Part 1. Meeting Addiction's Superhero
Every therapist has felt the gut wrenching pang of frustration and defeat, an utter exasperation at not being able to provide a client who comes in with an addiction or OCD behaviour the long term solution they seek.
I would go as far as to say, if we haven't experienced this desperation as therapists, we are either lying to ourselves or in denial.
I was on a forum earlier today reading just this sort of therapeutic desperation from practitioners sharing their frustrations. I also read some excellent and promising therapeutic responses, but none, as far as I could see, came close to the elegantly respectful approach RT theory holds around understanding and treating the deeper pathology of Addiction.
So, where better to start my blog, thought I, than with this age old treatment problem : Addiction.
To begin, let's look at what addiction is in the therapeutic sense. For instance, I love coffee, and as long as that is not hurting me; upsetting people I love; causing me pain and self-loathing; eating my soul, etc... etc... addiction is really no more than a habit I enjoy. In the therapeutic sense, though, addiction is an unwanted repetitive pathological behaviour that may or may not have a physical or physiological dependence attached.
It is only when an addiction is problematic that we graduate from having a mere addiction with a little 'a' (like my one cup of coffee a day) to the forbiddingly ugly verb: Addict. Prior to that, it is not much more than a happy compulsion. Albeit, as with my coffee habit, we can still depend on it; it can still insinuate itself physiologically but if it doesn't dominate or rule our capacity to be healthy and happy it is most likely never going to be seen as something I must cure.
The precise manner with which pathological Addiction can be effectively and permanently removed using Resource Therapy protocol is both intricately sublime and surprisingly simple. As therapists we can see the simplicity in the particular steps used in RT, but as with most excellent therapy, it is not until we understand the intrinsic function and importance of each of the RT steps, known as RT Actions, that we are able to truly appreciate the intricate nature of the work. If you stare deeply at a beautiful fractal image, you will notice that there are patterns within patterns. The more deeply you gaze the more sense of depth and movement emerges within each pattern, as if one layer's role is to reveal the next, at once complex and simple; refined yet somehow seemingly chaotic.
Resource Therapy understands addiction such as alcoholism or gambling or OCD by first appreciating the processes underpinning the behaviours. We next attend to and fully relieve the original cause of discomfort which led to the destructive behaviour. And finally, we remove the need for similar behavioural choices in the future by negotiating a re-integration; by defining the true purpose of the part and refining its role to be one that will be liked by other personality parts. For instance: A protector part of the personality who in the past chose to protect the person from bad feelings emerging by drinking alcohol to oblivion; once convinced the bad feelings are no longer a problem, will be happy to refine its role as a protector in some other way... a way that other parts of the personality will appreciate and like it for. In order to achieve this perfect partnership, other personality parts will be invited to speak to the protector part, to let it know that it will be liked and appreciated if it, for example, assists in the management of this person's sense of healthy boundaries.
I like to see RT Addiction treatment protocol as a three-part process. To better understand how it works, let's look at each part separately:
Part 1. The RT therapist sees alcoholism, indeed any addiction pathology, first and foremost as a coping mechanism. As therapists we need to take a deep and contemplative breath right here to truly appreciate the full meaning of this sentence. Let yourself spend a minute or more understanding and feeling the strength behind the assertion. Don't skim past it as if it is a therapeutic cliche; take a moment to contemplate it as a fundamental and phenomenological truth. We are wired to 'cope' with adversity in our lives. Indeed, all of our personality parts, according Resource Therapy theory, are formed because of this innate need, to cope.
So, returning to the numbing effects of alcohol or gambling, or dysfunctional eating, or smoking, even workaholism, put simply, is a carefully sourced method of reprieve we have chosen, to avoid the painful effects of the anxiety felt when bad underlying feelings begin to emerge.
The part of us that uses alcohol or other methods, is not the part that holds the anxiety.
Indeed, the part that holds the anxiety is not much more than a physiological mediator that acts as a reminder of sorts, letting the part that is drinking know, that life as we would like to be is not possible right now, and deeper things are afoot; scary things; dark things; things that make us feel very VERY bad; things we can't even name; things that when we try to name, can end up being almost anything and everything and nothing at all - all at once. That's how scary anxiety is. Drinking, put simply, is a method of reprieve from the painful effects of anxiety.
