The New Face of Addiction Recovery
Addcounsel’s Paul Flynn is using his own experience of addiction to develop a fresh approach to rehab and mental problems.
Interview by William Cash, Editor in Chief, Spears
The first thing that strikes one about Paul Flynn, founder and CEO of Addcounsel, is that – wearing jeans and looking relaxed in a Claridge’s armchair – he doesn’t look like a Swiss psychiatric doctor in a white coat. The sort that wealthy families expect to meet when they send their children or themselves to a ‘recovery’ clinic overlooking a Zurich lake.
For more than a century, there has been a tradition of sending HNW addicts – and dysfunctional family members with other mental or behavioural health issues – abroad to sort out their ‘issues’. Before the vogue for Arizona or South Africa rehab clinics, the rich chose Swiss clinics, in much the same way they chose Swiss bankers. Discretion and anonymity was all, and damn the expense.
In Brideshead Revisited, the dypso aristo Sebastian Flyte is packed off to a ‘sanatorium’ in Switzerland. F Scott Fitzgerald was also no stranger to such places after his wife Zelda was admitted to a sanatorium in France, under the care of Europe’s top psychiatrist, Dr Eugen Bleuler. Then she was moved to a clinic in Montreux, Switzerland. When that didn’t work because of her seemingly untreatable addictive disorders and mental health problems, she was finally moved to another clinic in Prangins, on the shores of Lake Geneva.
Today, the rich, addicted and dysfunctional don’t need to step any further than the heart of Mayfair, where Addcounsel is based in a smart building opposite Claridge’s. This is the UK’s first ‘multi-disciplinary’ provider of bespoke ‘one-to-one’ care for behavioural health issues, in the tradition of the Kusnacht Practice on the shores of Lake Geneva, which bills itself as the most exclusive and luxurious (and probably expensive) rehab clinic in the world.
All bases covered
There’s quite a menu at Addcounsel. The range of treatments starts with alcoholism and drugs and includes addictions to nicotine, sex and love, gambling and shopping. Mental health issues include depression, burnout, eating disorders, trauma, anger management, mild dementia, relationship ‘co-dependency’, anorexia and stress.
With treatment through what Flynn calls ‘The Recovery Route’ framework, Addcounsel brings a breath of Swiss air to the high-end UK rehab market with the promise of delivering a ‘better tomorrow’ for clients.
This mantra has a personal meaning for Flynn, who was partly driven to set up Addcounsel because of his own life. I was about to say he was a highly ‘successful’ recruitment business founder and entrepreneur, which is true – but half the time he was not able to function properly, due to losing his way through partying.
‘I’ve had to fight my own battles with addiction and I’ve always been very open about this, even with my employees, over the years,’ he says. ‘And you know what? It’s only ever been a good thing. I’m not ashamed of it – because I wouldn’t have founded Addcounsel without my own battles.’
It was the journey of his own recovery that enabled Flynn to see the opportunities in the UK market for a completely different approach to HNW and mental rehab, especially for the elderly and those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. He makes no secret that his enemy was cocaine. If he hadn’t been the co-founder of his recruitment business and thus able to take days off whenever his binge drug use required, he would never have been able to keep his job down. ‘I was a coke fiend. An absolute coke fiend,’ he says as he sips Earl Grey tea.
‘What makes us different is a heavy focus on mental health, especially dementia care, which is an area the UK clinics really have not been focused on,’ says Flynn. He adds that he won’t be introducing dementia and aged care services until April, due to his wish to ensure that Addcounsel’s ‘service architecture’ is of the highest level.
‘Dealing with a matter such as living and dying well brings a lot of mental and physical health risk. I see a lot of growth within specialist dementia care – we’ve been having conversations with two or three families in the last month alone. They need to start putting together a plan. They don’t want to put them in a home; it’s about putting nurses together, a specialist psychiatric team, and building a plan for them so that they can enjoy their older life.’
Flynn is typical of the sort of British entrepreneur who can’t let a good idea go if he thinks there’s a gap in the market. There are 47 million people in the world with dementia. ‘That’s the same population or bigger than Spain, which gives you an idea. Yet so little specialist treatment is available,’ he says.
Another area of special expertise for Addcounsel is servicing the private client and wealth management sector. ‘Families of wealth and prominence have special issues,’ says Flynn. ‘Money and status fuel behavioural health problems and create a devastating cycle that impacts the wealth and security for generations.’
Addcounsel focuses on providing ‘discreet and compassionate assistance to families and their advisers’. Flynn works with multi/single family offices, private banks, lawyers and a wide range of firms in the family office space. ‘The crisis management of situations is not only distracting, but can have a devastating effect on all those linked to the client,’ he says.
Divorce lawyers and barristers are particularly vulnerable, he says, along with also receiving referrals from family lawyers with clients who can’t cope with the stress of divorce and other mental issues relating to the trauma of separation.
