Have you received counseling or therapy to address addiction and still struggle? If so, you are not alone. When I consult with clients who have done lots of treatment, one of the first questions I always ask is:
How much was talk therapy?
This often leads to the deer-in-the-headlights look, because many believe there is no other kind of therapy. But they would be wrong, and I want you to understand why I believe healing addiction requires going beyond talk therapy.
Talk therapy is just that, it’s all about talking about your issues. I for one like this kind of therapy very much because it allows me to stay in my head where I am most comfortable.
I can talk and talk about all sorts of things, even painful topics, just so long as my therapist doesn’t slow me down to feel in my body what is happening when I talk about things. That’s when therapy becomes hard work, because feeling my feelings and emotions has never been easy! And I suspect it’s not so easy for you as well.
Why are feelings and emotions so challenging for those who struggle with addiction?
Over 80% of those who go down the path of addiction do so prior to the age of 15. One reason is that adverse childhood experiences are emotionally painful, and engaging in addictive behavior is a great antidote to disconnecting from the body and not having to feel the emotional pain from these early traumas. Used in this way, addiction is a naturally adaptive response to experiences that children should not have to endure, but many do.
The problem is that addiction can’t differentiate overwhelming emotions from all the others that are useful in life. So over time, while addiction works well to keep your emotions at bay, you inadvertently cheat yourself of the emotional, developmental experiences necessary for learning how be in healthy, intimate relationships. Why? Because emotional intelligence is at the heart of love, parenting, passionate work, and leading a good life.
Now can you see where I am going with the need for going beyond talk therapy?
If you are to overcome addiction you must learn how to become comfortable in your body and feel your feelings. This is an incredibly scary notion if for years you have lived in your head and fear being overwhelmed by your feelings. But there are therapies that can gradually help you enter your body and experience feelings without getting overwhelmed.
Many have been developed to help people heal from trauma, but they also are used to close the developmental gap between ones emotional and chronological age (see The Growth of the Mind for more on this topic).
What are these body-based feeling therapies exactly?
There are many and they go by various names. Here are a few that can help you get a feel for what I am talking about:
- Emotion-focused therapy and a video by Les Greenberg
- Process work
- Somatic Experiencing and Peter Levine‘s video on the Somatic Experiencing Approach
- Gestalt Therapy
While there are many other approaches, the point of this entire post is to encourage you to seek out therapy from someone who can help you work with feelings and emotions in your body, if you have not done this already.
Finding a therapist to do this may sound easy, but my experience is that it may take some work on your part. Why? Because finding a therapist that really knows how to work with emotion and the body requires finding someone who has done this work themselves! And many therapists – although well intentioned – often go into the field because it’s easier to treat others than work on their own issues. This may sound harsh, but after teaching graduate school for over six years I know this to be the case.
I even wrote a brief paper about my own experiences learning how to use the body in helping patients heal from painful emotional wounds. Reading it will give you a clearer picture of what I am talking about.
What is the best way to find a good therapist that can help you work with emotions, and ultimately help you heal from addiction?
1) Study the various approaches above and get a clear idea of what is meant by: working with the body, experiential, somatic, emotion-focused, gestalt, process, etc… Also, beware that there are a number of quick-fix therapeutic approaches like Emotion Freedom Technique that are very different than what I am suggesting here. While these approaches may have some utility for particular issues, learning to developmentally get comfortable with emotion is not something you can do overnight.
2) Read How to Find a Good Therapist and then begin seeking out clinicians in where you live that do this kind of work. Often, seeking out therapists that advertise as trauma specialists is one of the best ways to find someone who knows how to work with emotion.
3) Test the waters by doing a session with your top choice and let them know you want to experience how they work with the body. You will know when you hit gold and find someone that can really help you.
If you want to chat more about this topic, or have me help you locate someone where you live that can help you work with emotions, then sign up for a consult and I would be happy to assist you.
Thanks for the article!
Here you can find a testimonial what FasterEFT (which is totally different from EFT) can do for you:
185 My Life Changed After 40 Years A Drug Addict — Faster EFT
Until today there are even 845 videos from healingmagic on You Tube.
Go and find the ones you resonate with.
Notice how do you know you have a problem.
Close your eyes.
Take a deep breath.
Start tapping and releasing.
Say: “Let it go!”
You’ll find the full recipe on FasterEFT website.
This was a great article to read and I personally can relate to it. I began going to my counselor about two months ago. Session after session I left more upset then I did going into the session. I always thought that counseling was supposed to put you at ease, to show you that life is going to be okay, it will all work out. I’ve talked to several people about the way I feel when I leave the appointment, several people tell me that my counselor may not be the right one for me, but other people love her so why am I not getting what I am wanting to get out of it when other people are.
