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The Role of Therapists in Reducing Stigma of Addiction

The Role of Therapists in Reducing Stigma of Addiction

Although there have been some changes recently in how people with past addiction issues are seen by others, the process to change stigma has still been slow. Shame is the name of the game, unfortunately, but it does not have to continue that path. Therapists can play a key role in reducing the stigma of addiction for their clients and others.

Treating Addiction

The role of a therapist is to treat a chronic condition with a series of episodic interventions (acute care) except the symptoms of the disease become active and bring feelings of shame (failure) to the surface. Sometimes clients are left feeling like their only measure of success is total abstinence and sobriety, while ‘relapse,’ brings shame when it occurs and the client has to essentially ‘start over from square one.’ Maybe it is not just the client and others who have to change their perception of treating addiction, but counselors and therapists themselves.

Take the Long View

Chronic diseases take lifetime monitoring and support. Symptoms may become active at any point in life and shame should not be attached to a recurrence. People with hypertension or other lifelong afflictions do not feel ashamed when they flare up. Relapse, a term used to describe people who use drugs or alcohol in recovery, is shrouded in shame by so many in the addiction and recovery community.  The language itself is linked to a mindset that suggests the person who relapsed is of low moral character and weak. Another way to take the longer view outside of shifting language is to recognize that treatment is like a band-aid for a long term sickness. Generally, people enter rehab for a month or two, maybe longer. The only measure of success post-rehab is to consider lifelong abstinence. When symptoms reoccur, the process starts all over again, only to pile more shame upon shame and this perpetuates a feeling of failure for clients, addiction specialists, family, and friends.

Messaging Matters

The way a message is presented matters. If counselors and therapists want to support clients in reducing the stigma of addiction, it requires moving away from the culture that shaped how addiction is seen in the community. Changes may not seem difficult but changing how people are shaped takes time, effort, and patience. Stigma and shame keep people from coming to treatment, and also keep them from coming back if needed. A better question to ask might be ‘are therapists and counselors willing to change,’ as well as does the therapeutic community have the courage to change what is not working to try something new that might just help people feel more supported in recovery.

Serenity believes part of the power of addiction treatment lies in professional treatment staff who understand addiction. Part of the process is coming to the table together and working on a plan that will support the journey forward with the client. Find out more about our programs and services designed to support clients with addiction at our toll-free number: 866-294-9401