Learning from Wired In To Recovery

2007_0118walpole0115Wired In To Recovery (WITR) ran for over four years between 2008 and 2012, attracting over 4,000 community members. A key element of this online recovery community was blogging, providing the opportunity for people from all walks of life to describe their experiences and express this views. The site comprised over 7,500 blogs (from 1,000 bloggers) and 35,000 comments.  

When I was developing WITR, I rationalised that by providing people with the opportunity for people to blog, I would accumulate a wealth of information about the lived experience of addiction and recovery, the needs of recovering people, personal views about the care system, etc.

I did collect a wealth of invaluable content written by the population of people I want to help, information about their perceived needs and the ways that they have overcome their problems.

In a sense, WITR has a huge social science experiment, a unique piece of research. Some of the major findings from this ‘study’ form part of the foundation for my next planned recovery projects.

What did recovering people have to say when they blogged or commented on WITR? Here is a summary of some of our findings:

1. Some people addicted to substances (and affected family members) have little understanding of their condition (addiction, cross-dependence) and how it can be overcome. They feel trapped in a culture of addiction and/or isolation and don’t know where to turn for help. They have no hope. They have few resources. They are fearful.

Some people who access treatment do not receive the help they require to help them overcome their problems. They cannot access information and support they need to deal with their problems, including information about day-to-day problems they experience on their ongoing recovery journey.          

Treatment was a beneficial experience for some people and facilitated the early stages of their recovery. One message that came through was the importance of the relationship between treatment staff and the person in need of help. Empathy is key. A mutual two-way relationship is most beneficial to the recovering person.

2. Recovering and recovered people are considered by many people seeking help as a key resource for their own recovery. People in early recovery identify with another recovering person’s experiences and trust the person. They learn that recovery is possible and there are many paths to recovery. They gain insights into how they can recover.

WITR was considered invaluable because it provided many voices of recovery. At the same time, many of our members stated that there were too few recovering people in their communities, and too many treatment services did not value the experiences and views of recovering people.

3. Connecting people to other people and resources is seen as key to facilitating recovery. Recovering people help each other – helping someone else is actually beneficial to the helper’s recovery.

Sadly, only a very small proportion of treatment practitioners refer their ‘clients’ to mutual aid groups, despite the fact that mutual aid has been around a lot longer than professional treatment and has been more successful in helping people recover.

People in need of help need to be linked to all community resources that can facilitate their recovery – many people commented that treatment services they accessed did not do this.

4. Community members stated that many treatment services and other parts of the care system did not listen to their concerns. These services seemed to be more focused on themselves than the people they were supposed to be helping. The process of collecting ‘service user’ views by treatment agencies was often viewed as tokenistic.

Members commented on a power differential existing in some treatment services, with practitioners seeing themselves as being in a position of power. Choice of interventions was often lacking. Many treatment professionals knew nothing about recovery. Many have never seen anyone recover.

5. Prejudice, stigma and discrimination towards people with substance use problems and their families was considered to be rife. Community members even described prejudice and stigma existing in treatment services – “once a junkie, always a junkie” is still sometimes heard in some services.

Prejudice and stigma were seen as major barriers to recovery, making the recovering person feel they could not fit into normal society and impacting on their self-esteem. Members thought that societal prejudice would reduce as more people revealed themselves as being in recovery and more people talked about recovery.

My additional comments: There are a lot of criticisms of the system in these findings. Whilst this criticism is merited, it should also be remembered that there are many excellent treatment services and recovery resources out there. And many wonderful practitioners. The range in quality of services in this field – and how people in need of help are treated – is quite staggering.

It would never be tolerated in the cancer field, for example.

Many practitioners commented on how poor the treatment system is and expressed dissatisfaction at their own service. Of course, it can be very difficult for these people to speak out, as I have witnessed on many occasions.

What many practitioners – and recovering people found most frustrating – was that many services pretended to do recovery, so that they would not miss out on potential funds.

What do you think about this?