I’ve been a little slack this week, but not as slack as you think. I’ve been all “behind the scenes” and shit. My post tonight, as well as another one I’m going to do this weekend are kinda serious which is a little outside the box for me, but it’ll be alright.
For tonight’s serious note, I had a little assignment given to me, by my own psychologist. We somehow got into a discussion about whether or not I should know what kind of history HE has with addiction/recovery/etc. Since he knows about my blog and how I communicate so much better through my writing than talking face to face, he assigned me some homework.
To quote Denise, “Your psychologist gives you homework? How crazy ARE you?!”
I’m friends with Denise, so asked and answered.
Anyway, here is my completed assignment. He has already seen it, made little notes in the margins and we’ve discussed it at length. Apparently we’re not done doing that because he says he wants to discuss it more.
But I want to know what YOU think. Agree, disagree, have some personal input of your own to add? Fill me up with some comments! You’ll be helping me out.
Objective Therapy vs “Recovering Therapy”
I have been thinking about how to put this paper together for the past week and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to the conclusion that this is quite the unusual situation to be in. To a degree, I’ve been tasked with analyzing the therapist, or at the least, the client/therapist relationship and what I believe the advantages and disadvantages of a shared dynamic are. To “grunge it up” a little bit, I get to “shrink the shrink”.
Do I believe that it is a fair and valuable tool to aid in my own recovery and continued sobriety?
I absolutely do and I am ecstatic to have been given the opportunity; one I have never heard of and now that I have, wonder why I haven’t heard of it before. (If this is new and undiscovered territory, I want at least co-authoring credit when it gets published!)
To simplify the process, I’ll just separate this into two sections with a brief summary at the end.
Having a therapist with personal experience with drug and alcohol addiction
I’ve stated in person one of the biggest reasons that I believe this to be an advantage. I also feel the need to clarify at this point that the therapist’s “personal experience” can be classified even further into a) a recovering addict themselves and b) a child of/brother/sister of/husband/wife of an addict without being an addict themselves. When talking about feelings, emotions or behaviors directly related to my addiction, it’s often difficult to put into words what they are like. At the very least, a great amount of thought needs to go into the description if they can even be properly described at all. If the therapist is also a recovering addict, then they are more likely to get a clear picture of the feelings, emotions, etc in a shorter amount of time with much less of a descriptive needed. I can make a statement like, “I found myself sitting there surrounded by empty bottles and I knew it wasn’t right, but I just felt . . . I don’t know what I felt. Or if I felt.” A recovering addict is going to know exactly what it “felt” like. He or she will know the confusion, the feeling of helplessness, the emptiness and general gloom and despair and its description will not be necessary.
[I’ll pause here to note that I am aware that the last sentence is actually a great response to the inevitable “Tell me about that.” that would come from the therapist just before it, however I’ve sat here and thought about it and written it and a full half hour has passed in the writing of the last 4 sentences.]
As for the therapist that is a relative of an addict, while they may not relate to the actual feelings (or lack thereof) that we’re attempting to describe, they may more easily recognize what that state looks like having seen it first-hand. They will also know what events, emotions, or other predilections led to the state being described, as well as what did and did not work to ease the situation, so while they don’t have the direct experience, they do have the first-hand experience to have the deeper insight that being a witness can give.
In either of these situations, I see the “connection” between the therapist/counselor and the recovering addict as having the benefit of better understanding and I believe that more time can be spent working on the solution or remedy for the addiction issues than needs to be spent on describing or “nailing down” the issues to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate the value in knowing and understanding the underlying issues, thought processes and habits that are involved in creating and maintaining the addictive behavior, I just believe that there would be a much shorter “discovery process” in the course of the therapy.
I’m also inclined to believe that there can be drawbacks to a therapist/counselor with personal experience. During the therapeutic process, feelings and emotions and memories are going to come up and at some point, both the recovering addict and the therapist are going to be acutely aware of that. We’re both going to ask ourselves if we might actually trigger something in the other. It could be a shared experience that both the therapist and the recovering addict have that either one has fully come to terms with or perhaps the recovering addict nudges on a subject that touches a still raw nerve in the therapist. We’d all like to think that the therapist is a therapist because he or she has reached a point where they have got past all of those issues. We also know that addiction is not a temporary condition and that it must be kept in check for the entirety of our lives to avoid relapse. Given that, we have to assume that the former-addict-become-therapist, lives in the same shadow of potential relapse as the recovering addict and therefore needs to be twice as vigilant as his/her client. Would we judge the therapist to be ineffective or incompetent if he/she were to relapse? I don’t believe that I would simply because we don’t judge the therapist if his/her client relapses. It’s generally going to seen as having been a “symptom of the disease the recovering addict was being seen for”, so with the situation reversed I personally would see it as the therapist suffering from his own symptom of his own disease.
