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Interview with Constance Scharff, PhD, author of 'Ending Addiction for Good'

By T Gleichner
Posted Mar 7, 2013 in Health
Can you please share why you and Richard Tate decided to write Ending Addiction for Good?
Richard and I have different reasons for writing the book. Richard is the CEO of a leading addiction treatment center in Malibu, California. In addition to operating the facility, Richard sometimes speaks with desperate families that cannot afford to send their loved ones to his or often any other treatment facility. Richard wanted to write this book to provide the outline of his treatment protocol so that those without the resources to use his facility can have access to the exact methods that are available at the nation’s elite treatment centers. He also hopes that other treatment centers will use and learn from this protocol. “I hope they wholesale rip us off,” he says. “I want everyone to have an opportunity to recover.”
I was moved by observing and working with veterans who had profound PTSD symptoms. I related to them because I suffered from severe childhood abuse and neglect. I was miserable in my early recovery and recognized that I needed more help to be comfortably sober than the 12 steps could give me. Meanwhile, I saw these courageous men and women who had served our country relapse time and time again. I earned my PhD specializing in addiction recovery because I wanted to know what could be done to help those with trauma recover from addiction.
I have known Richard for many years; his wife and I are long-time friends. Over dinner one evening, he discussed his treatment center’s protocol and how it has had a lot of success with those with trauma. He piqued my interest in learning more about his center. Eventually, this discussion became the foundation for our collaboration on the book.
In society today, many people consider addiction a disease. In your book you state it is not a disease. Can you please explain why you feel that way?
In actuality, whether or not addiction is or should be defined as a disease is extremely controversial and discussed at length in “Ending Addiction for Good.”
What I suggest is that there is no “Truth” about what addiction is or is not. We define it as we believe is useful based on our biases and agendas. Certainly there are biomedical components to addiction; addicts become physically ill from their abuse of drugs and alcohol. However, I don’t find this information particularly useful in the treatment of addiction. If we tell an addict that s/he has a disease, that the disease is incurable, to expect relapse, that the disease must be managed for the rest of the addict’s life, and that most people fail to recover so expect death – is it any wonder that addicts give up before they even go to treatment?! We condemn these addicts to death by leaving them hopeless!
Richard and I have found – he in his work at the Cliffside Malibu treatment center and I in my research – that when addiction is approached as a behavioral disorder, recovery is much easier to attain and longer lasting. Why? Because the addict is given hope. If the addict is told that s/he has an ingrained set of behaviors, but that with help those behaviors can change and that by uncovering the root causes of addiction and learning new coping skills to deal with those and other issues that a full life is possible – the addict comes to believe in that possibility and therefore is able to grab hold of the support offered to him. With hope comes real life change.
How can a person begin to modify their behavior?
Addiction recovery isn’t about behavior modification; it’s about total life change. In order to recover and live the fullest life possible, the addict must address the root causes of his addiction. What caused him to drink or use drugs in the first place? This always involves some form of pain – from bullying to child abuse to not having one’s needs met to a difficult accident or loss of a child or trauma from war. Whatever is causing the addict’s pain must be addressed so that the addict can move beyond his suffering.
What does it take to maintain those behaviors once they are modified?
This is perhaps one of the most interesting things about recovery. Once a life transformation has occurred and the addict begins to experience the joy that is possible in his/her sober life, s/he does not want to return to using. That simply isn’t the preferred way of living any longer.
Not all addicts take treatment seriously. What procedures do you have in place at Cliffside Malibu to help addicts to take treatment seriously and to stay on track?
What we focus on is helping the addict believe that recovery is possible. It is true that some people approach treatment because they are forced into it – by parents, employers, or the courts – and others who view treatment as an opportunity to “get the heat off” because of some unseemly behavior they’ve gotten involved in. More often, addicts are simply terrified of the possibility of change. After all, at a certain point, even though it is killing him, the addict knows and understands his addiction. He becomes resigned to die from it. Still others give up when they come to believe that the work of recovery is too difficult and relapse too probable.
To encourage addicts to remain in treatment, we provide as loving and supportive an environment as possible. We “love” addicts into and through treatment. We encourage and support them by providing luxury surroundings, privacy, and individualized care. We cocoon addicts with hope, helping them to believe that recovery is possible. We breathe encouragement. By doing this, we get about half our clients to stay and graduate from the program.
What is the importance of understanding the mind, body and spirit connection as it relates to treating addictions?
One of the limits of the disease model is that it really can only address the body – because that is where organic disease occurs. However, even simple observation will make apparent that addiction is more than a collection of symptoms. The addict is profoundly affected on all levels. Further, no one likes to be treated for his/her symptoms alone. We want to be treated as whole human beings.
