Learning from the Experts

When I was a teenager, I competed in chess competitions around the UK, including the British Under-18 championship on two occasions. I was my county junior champion. To be competitive, I had to study chess theory and practice. I learnt from those people who were champions at what they did, including world champions. Not by being in the same room as them—although I did play Anatoly Karpov, who was later to be world champion, in a simultaneous exhibition—but by their games and introspections. I learnt from the experts.

You would have thought that people working in the addiction field would also be learning from the experts—the people who are in recovery, or are recovering, from a serious substance use problem. Many do. But… you’d be surprised to know that this goes on far too little, at least from my experience.

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Journeys Into and Out of Heroin Addiction, Part 2

Focuses on living with addiction and covers such topics as relationships, changes in personality and lifestyle, hustling, crime and prison, impact on health, and treatment (5,900 words).

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Treatment of Substance Use Problems

Formal treatment can help the initiation of recovery from addiction, facilitating a self-healing process, and help a person minimise the harms from their substance use (2,600 words).

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Impact of Substance Use Problems on the Family

This research aimed to look at how a loved one’s substance use problems can impact on the health and well-being of parents and siblings (1,400 words).

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Untangling the Elements Involved in Treatment

Our research focused on interviews of people in a prison treatment programme revealed insights into the elements that operate in the treatment process, and how they might interact to facilitate a person’s path to recovery from addiction (1,700 words).

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Bill White’s Talk in London, 2009

Film from William L White’s talk at an addiction recovery conference in London in 2009 organised by Action on Addiction and Wired In. Six clips focus on recovery advocacy, recovery communities, recovery management and treatment. 

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‘A Journey Toward Recovery: From the Inside Out’ by Dale Walsh

One of my favourite articles about recovery was written by Dale Walsh back in 1996 which really summed up what recovery and recovery principles mean to a person who has been suffering from mental health problems. I thought I would highlight some of the main points here. [The article seems to have disappeared since the original website has been modified. I’ll put up the link if it resurfaces.]

The Problem
‘For many years I believed in a traditional medical model. I had a disease. I was sick. I was told I was mentally ill, that I should learn to cope with my anxiety, my depression, my pain, and my panic. I never told anyone about the voices, but they were there, too. I was told I should change my expectations of myself and realize I would always have to live a very restricted life.

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‘What is Recovery?: David Best

Here is a blog I wrote about David Best in May 2013. At that time, he had done a huge amount for the addiction recovery field and for the Recovery Movements in the UK and Australia, in terms of his research, writings, advocacy and a wide range of other recovery-based activities. Where he gets his energy from, I have no idea?

I thought it was worth showing what David thinks about the question, ‘What is Recovery’. I’ve followed his arguments and included quotes from his excellent book, Addiction Recovery: A Movement for Social Change and Personal Growth in the UK.

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Why the Need for Recovery-based Care?

A resonating message I have picked from many people affected by serious substance use problems over the years is their desperate need for hope (that they can recover) and understanding (of how to recover). Here is a blog I originally posted in May 2013.

There is a dearth of readily accessible information on how to achieve recovery, information that is also relevant to the day-to-day struggles and obstacles that people face in trying to overcome addiction and related problems. Many people do not know anyone who has recovered from addiction. Many find the treatment system to be disempowering and lacking in hope.

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‘An Intervention Gone Wrong’ by Bill White

I first spotted an earlier version of this article on Bill White’s website in 2013. The article really made me laugh so I couldn’t resist posting it. Since then, Bill has posted this version of the little gem (in 2017), so I decided to post this version.

‘The most famous and controversial treatment for addiction in the 19th century was Dr. Leslie Keeley’s Bichloride of Gold Cure.  Dr. Keeley franchised his cure procedures through more than 120 Keeley Institutes scattered across North America and Europe.  These Institutes became the preferred drying out institutions for the rich and famous in the 1890s. But the problem then (as today) was this: Even where there are financial resources to pay for such treatment, how can the afflicted person be convinced to enter such a treatment institution?

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Treatment and Recovery Disconnection

William White describes how somewhere in the process of the professionalisation of addiction treatment in the US, treatment got disconnected from the larger more enduring process of long-term recovery.

He points out that we are recycling large numbers of people through repeated episodes of treatment. Their problems are so severe and recovery capital so low, there is little hope that brief episodes of treatment will be successful. We end up blaming them for failing to overcome their problems.

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‘A Day With Dave’ by Annalie Clark

I posted this originally in July 2013, a day before lovely daughter Annalie headed back to the UK tomorrow, having spent a year here in Perth working as a doctor (along with her boyfriend Max) in the emergency department of  a local hospital. Over seven years later, Annalie is a psychiatrist working in the UK.

Here’s an article that Annalie wrote in the summer of 2005, when she had just finished her first year of medical training at the University of Edinburgh. It appeared in a June edition of Drink and Drugs News. The article is about Dave Watkins who used to be a top-class support worker at a treatment centre in Swansea.

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Learn the Signs and Symptoms of PTSD, with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk

One of the world’s foremost psychiatrists specializing in PTSD, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk visits Big Think to discuss the history of the disorder, its varying effects on sufferers of all ages, and forms of treatment that can “help people to come back to life.”

