Alcohol, Drugs and Suffering Part 1.

Institute of counselling

Hello Everyone,

I would like to introduce you to the first of two parts of Terry Callahan’s article ALCOHOL, DRUGS AND SUFFERING. published in the Institute of Counselling’s journal ‘The Living Document’. The article is from the Autumn 2010 edition.

ALCOHOL, DRUGS AND SUFFERING

The following article introduces readers to some popular concepts in Narrative Therapy.

Introduction

As a counsellor new to the field of alcohol and other drugs, I have been struck by the appearance of pain and suffering in the stories of almost all those who consult me. Often the appearance of pain and suffering coincided with that of alcohol and/or other drugs in the life of the person. In fact, in many instances the person’s story of their relationship with alcohol/drugs is almost inextricable from their story of pain and suffering.

This paper is a brief report on a project in which I attempted to witness to the stories of suffering and alcohol use by Mary (not her real name), who has been in conversation with me for nearly eight months.

I found myself constantly running into brick walls as I tried to think my way through this work. I am now familiar with at least one of those brick walls, and it is what I call the Theory Wall.

I quickly discovered that Alcohol and Other Drugs counselling is a minefield of competing theories, especially when it comes to the relationship between drug use and pain.

This paper is a brief report on a project in which I attempted to witness to the stories of suffering and alcohol use by Mary (not her real name), who has been in conversation with me for nearly eight months.

I found myself constantly running into brick walls as I tried to think my way through this work. I am now familiar with at least one of those brick walls, and it is what I call the Theory Wall.

I quickly discovered that Alcohol and Other Drugs counselling is a minefield of competing theories, especially when it comes to the relationship between drug use and pain.

I started hearing phrases like ‘self-medication’ in reference to persons who used drugs to manage a psychiatric condition. I also started to notice in newspaper stories and other articles, constant references to drug ‘addicts’ or ‘alcoholics’ who abused these substances to ‘avoid pain’, and that this pain was often tied to early experiences of abuse and so on. The implication seemed to be that getting in touch with this pain and experiencing it fully or cathartically would be healing and help overcome the person’s need for alcohol/drugs. In other words, the addict/ alcoholic was really ‘running away’ from things.

It is unremarkable that these theories should have influenced me. Eventually you hear what you expect to hear. The temptation of Theory for me is also tied up with wanting to have control of a conversation, wanting to know in advance where the conversation is likely to go.

I did not want to stay stuck in front of or behind the Theory Wall. But the temptation is strong because it is theoretical and ‘scientific’ discourse that is most legitimated and legitimating in our culture.

That was the problem. I had not realised how deeply ingrained this scientific attitude is in me.

But coming to name it and tell something of the story of it frees me to properly situate this work as fitting within a different framework of understanding – a narrative approach.

Story or narrative holds complexity, celebrates it, nurtures it in strange twists and turns, metaphors and images, that radiate in every possible direction. Story is a strong/ fragile ever-changing plotting of abundant life. Indeed, narrative is constitutive of identity and action. The stories we make up make us up.

The Interplay of Suffering/ Pain and Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking in Liminal Space

I was faced with an initial dilemma in these therapeutic conversations. Should we externalise Pain or Alcohol? In the end, we externalised both, foregrounded one and then the other.

I understand externalising from a number of different viewpoints:

  •    It locates the problem outside the person.

  •    Externalising is also congruent with a social-constructionist view of the world. That is, all aspects of the person are situated historically, politically, socially and culturally. Externalising opens the space for the person to rethink their relationship to the problem and its supporting ideas and practices.

  • Externalising also situates the Problem in such a way that others can reflect on their respective relationships to the problem, rather than seeing ‘the person-as-the-problem’.

As Mary and I entered into these conversations, it soon became clear that Mary held complex and often very nuanced positions with respect to the effects of alcohol or suffering in her life.

Part two of Terry Callahan’s article ALCOHOL, DRUGS AND SUFFERING will be posted in the next few days.

Please Like and Share this article.

If you have any questions or comments about the first part of this article or on the fast growing area of drugs and alcohol counselling, in general, then post them in the comments section below. I can also respond to any questions you might have.

Thanks everyone.

Best Wishes

Ian.

www.instituteofcounselling.org.uk

Drugs and alcohol counselling course

Online Graduate Centre

Counselling and Therapy Facebook
Institute of Counselling Facebook Degree Study Page. Join us on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/Institute-of-Counselling-Degree-Study-108962466542697/
Institute of Counselling Twitter Page
Institute of Counselling Twitter Page. Follow us on Twitter. https://twitter.com/InstofCounsel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s