The following is an excerpt from The Clearing.
Why do I keep feeling this way? Why can’t I get over it already? Why can’t I make the changes stick? I’m worried that I’ll start using … again.
If you’ve ever had these thoughts flash across your mind, then you’re familiar with the struggle to sustain positive behavioral change through addiction recovery. You may believe that you need more willpower or personal strength to stay clean and sober.
But what if the problem isn’t your personal determination at all? What if your prior efforts to heal didn’t work because you only learned a handful of coping skills for addiction when what you really needed was therapy to discuss the underlying issues driving your behavior?
This article will clarify the difference between therapy and coping skills, discuss their roles in traditional addiction recovery programs, and explore how a more integrative approach can promote lasting recovery.
What are Coping Skills for Addiction?
Coping skills for addiction are the techniques we use to handle life’s challenges and navigate difficult situations.
Though the term tends to have a negative connotation, the reality is that coping skills – or broadly speaking, behavior change skills – are a necessary part of life.
For example, if you’re trying to stop drinking, it makes sense to avoid your favorite pub by taking a different route home from work!
This is a positive coping strategy.
There are many good mental health and behavioral change strategies, including:
• Relaxation, and
That said, problems arise when people have a disability addiction take a solely coping-skills-based approach to more complex problems. In colloquial terms, they put a Band-Aid on a bullet hole and say, “All fixed!”
For example, people often use negative coping skills in times of extreme stress. They may use drugs and alcohol, or self-harm, or work to exhaustion.
These negative coping skills represent attempts to manage pain without addressing the real cause of the suffering.
What is Addiction Therapy?
Addiction therapy involves sessions with a trained therapist who treats mental and emotional health issues. There are many treatment modalities, (approaches) and no one modality resolves every addiction issue.
Different modalities work best for different issues, be they physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. There’s no one magic bullet approach that fixes everything; on the contrary, the most effective treatment integrates several approaches in a holistic, personalized way.
12-Step Programs and Approach to Recovery
At present, most addiction rehab programs use a 12 Steps approach. However, since therapy is not part of the 12 Steps tradition, many people don’t receive the individualized treatment they need for addiction recovery.
To be sure, Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 Step groups have created a culture of steps, rituals, slogans, meetings, and sponsorship that do help some people to replace their dysfunctional habits with positive ones. Many people have attained sobriety and sanity this way. Those who can make it work have become beacons of light for their peers.
However, many other people struggle with this approach. They go to 12 Step programs because they are accessible, familiar, and popular.
Yet many report that they don’t feel heard and that the moralizing lectures and repetitive meetings aren’t helpful.
Addiction Therapy: The Missing Piece in Residential Rehab
The 12 Steps were developed as a grassroots program, and in this capacity they’ve helped millions of people find community and sobriety. However, 12 Step programs were never intended to be an alternative to addiction therapy.
As such, the amount of counseling that participants receive in 12 Step-based residential rehab varies tremendously. While some 12 Step-based rehab centers do give significant time in therapy, many others do not. Instead, they rely on daily 12 Step meetings led by laypeople.
For some, this is enough to effect change. Yet others are left feeling as though they’ve failed because they weren’t able to “work the program.” But what if the real problem was that the program didn’t provide support for their mental health issues?
Even the 12 Step programs that do offer a professional addiction counseling tend to rely on behavior change and coping skills alone. However, this is an incomplete approach because it doesn’t address the core mental and emotional issues present.
12 Step Programs and Professional Therapy, as well as private work with an Addiction Recovery Coach (not the same as a sponsor) are all beneficial solutions to staying in recovery. Explore a multi-faceted approach for your life.