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Treatment center for video-gaming addiction proposed for Western Mass.

(Jenny Kane/Associated Press/File 2019)
(Jenny Kane/Associated Press/File 2019)(Jenny Kane)

A spiritual retreat center in Western Massachusetts, home to 19 acres of bucolic fields and forested trails, may become a residential treatment facility for young men who need to detach from technology and overcome their debilitating addiction to video games.

Odyssey Behavioral Healthcare is awaiting a special permit approval from the town of Leyden, near the Vermont border, to launch the Greenfield Recovery Center, intended for people with “gaming disorder.”

The voluntary program could accommodate about 30 patients who are on average between 18 and 25 years old, said Dr. David Greenfield, an Odyssey clinical partner and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction in West Hartford, Conn. The new center would be in his name.

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“It will be reintroducing them to real-time living,” Greenfield, also an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “These young men have forgotten what it’s like to be in nature and without their screen in front of them.”

Patients would pay up to $600 per day, with an average stay of 45 to 90 days. There would be therapists on site for recreation, yoga, art, and music.

Greenfield said that once patients arrive, they must surrender all technology. After several weeks of separation – and of learning about sustainable screen-time habits – they’ll be gradually reacquainted, he said.

The Tennessee health care company, which operates six other facilities for eating disorder and social integration, already lists the Greenfield Recovery Center on its website. The program in Leyden would also be geared for adults who “compulsively” use the Internet, social media or smartphones.

Company officials did not respond to requests for comment. “Our mission is to provide the tools and coping skills needed to interact with technology in a healthier and more balanced way,” Odyssey’s website reads.

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Plans for the center were reported earlier by the Recorder newspaper of Greenfield.

The facility is being proposed amid debate over gaming disorder. The World Health Organization has recognized it as an official disease. The American Psychiatric Association has deemed it a “condition warranting more clinical research and experience.”

Dr. Ron Pies, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine is dubious of any type of treatment for “Internet addiction” or “Internet Gaming Disorder.”

“The bottom line from the research I looked at is that there are no good, solid, randomized, controlled studies [regarding] efficacy,” Pies said in an e-mail Tuesday. “There is still controversy [regarding] whether the term ‘addiction’ ought to apply, at least in the sense we would apply that term to opiate or alcohol ‘addiction.’ ”

The town’s municipal assistant, Michele Giarusso, said Tuesday that about 50 people attended the public hearing last week in Leyden, population about 700. Some raised questions about staffing numbers and security protocols, especially if patients were to “escape” overnight and knock on the doors of nearby homes.

Greenfield laughed at what he called the stereotypical misconception of addicted video gamers roaming the streets in a zombie-like haze. He said Odyssey would install a security system and that there will always be employees on duty.

“In general, this population is fairly docile,” Greenfield said of those who would seek help. “What they really want to do is be in front of a screen.”

Giarusso said that other worries expressed at the meeting touched on “dual addiction,” or the idea that patients could simultaneously be addicted to pornography or drugs.

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“There are some concerns this is a quiet, rural town,” Giarusso said by phone. “Will this change it? No one has an answer for that.”

Greenfield said he hopes to open the center as early as this fall, pending a decision from the town Planning Board.

The center would be located on the site currently occupied by Angels’ Rest Retreat, which for nearly two decades has hosted spiritual and corporate retreats, personal growth workshops, family gatherings, and wellness vacations, according to its website.

The fast-moving process began in May, when Odyssey contacted the retreat’s owner, Jennifer Paris, about purchasing the property.

“It’s a healing land, and it’s always been used for healing,” said Paris, who is retiring. “It’s just been kind of a sacred place. To benefit young men, I think that’s awesome.”


Alison Kuznitz can be reached at alison.kuznitz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AlisonKuznitz.