How Person-Centered Therapy Provides a Safe Space to Explore Addiction
By Jana Albright, MA, CATC-IV
Primary Therapist, Promises Malibu
Whether a person makes the choice to enter addiction treatment on their own, or the choice has been made for them by loved ones or an employer, the experience can be transformative with the guidance of a trained therapist. There are many therapeutic modalities used in the treatment of addiction. Addiction treatment therapy is not a “one size fits all” process. I have found, however, that within the framework of a person-centered therapy approach clients are given the opportunity to explore the underpinnings of their addiction in a supportive, non-judgmental environment.
What Is Person-Centered Therapy?
The theory of person-centered therapy, or client-centered therapy, was developed by Carl Rogers, PhD, in the 1940s and 1950s as an alternative to psychoanalytic and behavioral approaches. It is based on the humanistic philosophy that every human being has the capacity to reach their full, authentic potential if the right climate exists. Value is placed on human dignity and accepting and respecting an individual’s truth. Clients are empowered to become their authentic selves through the experience of the therapeutic relationship, which facilitates self-healing. The therapist’s role is to provide unconditional positive regard for the client’s life experience, empathy and, most importantly, non-judgment.
The overall goal in a person-centered approach is to create a safe climate for the client’s self-exploration to find meaning in life that is important that individual — a purpose or meaning they may have denied or lost during their active addiction. This approach is about helping the client to become more self-directed and to live by internal, authentic standards rather than external cues of who or what he/she “should” be. Finding meaning, purpose and value is a critical component of a healthy life and long-term sobriety.
Preparing for the Change of Recovery
I employ the technique of Motivational Interviewing as the vehicle when facilitating the client’s exploration of why they use, whether they want to stop using and what changes they may or may not be willing to make in order to live a life free from addiction. Motivational Interviewing is an evidence-based approach that addresses the ambivalence surrounding change.
Asking, mandating or requiring someone struggling with addiction to give up their drug of choice often feels like they are being asked to cut off a limb. Using has served a purpose. It has self-medicated pain and although there are often severe negative consequences surrounding the addictive behavior and lifestyle, making a change and saying goodbye to a substance or process addiction (compulsive behaviors such as gambling, sexual acting out or overspending) is a scary thought for many. To help with this process, I have found it effective to assign clients a few specific tasks, such as:
- Preparing a cost/benefit analysis
- Drawing a timeline illustrating patterns of use and charting those patterns against pivotal life events to gain insight into how they influence one another, and
- Writing a goodbye letter to the client’s drug of choice/process addiction
These assignments are processed in individual therapy sessions and used as a tool for gaining awareness and insight into what behaviors a client might be willing to change in order to live a healthier and more fulfilling life of recovery.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Residential addiction treatment is just the beginning of the process of change and recovery. In order to effect lasting change, I collaborate with clients to develop an individual, holistic aftercare program that includes both the clinical component and the social/sober support component to build on the foundation of their residential treatment experience. The continuum of care is vitally important to sustaining a life in recovery.