Sorta, maybe an alcoholic - Page 2

Is the well-connected Delancey Street merely helping Gavin fine-tune his future?

That's not the shape the mayor was in."

The mayor is attending both group and solo counseling sessions after work each day, a schedule that Silbert told us is still ongoing.

Dannie Lee, a former Delancey Street resident we interviewed, said that during his own stay he attended group therapy three days a week and they were generally no-holds-barred sessions. Lee lived at Delancey Street for three and a half years after spending much of his adult life in California's prison system. While the program ultimately worked for him, he insists, he's skeptical that it could benefit anyone who's trying to attend as an outpatient.

"Maybe it would be great if [Newsom] was actually there as a client or whatever to really sit in a circle and really share his stuff and listen to the group and let the group really attack," said the 49-year-old Lee, who today is one of Stout's students. "That probably would be fine. But I don't see that happening.... I think he would really have to tell things I don't think he wants to tell."

Press accounts have depicted Delancey Street as an abrasive scrub brush for Newsom's sinful indulgences. "No Nonsense: Toughness Key to Delancey Street, Silbert's Success," a Chronicle headline announced Feb. 7. Silbert herself told the Guardian, "No one would come near us if they weren't serious. I'm old, crotchety, and very direct. I have no time to waste."

That may be true — and it's clear Delancey Street has had some remarkable success in treating people with severe self-destructive impulses.

San Francisco, on the other hand, years ago eschewed the sort of harsh treatment techniques that have made Delancey Street famous.

H. Westley Clark, director of the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and a one-time clinical professor at the University of California at San Francisco, told us that federal mental-health bureaucrats are less inclined today to fund groups that use confrontational methods for treating clients.

Any local nonprofit agency that wants to provide help to substance abusers using city money must comply with San Francisco's harm reduction policy, which discourages hostile interview techniques and was set in stone by the San Francisco Health Commission seven years ago.

The letter from Stout's class points out that treatment professionals are moving away from tough-love verbal upbraids such as those employed by the Delancey Street model.

" 'Attack therapy' often involves yelling at patients who have, in our view, a medical condition.... While we realize that some patients are helped by strong, confrontational methods, we believe that an evidence-based approach offers more consistent successful results."

Silbert's techniques may be controversial, but she does move easily among Democratic Party rainmakers and philanthropists. Delancey Street enjoys wide popularity with the likes of Robert Redford, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Washington-based Eisenhower Foundation, and executives at the Gap, Pottery Barn, and Bank of America.

Silbert said the mayor deserves credit for whatever help he chooses to pursue. Other prominent friends of Delancey Street have called her before when they needed to "tune themselves up."

"I would never choose to criticize other people's approaches, so I'm sorry if people are criticizing ours," she said. "We work hard. We do our best.... I'm glad these people feel they have a definitive answer. I don't, and I've been doing it for 35 years."

If Newsom, as Silbert says, isn't a serious alcoholic, Delancey Street is a peculiar place for him to seek help.

Most people entering the program have hit rock bottom, a step away from death or lifelong incarceration. They're one-time prostitutes, drug pushers, robbers, and ruthless bangers.

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