I went through a terrible break up about two months ago. I was dating and living with the guy for over a year and a half. I thought I was going to marry this guy. We ended up breaking up over emotions, my emotions. He thought I was a jealous girlfriend and I thought it wasn’t okay for another female to be sending “selfies” to him and calling him at three in the morning. Even after the break up though we were still “seeing” each other. This went on for over two months. It was an emotional rollercoaster. One day he randomly met someone else at the bar. This girl after two days of meeting my ex wrote me on facebook saying they were strictly just friends and that she doesn’t want to get involved in whatever we still have going on. Which I later found out they were more than just friends. Two weeks after them meeting each other they were already saying “I love you” this girl was my age, 23. She lived with her ex fiancé and two babies. Even after they were really starting to see each other she would randomly write me on facebook saying how pathetic I was trying to get my ex back.. It honestly became an obsession to try and get him back. Anything and everything I could do to get him back I was trying. I ended up losing twenty pounds in two months, dyed my hair, and wore colored contacts. People didn’t even recognize me. You mentioned that in order to overcome this addiction you must learn to be comfortable in your own body. For one, I don’t know what my addiction really is, other than I feel like I can’t live my life normally without thinking about my ex or ways to get him back. For two, I have been doing everything I’m supposed to do to get over someone, workout, go to yoga classes, be surrounded my friends and family, going to counseling. Nothing seems to work. I’ve tied writing in a journal but I end up just getting mad and scribbling things. I have tried to end contact with him but we all live in such a small town that we just run into each other. My counselor tells me to just ignore him if he texts me, to ignore his new girlfriend if she writes me on facebook. I can’t just ignore them, or at least I can’t as of right now. I ignored him this weekend when he was threatening me and that ended with him showing up at my work and getting escorted out by security. 21 texts later, I still didn’t respond. In conclusion, I don’t really know what direction to go now. I don’t know how to get over this little “hump” in my life. I want to live a good healthy life, I just don’t know how to do that or where to start.
Nancy DeLima says
There is no addiction here to speak of other than possibly behavior. Speaking of our struggles with our 16 year old son. He has been in intense counseling and therapy for over 2 years now. Before that he slowly built up to being out of control, to the point of having to be hospitalized for a week. He doesn’t do drugs, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink (that we know of) but his behavior and anger is out of control sometimes. He is on medication and my husband and I feel it truly isn’t doing any good. After two years of medication and counseling we feel there should be so much more success and change for the better. It doesn’t seem like there has been even half an improvement. We are at wits end, the constant negative behavior, the verbal and physical threats, the total defiance can be unbearable at times. It has come to the point that the legal system is getting involved and that truly hurts my husband and myself. We feel like failure, like we haven’t done enough to help our son have a better life. Yet, we have so many people tell us he has been given all the ‘tools’, suggestions, help, advice and direction he can get. It is up to him to make the change. Recently I have come to the realization that his behavior is like an addiction. No matter how much we try and help him and point him in the right direction, only he can help himself and make the change for the better life he could be having. Are we wrong with this thinking? Is it wrong to think of it in the form of an addiction? The immediate family is the ‘trigger’ and he does very well outside the home and with others, why can he not do so at home? I am going to check out some of your advise above and see if there isn’t something we have been missing. Thank you so much for your blogs and information.
John Fitzgerald says
Nancy, raising kids is challenging work indeed. Unfortunately, your experience is not so uncommon because as a society we tend to believe that counseling and medications are the answer when people struggle. While both of these things can help, it’s the “right” type of counseling and being on the “right” meds at the “right” time that often does not happen. From what you said, if he has not shown marked improvement after two years, then I would suggest the present interventions are not optimized. In fact, you should have a way to measure improvement month-by-month so you know that what you are doing is making a difference. If not, then changing the intervention plan would make sense. I would be careful to call his behavior addiction as a way to put the responsibility on him to change, particularly if the treatment he has received has not worked. Because he is under age, I would be reviewing all intake reports, medical records, counseling sessions, and be talking with all providers to develop an understanding of what his diagnoses are, why improvement has been slow, and how to proceed in a better way. I would also check out the work of Bruce Perry and Stanley Greenspan, both advocates of a developmental approach to acting out behavior like that of your son (search my site for both names as well). Hang in there, and seek counseling for yourself and your marriage if you have not done so already, as dealing with what you have is a trauma as well.
John Fitzgerald says
Perhaps your friends are right and you may need a new counselor. Just because someone works well for one person does not mean they are a good fit for someone else, counseling is very personal. At the same time, just because you leave sessions not feeling better does not necessarily mean counseling is not working. I believe the point of counseling is to push you developmentally beyond where you are today – to become more integrated and alive in the world – in your own skin. That said, relationships are among the most challenging things we do in life. But one thing to ponder, is that our relationships with others usually mirror the relationship we have with ourselves. The answers you seek are not “out there” but inside. If you believe you need someone “out there” to make you whole, then that is a significant clue as to where you need to focus your therapeutic work. Continue doing yoga, don’t give up on writing in a journal, talk with your counselor honestly about how you feel after sessions (and perhaps change therapists), and check out Patrick Carnes book Betrayal Bond. And consider developing a daily mindfulness-based practice. Hope these suggestions keep you moving forward.
A Stinson says
Hi Dr. Fitzgerald,
Recently I’ve been seeing and hearing about “grounding,” as a technique to help people experiencing PTSD. You can use loud music, holding ice, biting into a lemon… or any other sensory experience to stay in the present moment. Do you feel like grounding has a place in emotion-focused therapy for those dealing with addiction?
John Fitzgerald says
Absolutely, it is essential to any kind of therapeutic work, and for life. Grounding keeps us in the present moment, in our bodies, in the now.
In our class “Drug Education” here at Portland State University, I’ve elected to read a book you might also know, called Tweak, by Nic Sheff. After reading your article I have a deeper understanding associate with the emotional development of not only the individual but the inherent lack of emotional maturity when addiction plays a part. I like how you mention that the addiction is a way that “cheats” oneself from truly understanding the kind of maturation process that is needed to deal with certain situations or problems in ones life. This is relevant because the novel is essentially a autobiography of Nic’s decent into human depravity and his experiences with meth. There are several moments in the novel where his emotions break free to the surface when he wasn’t using, and as a result, he became more aware of the pain and hurt he was causing, but it was difficult for him to comprehend. He did not establish this sense of maturity, but rather went on to cheat himself from the reality of his problems. Nic was not comfortable with his body for a time, and could not deal with “feeling” his feelings.
John Fitzgerald says
Well stated, thanks for the comment!