AT RESTART, the first and only Internet-addiction rehabilitation center in the U.S., patients reboot during 45 days of abstinence. No Twitter. No Facebook. No blasting alien legions in Halo. Instead the daily schedule at the Heavensfield Retreat Center—a six-bedroom private home tucked in the woods near Fall City, just outside Redmond—includes yoga, psychotherapy, and household chores.
Though only four patients have been treated at the facility since it opened in August, cofounders Cosette Rae and Hilarie Cash receive countless calls from worried family members whose loved ones suffer from addictions that have led to failing out of school, obesity, and even homelessness. One caller asked for advice concerning his brother, who played online video-games at a local university library for 17 hours straight, and then took refuge in a homeless shelter for the night. “It’s a behavioral addiction,” says Rae, “so you have to treat the whole person in order for change to be possible.”
On a recent afternoon, one client, a teenage girl, sat by a large window facing the backyard, weaving a colorful belt, while two of the male clients worked on tree houses they built by hand. During his stay, Ben Alexander, the first client to complete the program, tended to the goats, chickens, and puppies on the property.
“The cornerstone of rehabilitation,” says Rae, who holds a PhD in social work from UW and has worked as a therapist for 10 years, “is reconnecting addicts to the real world and encouraging intellectual, physical, and artistic stimulation that can only occur when the computer is switched off.”
The rehab center is located near a leading Internet enabler—Microsoft. And no, the irony isn’t lost on Rae. “I have nothing against technology,” Rae, a former Microsoft consultant, said as she walked a footpath built by her clients, “it was meant to free us up and give us more time, but instead we spend all our time in front of a box.”