Phaedon Kaloterakis: “I have not lost my passion about what I do”

When we talk about Greece, especially about Ancient Greece, we have associations. Usually it is mythology, the Olympic Games, philosophy, democracy, maybe something else. The rich heritage of Greece has benefited many nations. We hope that today we will be able to take something from you.

In the Russian-language Internet space, the only mention about Phaedon Kaloterakis is a concert dedicated to the 30th anniversary of KETHEA “Ithaka Symphony”. Why a symphony concert?

Ha, this is a very good question. I am a composer, a musician. It was 30 years of “KETHEA ITHAKI“, it means 30 years of the treatment of addictions in Greece because Ithaki was the very first program, ever. There was no methadone, no buprenorphine, no therapy – nothing. So, we needed to do something big. One of my best friends was the first violin in the symphony orchestra, the best orchestra in Greece. And we decided to do this production together. So, the symphony played for free. The singer was very famous, he came for free, nobody got money. So, we gave a concert, it was packed & many people were sitting down, more than 11000 people.

We liked that project because it was of popular Greek songs but in a symphonic form. So, like classical music but there were Greek songs. So, we decided to record this. That’s how it came to be. Because we wanted people to celebrate with us, everybody could say “thank you” in Greece. We wanted to do something big & also to make some money.

Who did create the concept of Ithaki? Is it connected with Odysseus, his wanderings and returning home?

ITHAKI” started in 1983, in November, actually. There were a psychiatrist Phoebus Zafeiridis with some colleagues of him, I mean social workers, so called. He used to work in an addiction center in Zurich (Switzerland). Then we had a source with government in Greece. We wanted to change things, so that everything was free & more alternative, you know. He approaches the means of health because drugs were becoming a big problem, especially morphine. So, he recommended this. He started the therapeutic community. In November of 1983 7 therapists & 7 clients started Ithaki.

First, I think that the most important thing in life is relationship & the connecting bond is love. Love is not the feeling mostly. It is an act of will. It’s a choice. Love is a choice! You choose to love yourself, you choose to love others.

The name is very symbolic! & it was not only from Homer. In modern Greek literature, poetry there is Konstantinos P. Cavafy, probably, the most famous poet. So, he has a poem called “Ithaka” & there he says: “It is not the destination that matters but it’s the journey.” It is the very famous phrase he said. Not only Greek. It is the journey that makes you wiser. So, it symbolizes the coming home like Ulysses, it took him two years to go home but through a lot of trouble, many tries & tribulations. What’s the idea – you go home, you finally find your piece but through a lot of trouble, it’s not easy! It’s a very good name. It has to do with Greek history also & Greek literature, modern literature. It’s a beautiful name!

Addicted and sport, is it possible? Addicted person has many other diseases. His body is often used at a young age.

It is very difficult to do sports when you are addicted. When you do some amphetamines, some cocaine, in the beginning you can do sports but if you are really addicted you cannot do.

But I’m talking about sport in the TC.

Oh, that’s the other thing. Yes, sports are a very important part of treatment, for me. It’s a holistic approach, it’s not just psychotherapy, you know. It’s more than treatment in a therapeutic community. Sports have a very important role in cases that people say later: “I’m gonna leave, I’m gonna drop out therapy.” “But we have a football game on Saturday.” “Then I stay it!” It really happens. Because you feel good about yourself with sports & about your body that you destroyed in the past. So, now it’s different. For example, we had the hero who did judo. He got the silver medal in the National games. He went to Olympics & he played with the Greek team. Because in the Olympics the country which hosts the Games can send the best two athletes, no matter that they are good. & so, they were there! That’s a miracle.

Who is he Phaedon Kaloterakis? What is your life philosophy?

Oh, boy! Ha-ha… I might say something that might surprise you. First, I think that the most important thing in life is relationship & the connecting bond is love. Love is not the feeling mostly. It is an act of will. It’s a choice. Love is a choice! You choose to love yourself, you choose to love others.