By addressing addiction holistically, as a whole health issue, we help the individual integrate his recovery. If the mind recovers, but not the spirit, the individual may remain sober, but will be miserable in recovery. If the body recovers, but not the mind and spirit, relapse is assured since the reasons the addict used in the first place will persist. Addiction recovery is a whole health issue, a life transformation of the profoundest proportions.
Can you describe the treatment protocol of the clinic?
Treatment at Cliffside Malibu is highly individualized, based on the needs of each individual client. Literally, every proven, evidence-based treatment or therapy available can be provided to a client if the need arises. These are covered in detail in the book. These therapies are based on intensive, one-on-one almost daily psychotherapy with a highly caring, industry leading therapist. Psychotherapy is combined with activities including but not limited to: acupuncture, brain mapping, therapeutic massage, equine therapy, yoga, spiritual counseling, and a host of other offerings.
How are interventions handled at Cliffside Malibu?
We employ a soft method of intervention in which we “love” people into treatment. There are no hard lines in the sand or ultimatums about the “consequences” of not going to treatment. We let people know that there is hope and the possibility of real life change. We know this is true because we’ve been there ourselves. We’ve seen hundreds recover using the Cliffside Malibu treatment protocol. We know it works. In the intervention, we impart this hope to the addict. They rarely refuse to go to treatment.
We have written an entire chapter on interventions in the book, “Ending Addiction for Good.”
What is the Stages of Change model?
The Stages of Change model was developed by Dr. James Prochaska, one of the world’s leading psychologists, and his colleagues Drs. Norcross and DiClemente. It explains how change occurs in human subjects. They posit that change happens in a series of predictable steps (stages) and that we can help individuals through these stages of change by using different tools and therapies at the various stages.
As applied to addiction recovery, we can help people who have not “hit bottom” to desire a change and be willing to come to treatment. We can then assist these individuals through the recovery process, helping them move through roadblocks to change as needed.
To learn more about the Stages of Change model, I suggest the book, “Changing for Good” by Drs. Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente. It is available from all major retailers.
How is that different from 12-step based programs that are so often used in treating addictions?
12 step programs are wonderful, even though success rates are low. For most of the 20th century, 12 step programs were the only therapy that showed any success in addiction recovery at all. But 12 step programs are not really “treatment.” They are a self-help/peer support group that is based on (Christian) principles of faith. Though there are efforts to broaden the group’s appeal through belief in a Higher Power of one’s own choosing and there are some quasi-psychotherapeutic notions in the steps about making amends, the program does not holistically address an addict’s needs. In fact, the basic text, known as the “Big Book,” is clear that one might very well need additional support outside the rooms of 12 step programs – from medical doctors, psychologists, clergy, and others. Not only does the program encourage a person to obtain this additional help, but the program’s most well-known founder, Bill Wilson, sought outside help for his addiction throughout his life.
The 12 steps are a wonderful addition to recovery programs for many people, but they are only one tool that addicts can use to build their recovery.
If a person is serious about getting treatment what should they do now?
The first and most important thing is to realize that there is hope. You or the one you love can recover from addiction. You must ask for help. Seek out those who will love and support you through your recovery process. Ask them to help you find the best treatment you can afford, evidence-based treatments whenever possible. You need what is proven to work.
Please close this interview by sharing why you believe that Ending Addiction for Good is an excellent resource for people suffering with addictions and their families.
“Ending Addiction for Good” describes addiction and addiction recovery in a way that anyone can understand. It provides the reader with a history of addiction treatment, how it has been dealt with from the viewpoints of a moral failing, a disease, and a behavioral disorder. It then goes on to describe the Stages of Change model and how understandings of change processes in general can be applied to help addicts recover. The authors then review the evidence-base for addiction recovery, helping readers to understand how it is that various treatments/therapies assist addicts. This is all done within a context of caring, where the authors share their and other stories of recovery, to give those reading the book hope that recovery is possible.
Constance Scharff has a Ph.D. in Transformative Studies, specializing in addiction recovery. She is a researcher with the Institute for Creative Transformation and the world’s leading expert on using ecstatic spiritual experience to maintain long-term sobriety. Her ground breaking publication, “Filling the God-shaped hole: Reframing alcoholism as an opportunity for spiritual transformation,” is available from UMI Research Press. She is also a Transformative Studies and Addiction Research Consultant for Cliffside Malibu, a leading addiction treatment center in Malibu, California. Dr. Scharff writes for a variety of journals and speaks to healing professionals on helping addicts in recovery maintain their sobriety. She has also traveled extensively in Asia, Africa, and North America, learning how to help individuals evoke life-transforming spiritual experiences and use those experiences to heal addictions and trauma.​

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