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The Significance of Personal Relationships in Addiction Treatment

By Janet Blackburn, Clinical Director

Much has been written on the significance of personal relationships in evaluating quality of life. The same can be applied to measuring the quality of treatment of alcoholism and other drug addictions. So much of why treatment works involves relationship. Isolated sobriety tends to be either short lived – or very unsatisfying. One of the gifts of coming to treatment is interruption of the isolation of addiction. To finally find a place where the truth can be told and people understand is a tremendous relief. We ask our patients when they leave, “What defining moment or event helped you feel like you were part of the community?” The vast majority of the responses reflect a personal encounter, sometimes with staff, sometimes with other patients and sometimes with God as they understand him.

If healing takes place in the context of relationship, choosing the right counselor for each patient is a task not to be taken lightly – and actually one of my favorite things to do. While patients present with similar problems, no two patients are alike. The counselors have similar training, but no two counselors are alike. I need to know the staff well enough to match their personalities, training and unique skills with the personalities and needs of the patients. The ability to form a professional relationship on a personal level over a time-sensitive period is an art. Our professional counselors are here for the patients. That is the professional design of the relationship. And the counselors are all people – living, breathing, feeling, caring people. This is what makes the relationship personal.

The goal is for patients to have a genuine, positive experience with therapy so that when they leave treatment they will be eager to continue to work with a therapist in their home area as needed throughout the course of recovery.

We also want patients to understand the clear difference between working a 12 Step program and participating in therapy. This is why we separate Big Book teaching groups from therapy groups. The fellowships of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Cocaine Anonymous(CA) provide opportunities to connect and be of service – and this is very therapeutic, but it is not therapy. These relationships can be very personal, but they are not designed to take the place of professional help. When patients know the difference they are better equipped to get the most from both aspects of recovery, engage in new healthy relationships, and end the lonely isolation of addiction.