In today’s world there seems to be a commonly held belief that there exists “a pill for every ill.” For all intents and purposes, this is not about the pharmaceutical industry or the proliferation of medications related to the myriads of disorders individuals struggle with in this day and age, but rather, the belief or certainty in the causal flow of treatment and abstinence.
Despite the seemingly progressive attitudes that have developed surrounding substance use disorders or simply put, addiction, misconceptions still exist about the purpose or role of treatment in an individual’s personal recovery. Families and clients alike often enter into a treatment program with the firmly held belief that the program or treatment provider will resolve an issue that has developed over the course of a lifetime. In essence, that treatment is a cure for addiction.
Contrary to this belief system treatment, much like therapy, offers the participant an experience. In the most ideal of settings and circumstances, a corrective emotional experience. The use of the term “corrective,” suggests that the vast majority of those afflicted with addictive disorders might also be emerging from environments wrought with trauma. The individual’s response to trauma can take many forms, however, deficits in primary relationships and the presence of painful life events can have enduring consequences including but not limited to the development of a substance use disorder.
Potential clients and families alike often begin a treatment episode with the misconception that treatment in and of itself is the answer to the presenting problem. This idea, however, is a fallacy; and the individual, family or both is confronted with this stark reality when the client leaves treatment only to find himself for herself in the midst of yet another crisis. At this point in time, no cure or definitive treatment for substance use disorders has been developed. The worlds of medicine and psychology have made strides towards developing more efficacious treatments, but it must be reiterated, no ultimate solution exists. Once the individual or family can come to terms with this Truth, a more reasonable assessment of what treatment actually provides can be understood.
Treatment offers clients an experience. The goal, therefore, is to identify what constitutes the experiential phenomena of treatment, and how the individual might translate that into his or her life, outside of the treatment context. First and foremost, treatment should place an emphasis on the notion of connection. For many who enter a treatment program, it might be one of the first experiences related to sharing a common bond with others and, ideally, developing an understanding that he or she is not alone. Often times clients have made statements such as, “I thought I was the only one who…,” or “I never knew other people…” Treatment is a setting where traumatic events can be normalized, or a certain therapeutic factor of universality can begin to shatter pervasive patterns of isolation. The bonds formed between clients in such a setting do not appear to be enough, however.
The treatment provider also has an obligation to develop meaningful connections with its clients. As previously stated, the vast majority of those seeking help have a history riddled with different forms of trauma and neglect. If and when a treatment setting maintains a strictly punitive stance the results can be disastrous. Individual’s leave such settings activated and, in essence, re traumatized. If a provider is not cautious, it can complicity reinforce negative core beliefs in the client. More often than not, such beliefs have a part in the development of a substance use disorder, and the need to quiet the mind from its own forms of self-deprecation. Certain fundamentals seem necessary when approaching clients in such a setting, the most obvious of which is treating them with respect, or as Carl Rogers’ would call it, “unconditional positive regard.” In fact, research suggests that one, if not the most crucial elements related to the efficacy of a treatment episode (in this case individual therapy) is the relationship between client and therapist. The question then remains, why should this relationship be relegated solely to client and therapist? What might happen if the institution, at large, adopted an attitude of developing a strong join or relationship with the client? It could be suggested that a greater success in substance abuse treatment would be the result.
If such a relationship is formed between client and treatment provider, the client is afforded an opportunity to embark back out into the world with a different version of his or her reality. Emerging from an environment where personal goals are encouraged, ideas valued, and interpersonal relationships cherished; the client has the ability to translate this experience into his or her daily life. Essentially, it lends itself towards a new world view and a different experience of himself or herself as an individual in the world. An individual in the world living a life filled with meaning, purpose, and a tangible feeling of hope rooted in the supportive environment he or she has just left.
This post was written by our Program Director, Chris Paulson. Read more about Chris here.
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