Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention for the Illness of Addiction

Posted by | Relapse Prevention | January 08, 2015

Depending on what you’re seeing a psychologist or therapist for, you’ll want to search for the right therapeutic method. If you were aiming to resolve your childhood wounds, especially if those wounds were interfering with an ability to function in the world, then perhaps psychoanalysis or dream therapy would be the best choice.

However, if you’re suffering from anxiety, depression, and/or suicidal thoughts, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) addresses the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that may be creating mental and emotional anguish. CBT essentially aims to change behavior by identifying negative and distorted thinking patterns. Monitoring and documenting thoughts helps to easily identify the connections between them and the specific reactions to certain events in the day. Furthermore, by identifying specific thoughts that yield challenging emotions, CBT facilitates changing that thought in order to be free of the tension that it brings.

CBT also encourages the finding alternative thoughts – those that are more helpful, realistic, and supportive – to create a more positive inner experience. By changing the thought pattern and by replacing it with thoughts that are aimed towards a specific therapeutic goal, a recovering addict’s life can slowly begin to change. For example, instead of “I am worthless”; the new thought might be “I can do this”. By changing the thought pattern, both feelings and behavior change, and in turn, this can result in a transformed life. Those working with a CBT therapist would learn that helpful thoughts are those that promote self-acceptance and state preferences versus thoughts that make absolute demands with words like “should” or “must”.

As therapy continues, the process of distinguishing feelings continues. Other emotions such as annoyance, concern, regret, or remorse are also examined to uncover their effects on behavior and choices. Use of A Thought Diary continues throughout therapy in order to rate the intensity of emotions, further increasing a client’s awareness of feelings, thoughts, and behavior. CBT’s ability to increase one’s awareness also facilitates the ability to stop making choices unconsciously and start to make decisions that support a healthy self-esteem.

However, if you were to combine the practice of mindfulness along with CBT as a form of treatment then you’d be exploring what’s called Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP). The Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington developed MBRP for working with those who suffer from addictions. The therapy is intended to rework the imprisoning thoughts that keep an addictive cycle in place.

Mindfulness is the practice of becoming conscious of your internal and external environment. It is a mental state achieved by focusing on the present moment, while acknowledging and accepting the existing feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, and surrounding activity. It can be used as a therapeutic tool among therapists and psychologist, and it has been used as a spiritual practice for decades.

With a practice of mindfulness, someone who is addicted to alcohol, for example, can become aware of the triggers that lead him to drink, destructive habitual patterns, and the unconscious and automatic reaction that lead to making poor choices. MBRP is a powerful practice for changing old patterns, unraveling negative connections about oneself, and facilitating long-term sobriety.

In fact, the ability to change unconscious patterns and habitual behavior is the important opportunity that brain research has uncovered. The brain has a wondrous capacity for learning and rewiring itself, which is known as neuroplasticity. Mindfulness facilitates neuroplasticity, allowing anyone with destructive habits to change patterns regardless of how worn out those habits are.

Because of recent research on the effects of mindfulness on the brain, more and more psychologists and therapists are incorporating the therapeutic modality into their practice. Certain types of therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, are being combined with mindfulness in order to further support the freedom from destructive thought patterns. For instance, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression includes the practice of becoming aware of your inner and outer experiences (mindfulness) while also investigating and replacing the specific thoughts that might lead to a depressed mood.

It is clear that certain thoughts and beliefs lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. When these thoughts continue unnoticed throughout life, they can lead to mental illness. Yet, paying close attention to present circumstances is incredibly important, and it’s where mindfulness comes in as a therapeutic modality. By staying present, each moment becomes opportunity to make a choice, different than one made in the past. Mindfulness can help a recovering addict stay keenly aware of what he or she is doing in order to create new, healthier habits that are more life affirming. Carrying out different choices that are positive and healthy may be challenging at the start, but with practice, they too can become habitual.

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