Knowing that the behaviour is designed to help us cope, gives us greater insight into the part of us that does the unwanted behaviour. We know from having spoken with thousands of addiction sufferers that the part of us that does the addiction behaviour is not the part of us that brings us to the therapist. We know that the part of us that does the addiction behaviour is probably not a part of us that loves good health or vibrant clarity, or even good relationships. The part of us that does the addiction behaviour is rather a part of us that is strong and robustly interested in one thing and one thing only; protection from bad feelings, really bad feelings.
Every one likes to be liked, right? There is not one person among us that likes to not be liked, right? Resource Therapy theory holds that our personality parts, although different to one another, all like to be liked by each other. It makes sense that a truly happy person is a person who's personality parts are all getting along well and feel a harmonious sense of integrated agreement, or at least an ability to arbitrate and decide unanimously verdicts that affect the wellness of the entire being.
The part does the addiction behaviour is willing to sacrifice the blissful feeling of belonging and of being liked by our other personality parts, indeed by anyone internally or externally, to continue its role of protecting us from those VERY bad feelings.
The very first thing we need to do as therapists treating addiction behaviour is find this strong and wonderful part of our patient or client and let it know it is appreciated for wanting to help; for wanting to protect, for sacrificing its own desire to be liked, to heroically step in and empathically remove any deeply uncomfortable or feared bad feelings.
In RT, the part of us that is capable of paralysing any nay-saying part of us from stopping it from doing its job to relieve us of suffering is known as a Retro Avoiding State. Retro because it reuses old habits, and ‘Avoiding’ because its primary role is to help us avoid emotional discomfort.
Retro Avoiding parts are mighty to say the least; the dark hero of the psyche, capable of cutting off a nose to spite a face, yet truly misunderstood, since the sole purpose is to ‘help’ not hinder the possibility of living a comfortable life.
When a Retro Avoiding hero steps into the room, no other personality part can match it. To do so would be a fools errand and many a therapist and loved one of an alcoholic will agree. There is no ‘reasoning’ with that part when it is in full operational swing. There is some reasoning with it when it is resting and not active, but when the anxiety returns, so to does ‘Super Avoider’ or ‘Protector’ or ‘Escaper’. A good therapist will understand this deeply. Not as a lip-service to the client, but as a truth acknowledged, felt, and shared.
I have never felt more delight as a therapist than the feeling that comes with seeing such a personality part come out with chest proud and puffed, and happily surprised to be viewed for the deeply positive role it sees for itself within the psyche. The relief and wonder of actually being liked by someone, and the feeling that other parts of the personality are listening to these words of acknowledgement and praise are almost enough for the client to say, you know what? I think I understand now. I think I'll be okay. And sure, at least that part will feel better about itself, and other parts may feel better about its true purpose, but that does not change the cause or the behaviour.
Part 1. is about understanding the strength behind the behaviour (not the behaviour itself). It is the STRENGTH that carries out that behaviour that part 1. helps us recognise and respect.
A good way to begin any therapeutic practice is to pay due respect to the original guardians of the territory you have been asked to help; and to remember, they are there to stay. Their role is always going to be an important one.
(Stay tuned for my next post continuing our Addiction Treatment RT protocol with Part 2. when Anxiety ushers us all into centre stage...)
PS. If you like this, you will love learning RT. Check out our new online training or go to the face to face timetable of events
Hi I'm Resource Therapy International's C.E.S. as well as an Advanced Clinical Resource Therapist and Senior level trainer and supervisor. I coordinate and manage a number of online Clinical training programs with an emphasis on bringing teams of trainers together to provide excellent delivery outcomes. I hope my blog will present a deeper knowledge of RT to existing Resource Therapists, and the chance visitor who is new to RT may feel like finding out more about this extraordinary therapeutic psychodynamic treatment model. Please remember to leave your comments below. I love feedback and I will try to answer any questions you have in timely way.