Most people assume getting help with addiction or substance abuse always requires the same sequence of events: get off everything first (either through detox or stone cold willpower), and then start the process of recovery. But could this path to addiction treatment be a deterrent for those who might otherwise start to address their issues at a more gradual pace? According to the therapists and patients of San Diego-based Talk Therapy Psychology Center, absolutely.
Substance abuse often involves complex underlying causes and each client requires a unique approach as well as a pace of treatment most appropriate for them. Making a strong, genuine connection with clients and their situation is crucial, as is meeting them exactly where they are, and adjusting therapeutic modalities accordingly. Acquiring tools that will be of use well past formalized therapy or rehab are the results most people are subconsciously seeking. The approach taken by Talk Therapy Psychology Center produces these results and because of that, every day people are regaining control of their lives.
The Gray Area Between Using and Sober
“Some people might realize they have a problem but not be psychologically ready to quit,” says Joe, a 44-year-old sober man living in San Diego, California. Joe received treatment at Talk Therapy Psychology Center, which definitely bucks the abstinence-only tradition. The recurring motto echoed by both staff and clients is “meeting people where they’re at,” even if the “at” is hung over from a drinking slip the night before group. This isn’t to say they condone clients showing up under the influence; they just have full willingness to treat someone who hasn’t found their own full willingness yet. Talk Therapy genuinely individualizes treatment and prides itself on a non-cookie-cutter approach. They recognize that each person has a unique set of challenges, goals and strengths. The truth is that many people are not able to stay sober for long without the right skills and resources, so relapses are quite common. It’s important for the therapist to be there to work with the patient during these moments of relapse, as they can be great learning opportunities.
Joe, who has struggled with alcohol off and on for years, has been through a number of programs, both outpatient and inpatient. He points out, “We’re all very different and respond differently to different techniques, strategies and ideas. That’s why I gravitate to Talk Therapy and their philosophy. It opened things up to explore.” Treatment that’s open to just exploring? That’s certainly a good start.
The Merits of Harm Reduction
In keeping with the goal of meeting people where they’re at, if the incoming client isn’t ready to quit yet, Talk Therapy often instead focuses on harm reduction. Talk Therapy founder and Clinical Director Dr. Seda Gragossian says, “Harm reduction is basically reducing the damage that the using is causing in one’s life…I have clients who are just not ready to abstain. I would like them to abstain but that’s not my choice and you can’t make anybody do anything really.” Instead she tries to help get them closer to realizing that continuously trying to control one’s usage might never be an effective strategy for alleviating the pain it causes in their life. “We give them tools to manage their consumption, reduce risk and reduce damage to different parts of their lives,” she explains. “We let them decide whether that approach is working for them or not. If it isn’t we go back to the drawing board.”
Joe echoes this sentiment. “I’ve only been sober for a month now [but]I was sober for six years at one point then relapsed, so comparatively speaking for me, that’s not a lot of time,” he reflects. “Still, I feel very comfortable in the room because there are also a lot of people there who struggle over the weekend. They’re able to come back on Monday and have the courage to share that they struggled.”
12-Step or No Step
The openness to meet a client exactly where he or she is goes for Talk Therapy’s approach to 12-step too. Yes, the Talk Therapy folks encourage AA/NA/Insert-Your-Drug-of-Choice-Anonymous meetings as a form of finding a community of like-minded people but they definitely don’t consider it the only way.
Dr. Gragossian believes in the power of the 12-step program but readily acknowledges it’s not for everybody. “Clients tell us, ‘I’ve tried 12-step and it’s not for me,'” she says. “I think a lot of people don’t like the idea that they’re powerless. They don’t like hearing that. They want to have choice and feel like they’re in control.”
Another Talk Therapy client, 54-year-old David, has found more success with a holistic approach. “Twelve-step didn’t click with me,” he recalls. “It was my first time in treatment so I figured, ‘Okay, I’ll give it a shot.'” But after about nine months of attending AA meetings, he realized it wasn’t right for him. David has found more success with SMART Recovery and believes it pairs particularly well with Talk Therapy. But he sees Talk Therapy as so much more than a place that facilitates peer support. He says, “They’re open to making anybody familiar with support groups available but their practice is medical practice. It’s not peer support; it’s medical professional support.”
Healing Through Personalized Care
Getting to the root of what causes substance abuse, rather than just treating the behavior, is also a key component of Talk Therapy’s program. And sometimes reaching the underlying cause is a matter of showing genuine concern for the client’s well-being. That’s something Dr. Gragossian and Talk Therapy’s other primary therapist, Jania Amir-Razavi, offer in spades. Mississippi resident and former client, Cal, 55, says, “When you see somebody that really cares, you’re going to open up much more. I finally opened up on one thing in particular that I’d been holding in for 32 years; the weight off getting that off was huge.”
Joe, too, has thrived as a result of the personal approach. He says, “Pretty much every day I get a phone call and a text from either one or both of the therapists and it’s not, ‘We’re checking up on you, staying out of trouble.’ It’s really a heartfelt, compassionate and sincere touching base. If we do connect on the phone, we’re kind of touching base on a specific objective or specific goal that we’ve set but it’s very personalized.”
Ditto from Dave. “They’re really great folks, both Seda and Jania,” he says. “They really do tailor the treatment to the individual rather than applying something like, ‘Oh here are the 12 steps.’ They get personal with their clients, which I think is a good thing.”
Talk Therapy is also a welcome reprieve for someone who might not necessarily ever need or want to identify as an alcoholic or addict. One of its strengths is appealing to a broader range of “everyday” people who are still impacted by substance abuse. It’s a “treatment” environment for those who might be temporarily abusing substances as a result of their current circumstances. “We are seeing a trend: a rise in anxiety in the general population—even people who haven’t had an addiction issue,” Dr. Gragossian observes. As she sees it, when consumption goes from enjoying to needing, there’s cause for concern. “If you’re coming home and you’re stressed out and you’re having two or three drinks to calm your nerves, to me, it’s already a sign that you’re abusing alcohol,” she says.
Talk Therapy is also about redefining recovery—a term that’s most commonly associated with sobriety and 12-step programs. “To me, recovery is when you have put your life back together and made it a life that’s worth living—a full life,” Dr. Gragossian says. “You’re addressing different areas: your career, your family and your health.” She adds, “If you create that life, you don’t really need to use alcohol to numb yourself because you have a life that you enjoy.”
It’s also important to recognize that people have ups and downs. It’s not only important to re-establish a healthy life, it’s also critical to arm the individual with the tools and resources they need to handle difficult times in non-destructive ways.
Since returning home from treatment, Cal is regularly applying techniques he learned in treatment in his everyday life. “In a couple situations I’ve had since I’ve been back, through that training and what I learned and practiced while I was there, I’ve been able to apply and it’s been awesome,” he reports. Joe has had a similar experience. He says, “The thing I really like about Talk Therapy is that basically every day is an opportunity to leave the room and go out into the world and practice what we are learning in the rooms. And I think that’s super powerful.”
Want to learn more about Talk Therapy Psychology Center? Reach Talk Therapy Psychology Center by phone at (858) 205-2490 or by email. Find Talk Therapy Psychology Center on Facebook, Twitter and Google+
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