Chapter 5 Working with Addiction and Trauma: Mental Health Professionals Reflect on Their Use of Spirituality

In: Topography of Trauma: Fissures, Disruptions and Transfigurations
Peter Bray
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The following chapter reports on a series of discussions held over a twelve-month period with a group of New Zealand mental health professionals working with clients who have alcohol and substance addictions. Having a common understanding that addiction could be a form of survival behaviour activated by traumatic events, the group wanted to examine how spirituality as a developmental asset could be more fully utilised in the process of recovery. As most of the participating therapists work in a setting influenced by the medical model they also wanted to understand to what extent their spiritually-focussed professional practices might fit in with, or contradict, institutional expectations. As members of the group freely disclosed their own spirituality and their professional relationships with clients and the institution, they began to value the positive benefits of their own non-denominational spirit-led practices. In addition, by recognising self-actualisation as a potent component of this survival process, they perceived that addiction and recovery are likely to be catalysed by spirituality. Thus, by exploring the significance of spirituality in clients’ presentations and identifying similar principles and beliefs that might underpin their own professional practices, the participants felt a stronger theme resonating deeply with them. It suggested that trauma, in forcing individuals down less effective pathways to the achievement or recovery of higher levels of consciousness, may significantly disrupt human beings’ tendencies to actualise. Addiction, therefore, although conceived by the group as a false or unwelcome outcome of the struggle to meaning – a detour in the journey to actualisation – was simultaneously regarded as an adaptive process that might reconnect clients with their lost potentials.

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