The Talking Cure in Recovery

Originally published in DARA, a Drug and Alcohol Rehab in Thailand

A Problem Shared is a Problem Halved

A popular proverb claims that a problem shared is a problem halved. There is good evidence to suggest that talking about worries and concerns can be highly beneficial for the individual. It can be particular important for people who are recovering from an addiction to be able to do this. In fact it will often have been their inability to handle inner worries alone that drove them to addiction in the first place. There are many options for how people in recovery can benefit from the talking cure.

Talking Cure Defined

A talking cure is where people benefit psychologically from discussing their problems and concerns. It is the effectiveness of this type of treatment that has led to the popularity of many forms of therapy. Sigmund Freud was probably the first to really promote the benefits of talking about worries and concerns. He not only saw it as a way to allow people to get things off their mind but also as a way to get in touch with their subconscious. There are now many different kinds of talking therapy.

Benefits of Talking about Problems

There are a number of benefits that people will experience when they talk about their problems including:

* It can be a great help to have a different perspective on a problem. Other people may be able to come up with solutions that would not be obvious to the individual.

* When people are alone with their problems it can lead to a great deal of stress. Just sharing these concerns can be enough to release a lot of pent up tension.

* One of the great benefits of sharing a problem is that the individual will usually find that they are not alone. Other people will have experienced the exact same thing, and this can be a great comfort.

* If people just think about their problem it can be hard to see things clearly. The brain becomes too fixated on the obstacles to see the solution. Talking about the problem can greatly increase clarity.

* It is too easy to become trapped in faulty thinking and self-deception when problems are not shared. Talking about things helps to prevent this from happening.

* Sometimes people do not really know what is bothering them; they just feel like something is wrong. It is only by talking that they gain insight into where the real source of their troubles exists.

The Danger of Silence in Addiction Recovery

In Alcoholics Anonymous it is often said that people are only as sick as their secrets. The dangers of keeping silent in recovery include:

* It is easy for people to lose their way in recovery. This is more likely to occur when they keep silent about what is going on in their life. Other people can spot the warning signs of impending relapse, but this can only happen when the individual talks about their progress.

* One of the things that people tend to do before they relapse is to isolate. They start keeping secrets and become less willing to share their personal thoughts and concerns.

* Talking can be highly therapeutic. When people are silent they fail to benefit from this therapy.

* When people are alone with their own thoughts it is easier to become trapped in delusion and denial.

The Benefits of Talking Therapies

Talking to friends and family can be a great help but sometimes it is more beneficial to speak to a therapist. The advantages of talking to a therapist include:

* There will be subjects that the individual will feel uncomfortable talking about with family and friends. It may even be damaging to do so. This is because loved ones can become upset or even annoyed when certain information is revealed. It is not really fair for the individual to make other people feel bad just so that they can unburden themselves. Instead they can disclose such thoughts and concerns to a therapist who will not be directly affected by such information.

* A therapist will be obliged to keep anything said in the session confidential. The only exception to this is if the client says something that indicates that they are a danger to themselves or other people. In most instances when people say something to a therapist they can be confident that it will never get repeated. This allows them to feel confident enough to be open to a degree that they would never normally consider. A client will say things to a therapist that they would never dream of saying to anyone else.

* Listening is a skill that most people in the world seem to struggle with. This often means that the other person will be too busy offering their solutions to actually listen to what is being said. A therapist is trained to listen effectively. This means that when the client leaves the session they really feel like they have been understood.

* A therapist is trained to listen without passing judgment. This is important because the individual is unlikely to divulge secrets if they feel the other person will view them harshly.

* The usual aim of therapy is not to tell the client what to do. Instead the therapist helps the individual find their own solutions. This type of communication is highly empowering. It also helps people increase their confidence in their own ability to overcome difficulties.

Common Reasons to Choose Talking Therapy

The most common reasons people use talking therapy (and often find it surprisingly helpful) include:

* Addiction problems
* People who are struggling to find happiness in recovery
* Symptoms of depression
* Grief over loss of a loved one
* Problems with relationships
* Family problems
* Inability to control negative emotions like anger
* Inability to cope with life
* Childhood trauma issues or past abuses
* Difficulties coping with illness

Twelve Step Groups and the Talking Cure

It is often claimed that groups like Alcoholics Anonymous offer the cheapest form of therapy available. There is little doubt that members can benefit greatly by attending AA meetings and sharing their problems. People say that they can go into a meeting feeling like the world is about to end, but one hour later and they are in a far more positive frame of mind. The benefit of sharing at an AA meeting is that the other members will usually have experienced similar things. There is a feeling that everyone is in the same boat and this provides the person who is sharing with a great deal of strength. Sharing at AA meetings does seem to be highly therapeutic and this is probably why people continue to do this for decades after they have given up alcohol.


13 Responses

  1. Mitchell K. says:

    Selfish vs self caring. I think people who turn to alcohol do so for lots of different reasons. It’s a great anesthetic, it takes away pain. It’s a great social lubricant. Alcohol in and of itself is neither good nor bad. Millions of people drink without problems or destructive behavior. As my sponsor always told me Every alcoholic is a drunk but not every drunk is an alcoholic.

