Sea Side Palm Beach: Nation’s Leader in Psychodrama Therapy

Written by Ted Jackson 
September 2013

About a decade ago, the late Don Mullaney invited a reporter to look at a property. Mullaney usually liked to make a grand entrance, this time pulling up in a fire-engine-red 1960s Ferrari. Throwing the hatch open, he grimaced, in clear pain. Then saying hello with his usual, impeccable good manners, he explained that he’d just gotten into a motorcycle crash and shouldn’t be driving in the tight Ferrari anymore. But after pausing slightly, he said: “I’m not giving it up.”

That was vintage Don Mullaney – the Florida addiction market pioneer and Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches, BHOPB, co-founder – steely determined and never giving up.  And, to a large extent, that has also turned out to be the story behind the nearly 10-yr odyssey it’s taken BHOPB to fully develop the property Mullaney wanted to show me, then as yet not named and just a construction zone. Not only was the scale pretty impressive, three large side-by-side town homes, but it didn’t escape this reporter that the location was on the ocean side of the Intracoastal Waterway, which has been a virtually impenetrable NIMBY barrier, the highest value choicest real estate in South Florida, the busiest “destination” addiction treatment market in the nation.

The Property

Ultimately called Sea Side Palm Beach, if the property was then Mullaney’s baby it was his long-time partner and BHOPB co-founder Jack Coscia – pictured above – who has nurtured the center to full maturity and into, we think, perhaps what might turn out to be the most valuable high-end addictions property in the nation. Located right on Ocean Drive, a stone’s throw from the beach, Sea Side is a compound – other properties were acquired and now the center takes up a full  half block of buildings that surround and fully enclose a pool area – like no other in the key South Florida addiction treatment market. It has over 30 beds – quite large for a $50K+ ultra high-end center, especially sitting right on Ocean Drive – six of which are in a super luxurious detox unit directly adjacent to the pool. Ultimately, what sits behind Sea Side and makes delivering fully integrated soup-to-nuts addiction care possible there – and not having to resort to the Florida Model – is a letter Jack Coscia got earlier this year from the city attorney of the town of Palm Beach Shores, the tiny little sea shore hamlet in which Sea Side Palm Beach is located.

The Letter

Now, many legalise type letters have specific monikers, such as a Letter of Intent. The letter Jack Coscia got from Palm Beach Shores has no such moniker because it is, quite simply we believe, a one-of-a-kind. (Treatment Magazine here and now lays down the gauntlet and dares anybody to produce a similar letter from a town in a similarly hard-fought NIMBY locale) “It is very short,” says Coscia, who freely admits he eagerly sought the letter and, after he asked for it last year, only waited a month to get it. According to Coscia, it says just that BHOPB is permitted to deliver “treatment services” on the Sea Side property. And, needless to say, getting the letter was a hallelujah moment.

Unique Clinical

And just as the Sea Side property is emerging as highly unique, so too has the attention to clinical detail. “From the moment the client comes into detox, we have left no stone unturned,” says Alan Stevens, the BHOPB CEO that Coscia brought in to help engineer a compete tansformation of the BHOPB properties, with special attention to Sea Side. And a key example of the world class clinical that is emerging at Sea Side is the arrival earlier this year of one of the pioneers of the psychodrama therapeutic approach, one of the most widely practiced and effective therapeutic techniques for addictions.

Dr. Meg Givnish

Late last year, co-founder Jack Coscia made an interesting and ironic phone call, reaching out to the therapist, academic and psychiatric center entrepreneur who gave him his start. In the early 1980s, in fact, she offered him his first real job in the mental health arena. And what a first job it was, working as he did as a budding young psychologist at the now storied Pennsylvania Horsham Clinic and offered that job by Dr. Meg Givnish, one of the founders of the clinic and a pioneering force in the development of such widely used, staple modalities as psychodrama. Those who know psychodrama, and that’s pretty much every well-trained therapist in the addictions field, will immediately see the irony behind Coscia’s call to Dr. Givnish, because it was a classic “role reversal” in psychodrama parlance. And this time it was Coscia who would be offering Givnish the job, asking her to come in and give his hundreds of therapists at BHOPB, and especially those at Sea Side Palm Beach, first class training in the methodology and practice of psychodrama, for which Dr. Givnish is renowned worldwide.

Back in the Mix

In her mid-70s, but with a voice that rings youth and enthusiasm and an attitude of intense positive engagement with all around her, Dr. Givnish was thrilled to get the call from her old friend and colleague Jack Coscia. “I’m so glad to get back into the mix and work in the clinical arena again,” she says, adding that the monthly trainings she’s been doing at BHOPB since the start of the year have proven to her the durability and continued high degree of relevance of the psychodrama therapeutic techniques she’s done so much to advance and popularize over the last 30 years. Trained by the legendary founder of the psychodrama technique, Dr. J.L. Moreno, Dr. Givnish’s unique contribution as one of Dr. Moreno’s earliest pupils was to advance the technique into the mass marketplace, while also finding a way to fund its development.

To a Wide Audience

While Dr. Moreno’s technique was confined to clients taking on roles within small therapeutic settings, the idea that Dr. Givnish had was to bring psychodrama’s power to resolve conflict and empower with insight to institutional settings. Thus, her unique contribution to the advancement of psychodrama, and it has been an absolutely key one, was to work through role playing in a stage-like setting, with actors playing out key roles for larger audiences to experience. In this way, for example, Dr. Givnish was able to bring psychodrama to the corporate world as a way for larger institutions to work through, let’s say, some divisional conflict or to smooth the way of corporate mergers and the like. For Dr. Givnish it’s always been about reaching out to as many people as possible. “What has informed my approach has always been the quest to demystify and decode psychological and psychiatric techniques so that they would be more easily understood by as many people as possible so that the insights and therapeutics of mental health could do the most good for the most people,” she says.

NIMBY Triumph Underpinning

But underpinning the clinical improvement at Sea Side is still the NIMBY triumph as represented by that key letter from Palm Beach Shores, allowing as it does a full fledged soup-to-nuts treatment experience within the Sea Side compound. And any treatment executive or entrepreneur who has ever been lucky enough to get past the never ending NIMBYism and actually get the permissions they seek knows that, when they finally get them, they are usually pretty specific. In fact, many decisions handed down by city officials can be quite lengthy and, according to some CEOs we talked to, quite frankly a giant pain-in-the-ass to live up to. The very general “treatment services” is a huge compliment paid to Jack Coscia and BHOPB by the town of Palm Beach Shores, and Coscia recognizes that. It is also an expression of deep trust. “We have spent a decade getting to know our neighbors and their public servants in Palm Beach Shores and we consider it a great privilege to be located within these environs,” says Coscia, adding that BHOPB has taken great care to be a good municipal citizen and a considerate neighbor and not to call undue attention to the fact of Sea Side’s operations within city limits.

Zero Signage

Indeed it is very likely that many, if not most, of BHOPB’s neighbors, especially perhaps those occupying apartments in the complexes that line the beach directly across the street from the facility, are blissfully unaware of the existence at all of an addiction treatment center within their midst. And that’s exactly the way Coscia wants to keep things at Sea Side. “We have absolutely zero signage and anyone walking by would be hard pressed to see us as anything other than a rather new housing development,” says Coscia. And he points out that Sea Side has a very high functioning, well-educated clientele.

Years Ago

Many years ago, before Sea Side took its current shape, and indeed before it was even named as a separate entity, youthful clients made some noise, prompting minor complaints. “That’s all there has ever been,” he says. “Never has had, and never will have, a police blotter here.”