But also, in a more personal basis, I believe in God. This is very personal. I respect people who don’t believe in God or believe another way. It’s ok. But we are talking about me now because you asked me about me, right? I think that believing is trusting, it’s not just intellectual. So, it’s trusting, I’m trusting myself to a person. I don’t see but I believe that a person is there. So, this really gives meaning to my life. And especially answers questions about death. Because it is the only certain thing in our life, that we all going to die. So, that gives meaning to whatever I do, to my relationships, to my work, to my hobbies. That’s the most important thing in my life. But, as I said, it’s personal.

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The KETHEA Board of Directors is elected for a term of 2 years. It is chosen among the whole community plus residents who are in the last phase of the programs. How does it work?

It does work but it’s not easy. It will take a thousand people. It’s very strange. I know. I realize that it’s not very usual, very common. But the board is not really managing. It’s the director or the assistant of director – we manage. The board is there to make sure that everything is done legally, and ok, democratically. Also, the board is our face to the government, with usually famous people.

* Phaedon Kaloterakis has been working in the field of drug addiction since 1981, is in great demand all over the world at international drug-related conferences, has published many articles and scientific papers. He lectures at various universities in Greece and abroad, including the National School of Judges and the National Police Academy. Phaedon Kaloterakis is Vice-President of the European Federation of Therapeutic Communities, Chairman of the Committee on International Relations and Relations, and the Committee on Policy and Organizational Perspectives of the World Federation of Therapeutic Communities to give links, Assistant Director of KETHEA representing the interests of an organization in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the UN and a member of the board of the International Federation of Non-Governmental Organizations, a scientific consultation antom UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Marital status: married, has four children. Hobbies: music, sports.

Today you have the experience, knowledge, system, but you miss the enthusiasm of the early 80s. Is it possible to keep enthusiasm for so long? What do you think about enthusiasm?

I think I am enthusiastic but that’s how I am. I’m still passionate, I have not lost my passion about what I do. And you know I think that’s because I’m grateful. I feel that what I do is a gift that God gives me but also you & the others, you know, with the other profession, the clients, you know. Hopefully, this makes me a better person. So, that’s what keeps me going. It is being grateful. I think that I’m given a gift that I don’t deserve. I’m very lucky. This is a bless. I don’t know how to say. That’s what keeps me with enthusiasm.

How did addiction treatment work in Greece then, more than 30 years ago? What is happening in your country now?

This is very interesting because Greece is an exception. There is very individual case for one thing – all services are for free. This is not a case, not only in Bulgaria, in Russia, where people pay for this. So, it is very different. One thing that is also an exception is that in Greece the first method, the first model was therapeutic community. In 1983 we had TC, in 1996 we had methadone. Usually, it goes the other way out. One started with medical approach (methadone or buprenorphine). Then you have psychosocial support in some programs. In Greece for historical reasons it happened the other way. So, that really changed.

I’m still passionate, I have not lost my passion about what I do. And you know I think that’s because I’m grateful. I feel that what I do is a gift that God gives me but also you & the others, you know, with the other profession, the clients, you know.

The way things are about now… because of the financial crisis that we have, we have many problems. For example, in KETHEA we are not hiring people. So, we are getting older, tired, you know. The organization is becoming more tired. I don’t know if it will change, if we will be able to hire young, new people, new blood.

Plus, the addiction patterns have changed in Greece because of the crisis. For example, we have a big gambling addiction because people play. They say: “Now it’s ok, I’ve lost money. So, what if I win?” So, that is gambling.

There is a lot of alcoholics of men because of the unemployment also. 50 years old are fired, nobody would hire them. So, they start drinking. The same with women because of the same reasons, because of stress. They do benzodiazepines, prescription drugs like tavoren & lexotanil. So, they like it but then they get hooked. So, these are more problematic than heroin & amphetamines. Also, we have a big thing with cannabis, you know. Many younger people do cannabis & it’s becoming problematic. That’s the situation. We, in the treatment world, are running after it. So, I’m not very optimistic…

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