To understand PTSD, says Dr. van der Kolk, you have to understand the nature of trauma and the ways in which traumatic triggers can vaporize anyone’s joie de vivre.

‘I Am “Pro-Healing”’ by Hilary Bryant

“Yoga helped me explore and reconnect with the body I’d abandoned and abused for years. My pain and sadness had me living exclusively in my mind, my body nothing more than a battleground for my inner wars.

Through yoga and meditation, I slowly began to love myself again, learning to treat myself with care and respect. I felt a greater sense of self-awareness, and a sense of connection to something greater.

This was a drastic contrast to the days when I felt as if god had forgotten about me, or like I was a mistake not meant for this world.”

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Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia

understanding“An individual having unusual difficulties in coping with his environment struggles and kicks up the dust, as it were. I have used the figure of a fish caught on a hook: his gyrations must look peculiar to other fish that don’t understand the circumstances; but his splashes are not his affliction, they are his effort to get rid of his affliction and as every fisherman knows these efforts may succeed.” Karl Menninger

What would happen if a team of highly qualified psychologists joined up with a team of people who knew psychosis from the inside, from their own journey into madness and then recovery – and if they collaborated in writing a guide to understanding the difficult states that get names like “psychosis” and schizophrenia”?

Well, you don’t have to wonder anymore, because the result was published a couple of days ago in the form of a report (180 pages) that is free to download. This report is well worth reading. Here’s a summary:

‘Executive Summary
This report describes a psychological approach to experiences that are commonly thought of as psychosis, or sometimes schizophrenia. It complements parallel reports on the experiences commonly thought of as bipolar disorder and depression.

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‘The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma’ by Bessel van der Kolk MD

UnknownI have been saddened over the years by how little attention the addiction treatment field pays to the role of trauma in the development and maintenance of addiction. Tremendous efforts are made to argue that addiction is a disease or the person’s fault, but where are the arguments about the role of trauma (Gabor Mate being a notable exception)?

It is quite possible that the majority of people who develop an addiction to drugs and alcohol suffer from the impact of trauma. They use drugs (illicit and prescription) and alcohol as a coping mechanism. Many of these people will have been traumatised as children, and many will have been retraumatised through their experiences in the treatment system. 

I am just finishing an extraordinary book which is essential reading for anyone interested in trauma. I amazed by the advances that have been made in our understanding of trauma – in terms of its effects on our brain, mind and body – and how we can help people heal from its impact.

Bessel van der Kolk has written a classic. And the work that he and his colleagues – and a whole network of centers around the US – are doing is remarkable. As a scientist, it really excites me. As a person who cares, it really gives me hope.

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Classic Blog – Untangling the elements involved in treatment

P4061087-220x164Here’s a summary of a piece of research that Lucie James and I conducted some years ago. I am very proud of this piece of work and it certainly opened my eyes to the importance of gaining a sense of belonging in the recovery journey.

‘To understand how treatment helps people overcome substance use problems, it is essential to understand the elements that operate in the treatment process, and how they might interact to facilitate behavioural change and a person’s path to recovery from addiction.

Lucie James and I set out to gain initial insights into these issues by using a qualitative analysis of the views and experiences of clients on the RAPt treatment programme in one male and one female prison in the UK.

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‘“It doesn’t work for everyone” – a take on 12-step approaches’ by DJMac

iStock_000011501444XSmall-300x199Excellent blog from the DJMac website. Good discussion as well.

‘What follows is a guest blog by a GP who gives a personal view on professional perspectives of mutual aid:

“Astonished”
I was astonished the first time I was taken to an NA meeting. I mean, really gobsmacked – you could have knocked me off my seat. The room was full of recovering heroin addicts; something I’d never seen in my 20 years (at that time) in practice.

I was both excited – at the possibilities – and ashamed – at the fact that I didn’t know such places existed. It curls my toes to think of it now, but I had not referred my patients to them. That was a while back.

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Classic Blog – ‘A journey toward recovery: From the inside out’ by Dale Walsh

IMG_2364-220x165My apologies for the pause in uploading blogs, but have been very busy working on our Sharing Culture initiative. More news on that front soon.

‘I read an extraordinary article by Dale Walsh written back in 1996 which really summed up what recovery and recovery principles mean to a person who has been suffering from mental health problems. I thought I would highlight some of the main points here.

The Problem
“For many years I believed in a traditional medical model. I had a disease. I was sick. I was told I was mentally ill, that I should learn to cope with my anxiety, my depression, my pain, and my panic.

I never told anyone about the voices, but they were there, too. I was told I should change my expectations of myself and realize I would always have to live a very restricted life.

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Elyn Saks: A tale of mental illness — from the inside

“Is it okay if I totally trash your office?” It’s a question Elyn Saks once asked her doctor, and it wasn’t a joke.

A legal scholar, in 2007 Saks came forward with her own story of schizophrenia, controlled by drugs and therapy but ever-present. In this powerful talk, she asks us to see people with mental illness clearly, honestly and compassionately.