Is there an “Addictive Personality”…?

Among counseling students and faculty, there is a fun exercise that consists of naming the diagnostic categories for the characters from “Winnie-the-Pooh.”

Tigger has ADHD, Eeyore has dysthymic disorder, and Piglet has generalized anxiety disorder. But Winnie-the-Pooh himself seems to have all the hallmarks of an addictive personality. He just needs a “little something” (or, in the original books, “A little smackerel of something,” which is even more of a drug-like reference) in order to make him feel; better. And his nightmares are of creatures who steal his honey, that is, cut off his supply of his drug of choice. Continue Reading Is there an “Addictive Personality”…?

Encouragement, Pain, and Survival

In May, I presented at the North American Society of Adlerian Psychology’s annual conference in Minnesota, along with colleagues from Adler University’s Chicago Campus. Our panel discussion was on encouragement, and we spoke about the different ways we have experienced encouragement in our lives and tried to pass it along to others.

In my discussion, I used the metaphor of a “big switch” that I consciously imagined as a way to “switch off” self-doubt. I credited my teachers and mentors (including the late Dr. Bina Rosenberg, who was my personal therapist as well as a beloved colleague and a noted Adlerian who worked with Rudolf Dreikurs) with providing the encouragement that I had needed to overcome self-doubt.

An audience member remarked at the end of our panel discussion that the “big self-doubt switch” was an appealing metaphor that she planned to keep in mind as she goes about her work as a therapist. I joked that I pictured it as one of those big, steampunk-looking knife switches like you would see in Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, and pantomimed throwing that kind of switch.

Also in the audience was Debbie Joffe Ellis, a notable psychotherapist whose late husband was Dr. Albert Ellis, the originator of Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy. I hoped that she had taken something from our discussion, as well, and felt a bit special to have her as an attendee for our little presentation.

Today I saw that Debbie had posted a blog entry on the Psychology Today blog, with the title, “Reducing the Pain: Focusing on What Is Good, Including and Despite Tragic Events.” In it, she described three events that had shaken her significantly – witnessing the aftermath of a plane crashing into the Hudson River on May 27, receiving an abusive e-mail message from someone over a business matter, and spending the holiday weekend alone while thinking of those who have passed away. In each case, she emphasized the choice that she had – whether to feel crushed and beaten down, or to remind herself of what she does have and appreciate those things. On the holiday weekend, that included the friends she has to whom she could reach out.

That last part resonated with me, because I had used the trip to Minneapolis to visit a dear friend and his wife, whom I had not seen in many years. Although we had many valid reasons for not seeing each other, I realized that a big one I had never acknowledged was that same self-doubt. Maybe he would think I wasn’t as good a friend as I’d thought. Maybe our lives had been split for too long. Maybe … Well, may be it was just more of that self-doubt. Rudolf Dreikurs always spoke of “the courage to be imperfect.” So maybe I needed the courage to say I still wanted to reconnect and feel close to my friend (and his wife, whom I’d never met). Even though I’d done a much less than perfect job of keeping up the friendship.

So overall, I hope that my thoughts at the conference, and Debbie Ellis’s thoughts afterward, share a common thread. We need to make the choice to accept the events in life in positive ways. We need to be conscious of our strengths and positives, and we need to choose to focus on those -rather than on the frightening, discouraging, or disappointing things that happen.It’s advice I’ve always tried to give others, but as Debbie and the other audience members helped me see, we all need to make the choice to do the same thing ourselves in our daily lives.

Dear Politicians: Counselors Serve All Who Seek Their Services

The American Counseling Association has published a Code of Ethics for years, and it was recently updated in 2014 (

On the subject of providing services to clients, and when it is ethical to terminate with a client, the Code has been clear that the rights and needs of the client, not the values or attitudes of the counselor, must be paramount. The only situation in which it is ethically appropriate to terminate services, or decline to provide services to a client, is when the counselor does not have the necessary experience or training to address the client’s situation or issue. The Code states:

A.11.b. Values Within Termination and Referral

Counselors refrain from referring prospective and current clients based solely on the counselor’s personally held values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Counselors respect the diversity of clients and seek training in areas in which they are at risk of imposing their values onto clients, especially when the counselor’s values are inconsistent with the client’s goals or are discriminatory in nature.Continue Reading Dear Politicians: Counselors Serve All Who Seek Their Services

Holiday Lapses

For people who’ve made positive changes in their lives, holidays can be slippery spots. Individuals who have quit drinking, smoking, or using drugs, people recovering from compulsive gambling or overeating, and people who have been substituting healthier behaviors for unhealthy ones, may be at increased risk of lapses or relapses when holidays approach. Celebrations, added stresses, nostalgia, and disruptions in routine can all increase the likelihood of slips and returning to previous harmful or addictive behaviors.

Continue Reading Holiday Lapses

Mindfulness Basics

Mindfulness has become a hot topic in mental health and addictions treatment in recent years. Mindfulness techniques, including mindfulness meditation, have become standard items in the cognitive-behavioral therapy toolkit. This makes sense if you understand that many symptoms (including anxiety, depression, and cravings or urges to drink or use substances) represent experiences or expectations of psychological pain and distress that we instinctively try to avoid.Continue Reading Mindfulness Basics

A Tough Uncle: On “Being Losers”

In the latest example of what are becoming all-too-frequent acts of unspeakable horror, homemade bombs killed three people and seriously wounded dozens more at the beloved Boston Marathon this week. The act itself seems to fit the definition of terrorism perfectly: an indiscriminate strike at ordinary, innocent people in a moment of national celebration, forever tainting the memory of the event, and forever changing the lives of thousands or millions of people who had to witness it, even apart from those directly impacted.

Now that (as of the moment) one of the suspected bombers has been killed, and another is still at large, the media have seized upon any story they can find. In doing so, they spoke to the uncle of the suspected bombers, who gave the reporters his unvarnished opinion about the crime (this from an Associated Press story):

Asked what he thought provoked the bombings, Tsarni said: “Being losers, hatred to those who were able to settle themselves. These are the only reasons I can imagine of. Anything else, anything else to do with religion, with Islam, it’s a fraud, it’s a fake.”

Continue Reading A Tough Uncle: On “Being Losers”

Advances in Addiction Treatment – 2012

I recently attended a training workshop presented by Gateway Foundation at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. The presenter, David Mee-Lee, M.D., was one of the editors of the criteria used by substance abuse counselors to guide placement into treatment. His “take-away” message was that treatment professionals need to become experts at meeting clients “where they are”… Aligning their treatment plan with the actual goals that motivate the client, rather than focusing on getting the client to accept the counselor’s idea of what is needed. This can be a little bit controversial, because the nature of addiction makes it hard for people to see their own situation clearly, even when they know they need to do something about the problems that alcohol or drugs are causing in their lives. Counselors have become used to having to work hard to break through layers of “denial,” as it’s popularly viewed.

Most people think of “rehab” when they hear of someone whose substance use has gotten out of control and is causing problems in their life. We hear of celebrities “going into rehab” – sometimes over and over again. The model program for this was a 28-day residential treatment setting, such as the type of residential treatment used at Hazelden and the Betty Ford Center. These programs evolved over the past 40 to 50 years, and are characterized by being rooted in the 12-step traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Continue Reading Advances in Addiction Treatment – 2012