Despite the zeal Flynn brings to his vision in founding Addcounsel (with clinical director Michael Ishmail), he doesn’t view himself as a public tsar. Rather, he thinks the all-important thing is ‘getting families together’ to ‘talk about it’ and bringing the whole debate into the public domain: ‘The more people like William and Harry who raise awareness, the better.’
Flynn is now at the point of his own recovery where, yes, he wants Addcounsel to be a commercial success, but he also wants to see other people get their lives back on track. ‘We are always interviewing for more specialists,’ he says. ‘What we are doing is incredibly rewarding. I’m seeing people get better, reunite with their family, what more do you want?’
Was his own family life impacted badly by his own addictive issues? ‘My wife stood by me, but my wider family – no. And part of the reason was that at the time it wasn’t easy to be open about it. I’d like to think my own children, if things ever happen to them, they will know they will be able to talk about it.’
Flynn’s cautionary story of how he nearly destroyed himself is part of the narrative spine of Addcounsel. In his twenties he was introduced to the world of IT recruitment – and was soon earning up to £25,000 a month. ‘For people who are not the best-educated people in the world, who couldn’t access the City, it was that kind of money. I was an IT recruiter, placing people in the City with the right IT skills. For a while we were the fastest-growing company in the UK.’
The money was so good that the obvious thing to do was set up his own rival business with a partner. Soon he was placing specialist IT engineers all over Europe – especially Germany – while staying up for three-night cocaine binges, often waking up on a sofa in the office or in a strange hotel.
‘I often never went home,’ he says. ‘I went to meetings not having slept for two days; the only “rest” time was at the weekend. London was going through a crazy time – we might start at a posh club but we’d always end up in Soho in some basement dive, drinking with a load of gangsters, some subterranean place.
‘I’d go missing for three days and not remember anything, in a cocaine-induced psychosis, not wanting to socialise with anyone, being able to consume 12 grams of coke in a weekend and function. I’d say to my wife I was working, and I just would be chopping up line after line after line.’
The drug use didn’t stop his career success – not at first anyhow. But then he had his ‘moment of clarity’ and decided to get sober in 2006. His firm, which he co-owned, had nearly 100 staff. He started in 2003 and sold in 2015. ‘It was only a success as I cleaned myself up: that’s the reality.’
A combination of factors led to his getting sober and quitting coke. The first was his first child, who was born not long before he got sober. His ‘rock-bottom’ moment was when he went to a meeting one afternoon and there were people coming in whom he was uncharitable about.
‘I had the grandiosity to look down on them, and someone pointed out to me, “Listen, they were like you once, you’re only a couple of steps away from that,” and it really hit me. And that was it. And for me, I’d always been able to keep the show on the road, but I was scared. It felt like, “Actually, this isn’t happening.”’
Filling the gap
He got clean without going into a rehab centre, as he just didn’t think there was anything available that would have given him the one-on-one attention that Addcounsel now offers.
‘I think the range of rehab options for very wealthy people is limited, and from working with a number of wealthy people – I’m talking proper wealthy – I know their needs are not being met. I just went to Alcoholics Anonymous, as that suited me. I also went to NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and CA (Cocaine Anonymous). The other reason I didn’t go into rehab was that I had to keep the show on the road at work; I couldn’t have taken that time off. So I got in with a group of people who were pretty militant about the way they did things, and that’s what I needed.’
The gap in the HNW addiction and mental health recovery market, says Flynn, is that there is not enough of an organised service architecture behind people’s recovery. ‘You’ve got psychiatrists who are very good at what they do, you’ve got therapists who are very good at what they do,’ he says, ‘but to create a cohesive programme for a person and their family takes a different type of skill.’
So what’s wrong with famous rehab centres such as the Priory or those in Arizona? ‘It’s very simple: it’s what happens when they come out. That’s what the issue is.’ Is he trying to make Addcounsel more like the exclusive, entirely personalised Swiss model?
‘I would say we’re not a challenger to those bodies, because they are group-based, and usually have a 28-day lifecycle, or you might be there for three months. With Addcounsel, we’re with you a lot longer.’
Addcounsel is not about ticking a box that says ‘28 days’ in a luxury clinic and then being set free, perhaps after a stay in a halfway house. It’s about looking harder and longer at the root causes of the disorder or addiction. The truth is, most people can’t just be cured in a month.
‘We assess each situation,’ Flynn says. ‘We create all the accommodation, we put the team around the person that meets the needs that they have. We’ve got someone in at the moment who has cocaine, marijuana and sex addiction, so we have specialists in all those areas. We’ll be working with this person – and now their family – for five months. What we’ve created, there’s nothing like this being done in Europe, and even in the States. There is a level of speciality to this that requires such planning.’
And if clients want to stay at Claridge’s across the street, that’s all fine as well.