By Cristina Utti MFA, MA
Substance abuse and addiction often stem from troubled interpersonal relationships.
Lacking the proper communication skills and strategies for handling difficult emotions can lead someone to take the “easy way out” by drinking or abusing other substances in order to drown out feelings that they do not know how to handle. Once the substances are used and abused for a period of time, chemical changes in the brain occur, causing dependence and addiction, which then leads to more troubled relationships. In the long run, repressing feelings and thoughts with substances is not the easy way out at all. No one can drink or drug indefinitely. All of those emotions will still be there, and probably compounded, once the substances are gone.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is helpful in addiction treatment because it helps people examine their thoughts, opinions, and reactions.
The word dialectic is defined as: 1) the art of investigating the truth of opinions, 2) the inquiry into contradictions and their solutions. The therapist helps the client look within to understand which thoughts and feelings should be acted upon, where contradictions lie, and helps him/her work toward solutions. “The wise mind acknowledges everything and accepts everything, but it doesn’t act upon everything.” DBT therapists guide clients toward a wise mind.
Those that enroll on DBT therapy may spend time with an individual therapist, in group classes, or a combination of both. Journaling assignments are often given for keeping track of the effectiveness of the new skills learned. Since DBT is targeted for individuals that have poor ability to handle strong emotions, it applies to everyone who struggles with an addiction.
The four areas that are emphasized are:
- Acceptance and validation of behavior as it is in the moment.
- Treatment therapy- mindfulness of interfering behaviors of both the therapist and the client.
- The therapeutic relationship is essential to treatment.
- Dialogue that focuses on reality.
The critical skills learned are:
- Interpersonal skills
- Regulating emotions
- Observance without reaction
- Being non-judgmental
- Focus on what is working
The skills learned in DBT are critical for preventing relapse. Many people struggle with emotional crisis from time to time, and do not know how to communicate well with others. These are the things that addicts use over. When in recovery, if tools are not learned to better handle difficult situations and deep emotions, certain life situations can lead one right back to the old way of coping. Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a good choice for those in addiction recovery who want to heal from past wounds and learn new ways of handling whatever may come along.