    I first drank to become more social, not be shy or withdrawn. Once the effects of those first drinks began to take effect I liked the results. Not the social results as being drunk didn’t make me more social but I rapidly found out it took away my internal pain. I drank to achieve oblivion and numbness both physically and emotionally.

    Each person has a different story as to why they drank. Many sound the same but the alcoholic continues to drink not for the taste, they usually continue for the end result – being drunk, blotto, ripped…

    If I am in a meeting there is one primary commonality – we are alcoholics. There can be people of color, people who speak with accents, men, women, transgender, bi, gay, people with physical and emotional disabilities, people who can’t read, the over intelligent, and yes, people who believe in god, a god, no god, wiccans, druids, orthodox jews, christians, agnostics, atheists, and yet, regardless of our differences, we all share one commonality, our drinking brought us all to that room.

    I’m not against people who believe or don’t believe, men who love men, people who are transitioning to another gender, people who hardly speak English, people with missing limbs, members of law enforcement, people who are “criminals” or whatever – AA is supposed to be open to anyone seeking recovery from alcoholism – PERIOD!

    Do I agree with everything I read in the literature, hear what is said in the rooms, prayers before during and after, people spouting their religious or non believer stuff? Of course not.

    If I want a bacon cheeseburger I won’t go into a kosher restaurant demanding they make me one. If I want a kosher hot dog I don’t go to a pig roast. If I want to talk about cocaine I don’t go to an AA meeting. If I want to see the Mona Lisa frown I don’t go to the Louvre with a can of spray paint and make her frown.

    AA’s Third Tradition (long form) says we should refuse none who seek recovery from alcoholism and that neither money nor conformity ever be a requirement for membership.

  2. Joel D says:

    Working with others is something I never wanted to do. Until I did it. When I freely share my experience prior to recovery as well as struggles with “The Program” I learn more about myself.

    I don’t defend my non-belief any more. It’s not required.

  3. Ronald H. says:

    Is it accurate that “… it will often have been their inability to handle inner worries alone that drove them to addiction in the first place”? I doubt it. I see alcoholics and normal people expressing inner worries approximately equally. Alcoholics talk about a sudden rush and relief from drinking alcohol, but I nearly never never hear of it from non-alcoholics. I presume that is what makes some people alcoholics and not others.

    • Darrell D says:

      No, I have a disease just like cancer. When I take one drink I crave another. It ain’t got nothing to do with my emotional being.

      • Roger says:

        My alcoholism was/is directly related to my existential angst. That’s why I drank. To numb myself out. However over time drinking alters the brain and makes one drink in spite of nefarious effects well beyond its original anesthetic results.

        So it’s both…

  4. Dan L says:

    I thought this about AA long before I had to come in. I was actually shocked when I finally went to treatment and read the Beeg Book. The book has nothing about meetings, topics, sharing and then flat out denies the “human factor” or Talking Therapy and instead has a whole bunch of illogical and unbelievable stuff about god taking away obsessions and other bullshit. I just about bailed on the whole idea. I seriously thought, “These people are nuts!” Fortunately for me and others like me I can just discard the supernatural back to the enchanted kingdom. Thanks for posting this.

  5. life-j says:

    Roger, thanks for putting this one up. I like it anytime we can make it simple.

  6. Martin T. says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful article. My only suggestion would be to find a different paradigm for “given up” alcohol, like it was a sacrifice.

  7. Dave S. says:

    Sharing and receiving feedback is the basis of what we describe today as cognitive psychotherapy (or talk therapy) – and the essence of several steps, and the reason to encourage everyone to share at meetings.

  8. Thomas B. says:

    Thanks, Roger, for sharing this most pertinent article, which focuses on the essence of the healing power of AA meetings: our sharing with each other about our common experience, strength and hope, not only about not using, but also – and perhaps most important so we don’t use – to help us get us through the rough patches normal to everyday living in the 3rd Millennium.

    Over the decades I’ve been graced to stay sober a day at a time, I still inevitably experience the truth of one of the acronyms for AA –> Attitude Adjustment !~!~!

  9. Darrell D. says:

    Of course it helps to share my problems. I shared with the thought that it would help someone else that gives me the strength to share my problem. I did the steps thinking that I could help others; of course it helped me. But to get out of me I had to think that maybe it would help others. I disagree it’s all about me and that’s what I hear in AA today with or with out God. I was sober 52 years on the 4 of Aug. AA is pretty different today. I agree that there is too much talk about God but I would sooner talk about helping others – that is my purpose. I disagree about the Lord’s Prayer in AA only because it is a religious prayer – not because of God and yes I don’t believe in God. But love and tolerance lets you believe what you want. God is God but the higher power can be anything and was for me. I still love AA but it’s getting harder and harder. Thank you for letting me rant.

    • life-j says:

      Darrell, all good, you just remind me any time someone says here around “I don’t believe in God”, I can’t help but think that that statement strictly speaking implied that “that one and only god does indeed exist, and is in charge of everything, it’s just me who don’t believe in Him”. Here I go with my controlling ways trying to tell people how to talk, I just think we ought to say “I don’t believe in any gods”. You know, when religious people ask me “do you believe in God, it’s a bit like if they ask “have you quit beating your wife yet?” – the question implies certain basic ” facts”, it’s just a question of whether I am going to fall in line with those pre-established facts, or be recalcitrant about it, which I am, the latter. lol

    • Tony C. says:

      Very well put.