Learning About Addiction Treatment, Part 4

I’ve spent three blog posts, the first of which can be found here, describing my experiences and what I learnt during my initial visits to a local treatment agency, West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA) in Swansea. In addition, my last blog focused on an article written by my oldest daughter Annalie about a day in the life of an addiction treatment support worker at WGCADA, Dave Watkins.

Many of the clients I met at WGCADA and in other treatment services I visited over the years knew what they wanted—a valued and meaningful life. They just did not know how to achieve what they wanted, and they lacked the internal and external resources to take the journey to recovery and the life they wanted. 

My early experiences at WGCADA resonated loudly when some years later I read How Clients Make Therapy Work: The Process of Active Self-Healing, a seminal book written by Arthur C Bohart and Karen Tallman and published by the American Psychological Association. The following quotes are particularly pertinent. 

‘The client is a creative, active being, capable of generating his or her own solutions to personal problems if given the proper learning climate… therapy is the process of trying to create a better problem-solving climate rather than one of trying to fix a person.’ p. xi

‘The most important thing that therapists can do to be helpful is to find ways of supporting, stimulating, and energizing client’s investment and involvement. The second most important thing is to stimulate and support powerful client learning and meaning-making processes.’ (p. xiii)

‘The role of the therapist is (a) to provide a safe place; (b) to provide an opportunity for creative, exploratory dialogue; (c) to provide materials and resources that help clients fashion solutions; and to train specific skills when needed.’ (p. 20)

‘The ultimate healing takes place at home and not in the therapy office, for the most part, as clients integrate their therapy experiences into their lives.’ (p. 20)

The staff I knew at WGCADA had certainly created a ‘problem-solving climate’ for their clients, through their empathy, understanding and the education they provided (via staff and peers). They connected clients to a variety of sources of support, helped them deal with distractions in life that impact negatively on the recovery process, and facilitated improvements in their psychological wellbeing (e.g. self-esteem, self-belief). They provided a safe environment where the person could look honestly and openly at ‘who they are’ in the context and content of their lives, and do the necessary deep work required to create personal change. They offered hope, choice and opportunity.

By visiting a treatment agency in their own community, rather going away to a residential rehab centre in another part of the country, clients were able to integrate what they learnt at WGCADA into their daily lives gradually over time and gain more immediate access to the other support services they needed in their community.

My early experiences with WGCADA played a big role in helping me determine what I wanted to do in the field. I knew at this time that the future of Wired In had to be about empowering individuals, families and communities to tackle substance use and related problems. Empowerment was about hope, understanding (about the nature of the problem and the solution), and gaining a sense of belonging.  We had to harness the passion and energy I had seen at a grassroots level. Storytelling would be one of our major tools. 

We needed to provide information and tools that help people better understand and use the options they have to overcome the problems caused by their own, or a loved one’s, substance use. Key information also had to be directed to practitioners and commissioners, as well as to the general public. It hadn’t taken me long to realise how much prejudice existed in society towards people with substance use problems. Prejudice and discrimination are major barriers to people overcoming addiction problems.

NB. WGCADA is only one sort of addiction treatment agency; whilst other treatment agencies also use an approach based on the principles of AA and the Minnesota Model, many others do not. As I have described, WGCADA also offered harm reduction and other services.