of my professional experience informed by my own personal recovery and spiritual journey. The process began approximately 35 years ago when I began a serious inquiry into Zen Buddhism. My Zen practice has continued to the present day and it is fair to say that Zen has informed every other area of my life. I am currently a Zen Buddhist Priest and the Senior Teacher at the Treetop Zen Center in Oakland, Maine.

Living in northern New England for over forty years, I have developed an abiding love for the outdoors. That love has been deepened by Zen’s affinity for simplicity and naturalness. As I continue to deepen my relationship with nature, I find it to be tremendously healing, stabilizing and gratifying; an absolutely integral part of my being. In 2000, I began to develop workshops and presentations which could introduce others to the same type of experience. Over the years, I have presented them at conferences and retreats across the New England region, including Antioch New England Graduate School, the Maine Recovery Retreat, the Hope Conference, the New Hampshire Addictions Conference, the Connecticut Communities for Addiction Recovery and Pathways to Recovery Conference. I also became a Registered Maine Guide, so that I could take people on multi-day trips in the wild lands to deepen their connection with the natural world.

Peter Wohl
Photo by Peter Wohl
My professional work with addictions began in the mid-nineties. At that time our treatment models were fairly limited. Cognitive-behavioral treatment (CBT) and Motivational Interviewing (MI) were just emerging, while 12-step-based recovery was still considered by many in the field to be the best option. Interestingly, at that time a major government-funded study, Project Match, found the three modalities to have relatively equal outcomes. In spite of that, 12-step augmented treatment has progressively lost favor since them. Over the past two decades, my anecdotal experience has been that, in spite of what appeared to be mounting “scientific” evidence for both CBT and MI, treatment has very limited success as a pathway to stable long-term recovery. Over the course of my career I have held a number of leadership positions and have been a trainer for a number of clinical initiatives in the state of Maine. Currently I am the Chief Operating Officer and Director of Outpatient Services for a behavioral health agency in Portland.

In this current environment where opioids have begun to dominate the landscape of addictions with tragic consequences, I have had to continually rethink my position on harm reduction and opioid replacement treatment. Today, I firmly believe that if we can save lives with opioid replacement we should do so. However, I do not believe that replacing one addiction with another addiction is the best long-term strategy. I believe that with the right support, many people can free themselves altogether from dependence on substances. Most importantly, they can build lives in recovery that are fulfilling, healthy and happy, rather than living under the specter of a “chronic relapsing disorder”. When people are ready to take that step to stable long-term recovery, the Willow Tree program is there to help.

The blog contains a series of writings that describe a revolutionary, integrated approach to healing from addictions. The development of this approach is the result of my decades of living in Recovery, engaging in intensive spiritual practice and working in the field of addictions treatment. It is the approach that is being used in the unique The Willow Tree: Healing Addictions program.