Working with Addictions using Process-Oriented Psychology
We are a society where almost all individuals search for the altered states that substances and addictive behaviours can create. Many problems arise as these addictions or addictive tendencies get out of control and dominate - and sometimes ruin - people's lives.
There is often a sense of hopelessness as we try to help individuals who are stuck in an addictive cycle and who may risk relationship breakdown, financial ruin or even serious illness or death as a result. In response to this, as a society we have developed many models and techniques to help people overcome these often life-threatening problems. Some of these include the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, Motivational Interviewing and the medical model where individuals are given pharmaceutical aids such as methadone to help them come off heroin. These can be very effective, especially considering how difficult it is for individuals, their family members and helpers. For instance, the community support of A.A. meetings and the buddy system has been a lifeline for many, a structure and support which has helped people keep on track with their motivation.
However, the deepest need which underlies the addiction may not be addressed. The process-oriented approach recognises the destructive power of the addiction and that this power can contain an energy or information that is meaningful; a dream door which, when opened and unfolded, could lead to a deep enhancement of a person's life.
There are several ways that addictive processes are unfolded and made understandable to an individual. One such technique is known as re-accessing. This is where the altered state that the person is trying to enter with their substance or addictive behavior is entered more deeply without the actual use of the substance or behavior. Because there are usually personal and collective inhibitions to that state, an individual becomes addicted trying again and again to find that deep sense of home, personal power or transcendent peace.
Everybody's experience is different and unique, despite there being some common patterns. However, it is usually very relieving for people to discover the meaningfulness behind their seemingly random and unconscious behavior; that their addiction is not simply an illness or transgression, but something remarkable and precious leading them to live their lives more fully.
Using a non-pathologising process-oriented approach, it is possible to help people find that deep sense of connection, and the self-understanding and awareness to discover their own unique way to heal themselves and their addictive tendencies, and to experience their longings and altered states in a way which do not damage health or well-being.
Any addiction or addictive tendency can be worked with in this way. As well as substance addictions, it has been shown to work well with eating disorders and behavior addictions such as gambling and sex and relationship addictions.
Although re-accessing can help a person understand the impulse behind an addiction, and also provide a way to ground that experience, sometimes one technique is not enough to help someone to go the full way to kicking a habit and staying “clean”. A process-oriented approach recognises the very real problems of social marginalisation and isolation, which can result in an individual's inability to deal with strong emotion, a sense of powerlessness, anxiety or depression. Process Work therefore helps people to go beyond their usual limited identifications as being unable to cope without their addictions and helps them find new ways to view themselves.
Very often this change of identification can be difficult for a person to achieve and maintain. Long-held beliefs unconsciously structure these limited identifications e.g. “I cannot be a powerful woman as it isn't feminine and people won't like me” or “if I relax, nothing will get done”.
Therefore, it is necessary not only to address and process these social issues and beliefs in the sessions, but also to offer other ways to support an individual. This could include helping clients to find resources in themselves such as discipline, strength and determination, and to find inner wise figures to model new patterns and to act as inner allies. Helping someone to find a creative project to channel the energy released by giving up an addiction is another way to support someone to stay “clean” and find meaning and purpose to life.
Everything depends upon an individual's unique needs and dreams. For example, the first step of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous - “I am powerless against...(the substance/behavior)” - can help those people whose processes fit with the idea of surrender and acceptance but could be harmful to others for whom a sense of powerlessness in the world is part of the problem. Alcoholics' Anonymous as a supportive community can be invaluable for one person but not another. A process-oriented approach encourages individuals to find constructive help where they can, acknowledging the difficulty and pain of being trapped in an addictive cycle.
Re-accessing is a powerful tool with which to help a client discover the deeper meaning in their addictive processes, a meaning which can release a person from the shame and hopelessness of their addiction. So together with this simple but effective tool, Process Work offers a non-judgmental and loving atmosphere within which to explore addictions, the flexibility to use other approaches and the basic understanding and awareness that there is meaning in all experience.
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