Part 1. Meeting Addiction's Superhero
Every therapist has felt the gut wrenching pang of frustration and defeat; utter exasperation at not being able to provide a client who comes in with an addiction or OCD behaviour the long term resolution they seek.
I would go as far as to say, if you haven't experienced this desperation as a therapist; you are either lying to yourself or in denial.
I was on a forum earlier today reading just that sort of therapeutic desperation coming from those who had the courage to share their frustration. I also read some excellent and promising therapeutic responses, but none, as far as I could see, came close to understanding the elegantly respectful approach RT theory holds around the understanding and treatment of addiction.
So, where better to start RTI's Blog than with this age old problem in therapy; Addiction.
To begin, let's look at what addiction is in the therapeutic sense. For instance, I lurve coffee, and as long as that is not hurting me; upsetting everyone I love; causing me pain and self-loathing; eating my soul out of my a-hol... okay maybe that's going a bit too far. But you get what I mean. Addiction in the therapeutic sense is a pathological behaviour that may or may not have a physical or physiological dependence.
It is only when an addiction or habit is problematic that it graduates from mere addiction with a little 'a', 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 into us physiologically but it doesn't dominate or rule our capacity to be healthy and happy.
Enough said. Let's now get on with the subject of treating Addiction behaviour; I.e., the precise manner with which pathological Addiction can be effectively and permanently removed using Resource Therapy protocol.
For ease of understanding, I'm going to dispense with most of the technical words used in mapping our RT processes, and stick to explaining the concepts and processes in a language we can all easily understand.
Resource Therapy understands addiction such as alcoholism by first appreciating the processes underpinning the behaviour. 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 re-integrating the part of the personality that implemented the 'destructive' behaviour in the first place.
In this way, we can look at the RT Addiction treatment protocol as a three-part protocol. Well, at least, that's how I like to see it. To more easily see how this works, let me break it down:
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 anxiety... and more precisely what it is that lies beneath anxiety.
The part of us that uses alcohol or other method, 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 'Drinking' part know, that life as we would like to be is not possible right now, and deeper things are a-foot; 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 a little more insight into the part of us that does the 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 be each other. It makes sense that a happy person is a person who's personality parts are all getting along well and feel a harmonious sense of integrated bliss. Well... the part does the addiction behaviour is willing to sacrifice this blissful feeling of being liked by 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.
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 it’s 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 its 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 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 role, but that does not change the cause.
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. I've been around these parts for quite a few years now and am happy to share some RT jewels with existing and non-existing Resource Therapists. Reader beware, you should proceed some level of caution, since I am not always in charge of my writer parts, I write very differently to the way I speak. I have been known to take the long way around the block on more than one occasion just to drive the message home. But one thing is certain; I have not only been around many blocks, I've also experienced them many times!