Figures vary, but experts claim that more than 11% of South Africans have addiction problems. Hence the important role played by trained professionals who work with addicts to help them better understand and overcome their addictions.
One such professional is clinical psychologist Clinton Abrahams, former Project Manager at Hope House Counselling Centre, a SACAP fieldwork placement centre based in Cape Town. Abrahams, who was responsible for managing all under-18 prevention and intervention school programmes, believes that counselling is essential in treating addictions “in order to address any underlying psychosocial and contextual factors; as well as interpersonal difficulties which may have impacted or are currently maintaining the pattern of addiction.”
The most important role of the counsellor in the addiction treatment process is to establish trust and a rapport with the client in order to establish a therapeutic relationship, he says. “Clients often present for counselling with a feeling of being judged and/or a sense of being rejected by their families or society as a whole because of their addictions. In essence, counselling serves as a way of helping the individual restore his or her dignity and self-respect. The counsellor provides a safe space for the client where confidential issues can be addressed without fear of judgment or ostracisation.”
Recognising the power of your thoughts
According to Abrahams, a variety of therapeutic modalities are used in the treatment of drug or alcohol addictions. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), for instance, is a talking therapy that can help sufferers manage their problems by changing the way they think and behave. Rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT), on the other hand, is an action-oriented psychotherapy that teaches individuals to identify, challenge, and replace their self-defeating thoughts and beliefs with healthier thoughts that promote emotional wellbeing and goal achievement. “However, most important is that the approach addresses both the addiction and the underlying psychosocial factors that may have contributed to it,” he maintains. “It is important that contextual factors and family dynamics also be addressed – which would render a more holistic treatment process.”
The support system
While Abrahams notes that there are some counsellors who specialise in a particular area of addiction, such as gambling or sex addiction, for instance, in general, the scope of most covers a range of addictions. “My experience includes assessment of individuals for psychotherapy/groups, psychotherapy, implementing intervention strategies and providing support, addictions, play therapy, facilitation of support groups, psycho-education and lecturing. This experience extends across all age groups and includes children, adolescents, adults and families.
“Working with the families of addicts is vital since they form the major support system in the abstinence or recovery process,” he adds. “In some instances, this also proves difficult since the family may already have rejected the client due to the addiction. More often, however, families are willing to support the addict, once they see that he or she is making an effort to recover.”
Aside from the necessary qualifications, Abrahams says that the kind of personal qualities that will best benefit an addictions counsellor include “empathy, understanding, warmth, a positive regard and genuineness.” If you think you have these qualities and are interested in entering the helping professions, why not consider taking a counseling course? SACAP offers a Bachelor of Psychology professional degree, approved by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) for the education and training of Registered Counsellors. For more information, enquire now.
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