With Harvey Weinstein just checking out and Kevin Spacey checking in, Jane Mulkerrins reports on rehab for the rich and famous.

Set on a former dude ranch in Arizona's Sonoran Desert, an hour outside of Phoenix, The Meadows boasts mountain views, clear air, cacti and, latterly, a growing reputation as a pre-eminent rehab facility for the A-list.

Its alumni register reads like a red carpet roll-call: Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Elle Macpherson, Donatella Versace, John Galliano, the late Whitney Houston, Selena Gomez and Ronnie Wood. Harvey Weinstein reportedly checked in last month; Kevin Spacey is said to be there now.

Just as in the 80s, when the Betty Ford Centre in California became the go-to destination for celebrities battling the demons of drugs and drink, treating the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Stevie Nicks, Jerry Lee Lewis and a teenage Drew Barrymore, so, today, the wealthy and beleaguered make their way to The Meadows (often via private jet to the tiny Wickenburg Airport, 5km away) to mend their ways and their reputation, in tandem.

But unlike Betty Ford, which focuses firmly on substance abuse, The Meadows, officially registered as a Psychiatric Acute Hospital, treats a raft of less traditional and, in some cases, less tangible problems, including not only eating disorders and gambling addictions, but love addiction, love avoidance, and co-dependency. Over recent years, it has become increasingly famed for its male sex addiction programme, known as Gentle Path, which Tiger Woods is reported to have taken in 2010.


Whatever the trouble, treatment does not come cheap: inpatient programmes at The Meadows last a compulsory 45 days (though Weinstein, it is reported, left after only a week) and cost US$1200 ($1760) a day — US$54,000 in total. It can, therefore, come as a surprise, on check-in, to find oneself in a shared room, basic to the point of spartan. Though there is an outdoor pool, a gym and hiking trails, it's there that the resemblance to a five-star holiday resort ends.

"The first night I was there, I was stuck in this tiny little room with two complete strangers, and one side-of-the-road, petrol-station-standard bathroom," recalls Sean Brock, a high-profile US chef with several award-winning restaurants including Husk in Charleston, South Carolina. "I'd just come back from two weeks in Tokyo, staying in one of the nicest hotels anywhere, so that was quite a shock," he says. "I was listening to my room-mates detoxing, and thinking, 'Woah, this is not the luxury resort I was expecting'."

Brock, 39, checked into The Meadows in January to seek help for alcoholism, workaholism, anger and depression. He'd looked into the centre after reading an interview a few months before, in which former patient Michael Phelps, who sought treatment for alcohol abuse, extolled its virtues. "But it took an intervention, a group of my closest friends saying, 'the plane is waiting', to actually get me there."

Once installed, he quickly saw the benefits of the no-frills ethos. "It humbles you, it makes you vulnerable, it puts you in a different mindset. You realise you're not there to relax. When you wake up in the morning and have to wait in a line to use the bathroom, you think: this is what jail would be like," he says, gravely.

Compounding the sense of incarceration, Brock's shoelaces and belt had been removed on arrival ("they gave them back to me eventually, but my trousers were falling down for days," he recalls) and he had agreed to abide by the strict no-tech policy; phones, laptops and iPads as well as newspapers are all banned at The Meadows (a relief for certain patients, no doubt). Drugs and alcohol are banned, naturally, but so is caffeine and sugar. A dress code is firmly enforced, with no shorts or vest tops. This is not, however, to maintain a smart aesthetic in the dining room.

"In places that treat sex addiction, people are more easily triggered," explains an anonymous former executive in the rehab centre industry, who is familiar with practices at The Meadows. "They want to minimise triggers, and are trying to desexualise the environment as far as possible."

Actors Kevin Spacey (left) and Seth Numrich at an after-show party at London's Savoy Hotel, 2013.
Actors Kevin Spacey (left) and Seth Numrich at an after-show party at London's Savoy Hotel, 2013.

Outdoor smoking pits are segregated by gender, but The Meadows isn't po-faced about its high-profile patients' delicate problems; a sign in the communal television room warns clients they can only objectify a member of the opposite sex for three seconds.

Patients are identified by different-coloured name tags according to their specific addiction, but the therapeutic timetable is similar for all. Every day involves two sessions of group therapy, up to two hours at a time, in a small, mixed-gender, mixed-issue group, of around six people. Then there's meditation, yoga, mindfulness, tai chi, even equine therapy, plus daily one-on-one trauma therapy.

"There is an intensive focus on trauma, and the idea is that everyone can find some focus in childhood to grab on to, to craft a narrative around," says the expert. And while contact with the outside world is limited, family members are encouraged to fly in to take part in a week of family therapy sessions.

Clients are urged to also unlock their trauma in creative ways, by carrying rocks around to symbolise the burden they've been holding on to for decades, or whacking chairs with bats to exorcise their feelings of rage or resentment towards their parents.

"It sounds crazy, but once you understand that it is a spiritual journey, you start to understand why you pick up rocks," says Brock. "There's a lot of very spiritual work, such as American Indian talking circles; even just the air out there, and the sky and the stars — it is a very spiritual place."

The Meadows was established in 1975 by Pat Mellody — a former Air Force navigator who helped create drug and alcohol programmes for the military during the Vietnam War — primarily to treat business executives with drinking problems.

"You had a lot of big personalities, who didn't like being told what to do," says the expert. "So a big part of the culture there is that everybody is treated the same, everybody has to be humble, and it is very ordered and structured."

All patients are issued with a 90s-style beeper, which issues decrees about when to go to the lecture hall, or to dinner.

Brock gallantly reports the food during his 45 days to have been "better than I thought it would be. But most of the time, it needed a little something, so I would forage around the property and find wild herbs, raid the pantry for condiments, then make sauces and go around saucing everyone's plates."

For those for whom the US$54,000 price tag is out of reach, The Meadows offers outpatient treatments, with week-long courses costing $6,000 (not including accommodation) including healing heartache and healing intimate treason (for partners of sex addicts).

Not everyone is convinced of its efficacy, however, dubbing the centre "sex addiction summer camp" for those who can afford to pay for absolution.

"It is often a way for wealthy men of privilege to avoid taking responsibility for their sexual misbehaviours," believes David Ley, a clinical psychologist in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and author of The Myth of Sex Addiction. "Sex addiction treatment is a male sexual privilege protection racket. And it is a form of public penance, like when people would wear shame masks or hair shirts, and walk around so that everyone knew they had done something they were ashamed of."

Jenny Moore, a 41-year-old entrepreneur from Houston, Texas, has other concerns regarding the centre's high-profile clients, having struggled to find anywhere decent to stay in Wickenburg, while attending The Meadows "Survivors I" course, for partners and children of addicts, as an outpatient in 2014.

"The best place I could find was a Best Western, and that was like the sort of place a murderer takes you to kill you. With all the money The Meadows has, they should build a hotel," she suggests. "Where are Kevin Spacey's family going to stay when they come out for family sessions?"