Having a therapist with NO personal experience with drug and alcohol addiction
As the personal familiarity with addiction can be beneficial to the therapist, so can the detachment of no personal experience at all. This objective view from an outside source is very useful to the recovering addict as it may very well point out actions or reactions to different stimuli that the recovering addict may not even have realized were out of place or “abnormal”. (I’m putting that in quotes because who is normal?) These could very well even be things that the former-addict-become-therapist never even noticed themselves as they saw them as normal reactions too.
The objective therapist has to rely more on what he/she has studied, observed in other clients, discussed with other therapists and concluded on their own as a result of all these observations and therefore may have a wider pool of information to work from. Both therapists are eventually going to have this same observational experience, but the objective therapist will not have pre-existing memories or experiences that may distort their observations.
In my own personal experience, working with objective therapists and counselors has always been more structured. The path is laid out from beginning steps to end result. Deviation from that path indicates an area that needs more focus and the pace is slowed in order to pull it all together for the recovering addict until they are found back on the path again. This is good as each piece of the path has its own distinct section, and different recovering addicts will have different difficulties and it will be much easier to identify where underlying issues may be on an individual basis. Reviewing the “treatment path” afterward is also good as strengths and weaknesses can be identified and the plan can be honed to meet the needs of varied recovering addicts that need different areas of focus.
The concern of the shared possibility of relapse is also removed from this particular relationship as well. The recovering addict does not have to fear that the therapist will relapse and may then view the therapist as a more stable and reliable resource to turn to.
The only drawback that I can see to working with an objective therapist vs a “recovering therapist” (I realize that sounds horribly wrong, but I’m going to go with it in the interest of brevity) comes from my own personal experience with other addicts. While I realize that it is not true of all addicts, the majority of the addicts I have been around both as a “fellow recoveree” and as someone that has been available for counsel as well, are not accustomed to a structured environment. Their “path” has never been clearly laid out before them before and to a newly recovering addict, this structured path can seem intimidating and frightening and may encourage doubts that they already have. I noticed this to be particularly true of addicts in recovery that had recently been released from prison. Their entire lives had been so completely structured for months or years that they would avoid anything that resembled any kind of structure. In this case, I do believe that counseling that is less structured and more “on their level” is going to be more effective and more appropriate. Perhaps it can be viewed as the path that leads to the path.
I’ve thrown around a lot of “clients” and “recovering addicts” and “therapist” in this, but in the end, this is supposed to be about me and you very likely want to know if my feelings would change about my therapy and yourself if I knew that you were a recovering addict or not. Quite simply, no, my feelings would not change about you or the course of therapy we are on. I consider myself lucky to be where I am and extremely lucky to be working with someone who has allowed me to use the voice that I use best to get my point across. For my own recovery, I’ve found it helpful to seek counsel from both sides of the fence. Knowing what you’ve learned about me, you might expect that answer as you know how I like to take various pieces and fit them all together into one functional picture. I’m also aware that not everyone will like my picture and they may need something else altogether.
The VA has afforded me this opportunity, and I’m thankful to have it. Knowing that it is the VA and run by the government, I know it is indeed going to be a very structured environment and I fully accept that and can adjust myself to fit into it, and it will still work. As far as the VA is concerned, your status as a recovering addict or otherwise is none of my business. They’ve never asked my opinion before and they aren’t about to start now. I’ll never hear you say “We’ve all been there. I had 2 years sober one time and then I woke up behind a dumpster one weekend and this is how I pulled myself together . . . “
At least not as long as that tape recorder is running.
I’m ok with not knowing, because the way I see it, either way I’m in good hands. I’ll end this on that note because I just typed over 1800 words and haven’t cussed once.
I’d hate to fuck that up.
I look forward to your comments and thank you ahead of time for your help!! I promise, more funny coming real soon!!
The Tweet of the Day belongs to . . .
ME!! Because I’m goddamn hysterical.
I eat meat, so you don’t have to. -Me, trying to get into a vegetarians pants. Shortly before masturbating.
— The Opticynic (@Opticynicism) November 22, 2014