"What causes problems is a problem." Father Joseph Martin
When someone comes in for counseling they are acknowledging on some level that something in their life isn’t the way they want it to be. Sometimes they only come in when someone significant in their life has said there’s a problem here. Sometimes they have had something happen in their life that is forcing them to take a look at what’s not working. Either way, as Father Joseph Martin said, “What causes problems is a problem.” So if someone’s use of alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography, shopping, eating disorders, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs or MMOs) or any other behavior is causing problems in their life, then there’s a problem that counseling can often help with.
The key is to start talking about and exploring what’s working, what’s not working, and how you would like it to be. Life doesn’t have to be the way it is or has been. Change can be scarey and difficult so it’s important to gather together your team so you can learn the skills it’s going to take to let go of the cane (i.e. what you are leaning on in life).
Alcohol and Drug Use/Abuse/Addiction
Process addictions are behaviors that have taken over life and the person feels out of control with or have tried to stop or cut back but have been unable to make that change and maintain it. It is important to understand that they affect our brain the same way drugs and alcohol do. They affect the neurotransmitters in our brains the same way a drug or alcohol does. Our brains become dependent on the behavior in order to feel normal. Sometimes the behavioral addiction is serving a purpose and sometimes it’s just the visible part of an underlying struggle. Our job in counseling is to pull apart the pieces of the puzzle so you make sense. Then we start to build a new picture puzzle with some of the old pieces, some new pieces and some old pieces that have been turned a different way.
I have been playing World of Warcraft (WOW) on-line for several years now. I started playing when my daughter was in high school in Ventura, CA as a way to connect with her. I continue to play for a few reasons. One important one is that it allows me to also connect with my adolescent clients because I understand on-line gaming. I am also able to explain to parents how the games are designed to get kids to spend more and more time in the make believe world. I actually take my Addictive Disorders Studies classes at Oxnard College in Ventura County to a computer lab, sign on to my WOW game and show them how quickly the game can get people caught into playing it more and more until, for some people, it becomes an addiction. The games are developed using psychological principles of operant conditioning and the developers have done a very good job of it! For some people, they would rather live in that make believe world than in the real world because their experience of the real world is that it’s too harsh or painful for them. Now some people would say, “oh they’re just too sensitive.” Well, children are born with a tendency towards a certain temperment and a “sensitive temperment” means that they will actually physically feel things more intensely than other people. That is exactly the type of temperment that often feels the need to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol or escape real life through a make-believe world because they don’t know the skills to manage their feelings of being overwhelmed by the world’s harshness. My therapy dog, ZsaZsa works really well with this type of client. 🙂