Tree seedlings

ROSC Councils Create A Healing Forest in Illinois

Mark Sanders, LCSW, CADC
Publication Date: Oct 07, 2020


Don Coyhis, a leader of the Native American Wellbriety Movement, has eloquently described the concept of a Healing Forest. Don said, 

“Suppose you have 100 acres of sick trees who want to get well. If each sick tree leaves the forest to find wellness and then returns to the forest, they get sick again from the infection of the rest of the trees. The Elders taught us that to treat the sick trees, you must treat the whole forest. You must create a healing forest. If not, the trees will just keep getting sick again.” (White, 2007).

This kind of reinfection frequently happens when clients return from residential addiction treatment or incarceration to communities that present a high risk for relapse. The concept of the Healing Forest challenges us to focus on the entire community as the recovery center. To that end, Illinois Substance Use Prevention and Recovery (SUPR) has partnered with the Great Lakes ATTC to establish the Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care Illinois Statewide Network. Through the project, local ROSC Councils are creating Healing Forests that mobilize entire counties to promote and support recovery. 

Launched in fall 2018, the 12-month intensive technical assistance projects have included face-to-face meetings, one-on-one coaching calls, monthly peer learning calls, and report-out sessions where participants share lessons learned.

There are now 11 ROSC Councils throughout Illinois, strategically located in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Each ROSC Council has a lead agency that works with key stakeholders to develop the council collectively. Each ROSC Council consists of families, addiction treatment center staff, faith-based organizations, other social service organizations, individuals in long-term recovery, the formally incarcerated, hospitals, school personnel, law enforcement, employers, and concerned citizens.

The Illinois ROSC Councils have organized Recovery Month rallies, marches, and celebrations. They have provided recovery support resources for families and expanded and diversified the number of peer-based recovery support groups in counties so that persons seeking recovery can have more choices. The ROSC Councils have:

  • Hired recovery coaches to support recovery in the natural environment (the forest)
  • Helped people who are homeless and seeking recovery with food vouches and down payments for sober housing
  • Partnered with mental health to support dual recovery and conduct community outreach
  • Distributed personal protective equipment during COVID-19
  • Led equity discussions following racial unrest
  • Brainstormed strategies to help assure equity in substance use disorder treatment and recovery

Read about the experience of one Illinois ROSC Council in this blog post from the ATTC/NIATx Service Improvement Blog: Great Lakes ATTC: Helping Build Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care

The Great Lakes ATTC Illinois ROSC Council project has been so successful that Illinois SUPR will soon launch Year 3 of the project, recruiting new providers to join the healing forest that is spreading across Illinois.


White, W. (2007). The Native American Wellbriety Movement: An Interview with Don Coyhis.