A Review of the Evening Workshop – Monday, 14th March 2016 by Mike Eustace on Addiction Awareness

Mike explained the Talk would be from his own perspective of working with addiction based on the 12 Step Fellowship Programme (www.12step.org.). He showed a slide from the ’Programme’ explaining that the Organisation knew he would speak informally about their work and did not formally endorse it. For me, this illustrated his professional ethical attitude and respect for the work of others in the field.

He said that he hoped to offer a better understanding of how to relate to and work with clients with addiction and that addiction involved a wide spectrum and, to some extent or other, we are all on it  – chocolate, coffee, workaholic! His intent was to help us understand how best to: “Fulfill our duty of care to clients; to assess clients with addiction problems more effectively; to build our own referral network for addicted clients; to spot danger signs when our clients may need greater levels of care; to understand what addiction means for the client; to help clients separate themselves from the stigma and shame that often comes with addiction;  (shame is crippling and separates us from the support and help of others, whereas, to own ‘I have made a mistake ..I have a problem’  allows the client to take a breath and perhaps decide what help or action he/she might tentatively take next); to understand  addiction is a systemic problem (the wider impact and involvement of the family or work) and that it has three components: mental, physical and transpersonal; to have an understanding of the neurological, psychological and transpersonal processes that sustain addiction and lead to relapse and how to help clients recognise and admit to addiction and to have an understanding of Step 1 of the 12 Step Programme – (I admit I am powerless over ‘my substance of choice’ and that my life has become unmanageable).

Mike spoke of the importance of the therapist being aware of the ‘networks’ in the background of each client’s story . The networks being those who are, or could potentially be, involved in the client’s life, such as, the family, work, a case worker, Probation, Police, Social Services, the Courts, Rehab, Psychiatrist, GP and others. He felt that therapists need to identify their place and connections within such a network. Mike said he always notified the GP that he was seeing a client. This fact caused a ripple of concern for some of those present as it appeared to involve disclosure outside of the normal process of doing so rarely and only with the  client’s informed consent unless, of course, risk is identified.

The 12 Step approach is specially designed for those wishing to recover from addiction. It provides a structured, safe, non judgemental, supportive place in which strategies are offered in order to encourage understanding and to empower clients to change their negative patterns of thinking and, therefore, alter behaviours that are rigid and focused entirely on the rituals involved within the use of the substance of choice. In this way, the12 Step approach helps the person move to a position of thinking, feeling and behaving which is more flexible, more creative and which emphasises the mindful needs of self and others. Mike said he felt that what this programme and others encompassed was the vital element of constant and consistent empathic support from people who had experienced similar issues and who had successfully gone into recovery.

It is this non judgemental peer support that is one of the most important foundation stones of the acceptance and healing process.

 Such Organisations also offer invaluable help and insight for family, partners and others adversely affected by the client’s addiction. Anyone can attend a 12 Step ‘open meeting’ to find out what happens and whether it might be helpful to themselves or others, but ‘closed meetings’ on the other hand are solely for those who admit they have an addiction with which they feel they need the help offered.

Addiction, Mike explained, is ‘a widespread problem that permeates all levels of society and the damage caused to individuals and society by addiction is significant. Consider alcohol, for example. It is estimated by the UK government that as much as 5% of the population has alcohol dependency problems, and the cost to the economy may be as much as £20 billion every year. Part of the problem is that addiction is frequently misunderstood by mental health professionals and the general population, and people with addiction often don’t get the help they need, or are afraid to ask for it. The problem of being afraid to ask for help is particularly prevalent among professional people, for whom admitting to having an addiction problem is perhaps the hardest step of all’. (www.livingtherapy.co.uk).

He mentioned the interesting work of Professor David Nutt, a Neuroscientist, and his team who have made an in depth study of addiction and state it is ‘a life long illness not a lifestyle choice’ terming it at its core as a ‘state of altered brain function that leads to fundamental changes in behaviour that are manifest by repeated use of alcohol or other drug….’ (profdavidnutt.wordpress.com/2011/02/28). Professor Nutt explains that addiction ‘is a state of habitual behaviour that is initial enjoyable but which eventually becomes self-sustaining or habitual’. It will often reach a stage where it interferes with normal life and can ruin careers, relationships and financial security.

Mike said one of his connections described it as ‘when I was drinking, life was black and white, and alcohol a neon light’. The addiction causes hyper-arousal where the only desire left is to seek that ‘neon light state’ whatever the cost. There has been some interesting research into how to manage the ‘hyper-arousal’ state more helpfully. There appears to be parallels between the state within addiction and that which is linked to trauma, both of which may be helped by such practices as Mindfulness or Yoga to name but two. (BACP’s Therapy Today Vol. 23 Iss. 7 September 2012 and Vol. 23 Iss. 8 October 2012).

Mike generously shared his own experiences and the knowledge he had gained through his personal and professional journey. He hoped he had offered some guidance into how to best support some-one with issues caused by addiction in order to help them build their resources and resourcefulness. He said it was vital that therapists understood support came before challenge. Only the Client can decide that he or she has a problem, that they are now ready and willing seek help and that they would welcome therapeutic support in finding, or being signposted to, such help. Once in receipt of the necessary support and on the recovery road the client may then be in a resilient enough state to accept the challenge of the work of counselling and psychotherapy. Mike explained that it has to be the client who admits he or she has a problem and usually before that stage is reached, the client will raise all kinds of worries and concerns normally ‘caused by others’. However, Mike always brings them back to the issues around their drug of choice, asking how much, why, when, what does it provide them with, what does it mask until the client chooses to begin to speak more openly about their story  –  or maybe leaves therapy early because the time is not yet right.

The feedback from the well attended evening included comments such as: ‘Excellent, compelling, clear, well presented, good examples, poignant and personal as well as professional”.  A number of people commented on how it had deepened their understanding of addiction and would, therefore, modify where necessary and strengthen their empathic, theoretical and practical approach to their work with clients. The evening also raised interesting questions which are perhaps for another informative time!

Thank you Mike for such an enlightening and thought-provoking evening.

Jacqueline Holloway