What is addiction?

Underlying addiction is usually an addictive personality: someone who uses substances as a form of ‘self-medication’ to avoid the various kinds of anxiety that are part and parcel of ordinary life. In other words, the addictive behaviour or substance  or behaviour (sex-addiction for example) is actually a suppressant used to keep anxieties and fears at bay, or even prevent them from entering consciousness at all. Once the addictive behaviour or substance has become part of the system of coping with life, the personality and or body adjusts to it. From this point on, however, it then becomes a state of normality to the addict. Once this state of adjustment-to-addiction has taken hold then the person is a bona fide addict.

There are three main elements in the successful treatments of addiction:  1) – detoxification.  2) – behavioural change of habits alongside change of thinking habits (support groups are of particular help in this regard).  3) – a psychotherapeutic exploration into the underlying causes, reasons and development of the addictive behaviour. One particular feature of addiction which needs to be challenged directly is justification. The addict will always have an entire library of self-justifying, but ultimately self-defeating, thoughts that allow him to talk himself into continuing his behaviour. Such self-justifying ‘thought-loops’ that deny the reality of what is actually happening are the first major obstacle to over-coming addiction.

All these three strands of tackling addiction are necessary for successful outcomes. Underneath addiction there is often a story of emotional damage, neglect, and abuse of one kind or another. The underlying but often unconscious features of addiction must be brought to the surface and dealt with if relapse is not to occur. Psychotherapists often work alongside other specialists in order to treat this problem. Perhaps the major obstacle to all treatments for addiction is the commitment, or lack of it. In psychotherapy, this resistance to getting better noted by a real lack of commitment is often the first thing to be tackled.

What is Stress?

Stress is one of the most powerful causative factors in both physical a psychological ailments. Tension in the body creates tension in the mind and vice versa.

To alleviate stress it is important that a program of relaxation is adopted alongside an exploration of the mental-emotional patterns that perpetuate the stress condition. The steps towards this are as follows: 1) - become aware of how you place yourself under stress (psychologically and physically); 2) – learn methods to help remember your stress-inducers. 3) – consciously utilise measures to relieve stress: exercises using mindfulness, systematic relaxation techniques, systemic stress reduction, bio-feedback, meditation, massage and ‘focused breath’ methods are all useful. Awareness of stress, however is the most important first step.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural feeling-reaction to fear. Fear, however, can be based both on a realistic appraisal of a situation or an unrealistic, irrational one. Chemically, anxiety is simply a release of excess adrenalin which causes the nervous system to become ‘on alert’ (in anticipation of something happening – good or bad). This alert state, however, stirs the mind into action and creates a kind of mental story that tells us why we are afraid. It is these stories that we tell ourselves that perpetuate the problem of anxiety. When left unchecked these continual fearful thoughts can lead to obsessive thinking, or in extreme cases to panic attacks. Worry is simply the milder form of anxiety.

Many people who suffer anxiety do not actual realise they do.  Some people may have lived with it for so many years that it is simply a way of life to them – not realising that they do not have to continue this way. And when this is the case, anxiety has often become attached to other psychological problems such a depression (depressive anxiety), social isolation, stress, sexuality (performance anxiety), a lack of success in life, etc. In these cases it is vital for optimum psychological and physical health to become aware of the role anxiety plays, and this where psychotherapy can be of so much help.

Fear is necessary for survival. We need anxiety in order to provoke us into taking appropriate and necessary action that assures us a security. It is only when the pitch of anxiety reaches critical levels or when it has become simply a part of the personality where constant stress and worry become over-whelming that psychotherapy is called for. Common worries: weight; body-image; illness; money; relationships; fears about what others think. In order to address anxiety, psychotherapy not only helps to uncover the deeper fear underlying it but also encourages clients to learn to take back control of the mind by self-soothing and various other techniques that help to re-establish rationality.

What is the difference between counselling and psychotherapy?

Counselling is a process of interaction and exchange between client and therapist with the aim of helping the client explore the nature of their concern and sort out what can be done about it. It is usually a short to medium term process to help find a way to resolve specific problems. It may involve giving advice or information, or the working through of immediate conflicts, but essentially it provides therapeutic support through times of stress and disruption.

Psychotherapy is also a process of interaction and exchange but uses the therapeutic situation to go deeper into the background of the personality exploring the emotional-mental patterns underlying present concerns or troubles. Psychotherapists often work with clients for longer periods of time on deep psychological problems with the aim of fundamental change within the personality.


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