How Can Psychotherapy Help with an Addiction?

When we think of helping someone with a substance abuse problem, we usually think of twelve-step programs or treatment centers. Treatment of this kind help people get sober, but they sometimes do little to help people stay sober. So how can psychotherapy help with an addiction? Here are the thoughts I shared on this important subject on AllTreatment’s California page.


What types of services do you offer? What issues do you specify treatment for?


I help my clients feel more fully alive and genuinely connected to those they care about. I help individuals who are anxious, depressed, frustrated, tired, and lonely find new possibilities for their lives in individual counseling. I also help couples restore safety in their relationship and rediscover a meaningful and fulfilling connection in couple and marriage counseling.


Clients contact me because they feel stuck, and not with specific concerns only; they want their marriage, drinking, anxiety, anger, family relationships, or some other concern in their lives to change, but they don’t know how to change it.


What therapy modalities do you use in your practices?


Relational psychoanalysis is a treatment that seeks to identify, understand, and transform a person’s core struggles in the context of a trusting, safe therapeutic relationship. The approach stresses that we are profoundly influenced by our relationships. We all form patterns of interacting with others, patterns that begin to develop even when we are very young. Each of us finds ways of expressing or withholding our emotions and feeling loved. Almost always, we adapt as children in our families in order to get our emotional needs met.


Although these adaptive patterns often protect and preserve us as children in our families, so often they do not serve us well as adults. The child who was shamed by his mother may grow into an adult who has trouble connecting emotionally with his spouse. The daughter who learned to “hide” sad, lonely feelings in her family may grow into a chronically depressed adult. The victim of abuse or trauma may grow into an adult who uses substances to disconnect from woefully painful feelings. In the context of a safe, empathic, and emotionally responsive therapeutic relationship, these relational patterns can be transformed.


When should one seek treatment?


A well-worn saying talks of the road of life stretching before each of us, and how as humans, we are all travelers. The most beautiful words of our greatest poets have only begun to describe the “aliveness” that electrifies us during life’s meaningful everyday moments. Because we get stuck in old patterns of relating, this aliveness eludes many of us and makes us feel lost about how to live richer, more fulfilling lives. Clients contact me usually because they feel really stuck, knowing that something in their lives (e.g., their marriage, drinking, stress, or anger) needs to change, but they’re not sure how to change it.


This aliveness happens when someone really “gets” us, when we feel really connected to another person. Even our most painful feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, or loss become more bearable when we feel that we’re not alone. In a relationship in which the client feels understood, lasting change can happen.


What relationship exists between mental health and substance abuse? What services do you provide for someone suffering with either and/or both?


Gerald May, a psychiatrist who specialized in addictions, once wrote, “Hope can sometimes be an elusive thing, and occasionally it must come to us with pain.” Substances provide a ready means for many to cope with painful feelings that they never learned to deal with in the only pattern of relating with others and themselves that they know.


Alongside of or after twelve-step support or in- or outpatient treatment for substance abuse, I can help someone struggling with addictive behaviors to remain substance-free by transforming his or her old pattern of relating so that they no longer need to manage their painful feelings by using substances.

Jeremy Mast

Jeremy is a licensed marriage and family therapist (CA LMFT90961) in private practice in Ventura, California. He helps those struggling with drugs, alcohol, and out-of-control sexual behaviors awaken to new possibilities for their lives. He lives with his wife, son, and cat in beautiful southern California.

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