The field of addiction treatment was flawed in 1973, but not nearly as flawed as some would have you believe.
The following is from Marty Mann in 1973 and I could not do a better job of summarizing Dawn Farm’s approach.
Para-professionals working in the field of alcoholism are overwhelmingly recovered alcoholics. Most of them credit their recovery to AA, some to the facility where they are currently working, an increasing number to a combination of both, and a few to still other forms of therapy. One thing they all share is their attitude toward sick alcoholics, whether those alcoholics are in treatment, approaching treatment, or in and out of treatment with their motivation barely showing. Their attitude even encompasses all those sick alcoholics out there, who have not yet appeared anywhere at all seeking help, some of whom are known to the recovered alcoholics, but who cannot yet be reached. What is this attitude that I call the key to successful treatment? First, it’ is accepting of the other person just as he is, for exactly what he is. Second, it accords him the dignity of his humanity quite apart from his illness which may have buried that humanity deep out of sight. He is regarded as a person, in great trouble to be sure, but not a non-person for all that. Third, it offers him understanding and, as a result of that, compassion, or as many recovered alcoholics flatly put it, love. Finally, and perhaps most important of all, it exhibits faith, a belief that he too, this alcoholic whoever he may be, can and will recover.
There is nothing about this crucial attitude that need be, or is in fact, confined to recovered alcoholics. It is the attitude of many professionals both in and out of this field; it lies within the power of any human being, professional or otherwise, to achieve. But it has been sadly apparent for many years that far too many non-alcoholic professionals!, and other people surrounding the alcoholic, do not have this attitude. They have instead a composite of opposites to the points enumerated above. They are condemning, and therefore often hostile. They are quick to blame the alcoholic for his condition and to see the horrors of the condition as the man. They unwittingly treat him as less ·than human because he is not as they are. They are contemptuous of his weakness, his failure to stand up to life. They are sometimes punitive, believing that what he really needs is to be taught a lesson. They do not understand him and so they do not really like him. And he knows it.
It has been said that alcoholics are like children and dogs; they do not hear what you say, they feel what you feel. Their nerve ends are as if extended out from the body; probing, feeling, responding, often unconsciously seeking the rejection they have become accustomed to getting, testing the counselor.
3 thoughts on “Love and faith”
Thanks for this reminder Jason. Mel Schulstad, one of the early pioneers of modern addiction counseling and who passed on last year at the age of 94, once shared with me that his greatest regret in the professionalization of addiction counseling was removal of the word love from our professional vocabulary and our awareness of its role in addiction recovery.
Thanks Bill! That’s great. I’d live to see more on this heart and soul of addiction counseling.
Thanks Bill. Yes you can’t wrangle or manage compassion. Scary in hindsight how prescient Mel was.
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