psychotherapy and recovery

12-step programs have long supplied a social structure with useful guidelines and the collective wisdom of men and women who have struggled to be free of chemical dependency and other addictive behaviors.  They have helped people cope with the crippling effects of being in a marriage or family that is overwhelmed by the effects of addiction and have battled the isolation that often accompanies such problems.

For many years the recovery and psychotherapy communities were suspicious of each other, even hostile.  They saw each other as rivals rather than collaborators who brought complementary skills and viewpoints to a common problem. For one thing, psychotherapy rarely is effective with people who are currently using. It's main benefit is in helping people who are in recovery to examine emotional and relational issues that have been pushed aside by the addiction.

Psychotherapy usually takes place once a week in individual sessions.  It is no substitute for the support someone in recovery needs whether they get it from a 12-step program or their own network of friends and family.  But addiction comes with another set of problems.  People who have been married to alcohol or drugs have often missed some important aspects of developing into adulthood.  They may be quite capable in their jobs and responsible citizens but they have not had the chance to catch up emotionally.

Most of us come from less than ideal families that have shaped us in ways we have only begun to understand but which have influenced us profoundly.  Our parents were often wrapped up in troubles of their own.  Sometimes they took it out on us.  Sometimes they ignored us.  Sometimes they fled.  Sometimes their attention and care was erratic.  One minute we could count on them; the next we couldn't.  Under such conditions we did not grow up with a sense that we could depend on the people who were closest to us and whom we needed to trust the most.  We may have developed a hard shell--"I don't need anyone."  Or become a chameleon--"Let me belong.  I'm not a threat.  I'm just like you."Some of our strengths may have grown out of those adaptations.  Did I do well at school because it was a sanctuary from a chaotic home?  Did I learn to work hard so that I could be independent?  Did I strive to perfection because I felt tainted by the embarrassing flaws in my family and feared that I would find them in myself?The face you learned to present to the world may hide an inner world of pain and confusion.  And dealing with that world was put on hold by the addiction that consumed life.  Now, in recovery, you have a chance to heal, to confront that pain and become whole again, to reconnect with that creative, spontaneous, loving self who felt full of life.  We cannot recapture a carefree youth (perhaps one that never truly existed) but we can come to feel comfortable in our own skin, know ourselves without judgment, and learn to create relationships that are honest, authentic, open and satisfying.  

Richard Bloom, mft, is a psychotherapist with over 40 years experience helping individuals and couples. He has offices in Santa Rosa and Berkeley.

For more information or to schedule an appointment call 707-665-0846.

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Richard Bloom MFT 09312