Recovery Themes*

Before I do that, we cannot go any further without covering what I call recovery themes. Take some time to consider which of these makes the most sense to you in your personal experience. Which of these might you adopt as your own? Which of these would you want your children or grandchildren to become aware of or use? Which could be helpful for clients? Granted, not all of these will be true 100% of the time. Take what you can and leave the rest. All the clients liked at least one of these. Many chose several. Clinicians at other workshops said they are all useful in some context. These themes go with the map at the top of the previous post. You can choose more than one.

  1. Communication is redundant. We are always communicating in all three major Sensory Modalities: visual, auditory and Kinesthetic (VAK). We all have our preferred learning and communication styles. These are learned in class or workshops.
  2. The meaning or quality of the communication is the response that you get. Communication is about getting the intended response from the listener. Is the recovery message clear?
  3. People respond to their map of reality and not reality itself. These maps have structure or syntax (VAK, KAV, AVK, etc.) Maps can be changed to get desired outcomes. We create our realities. This can be empowering or limiting. Are you V, A or K?
  4. Requisite variety can help people make changes to get desired outcomes. The more tools or flexibility one has the better his chances of success in recovery. Give the client the tools needed.
  5. People work perfectly. No one is wrong or broken. It’s simply a matter of finding out ‘how’ they function now so that we can effectively change that to something more useful or desirable. Treatment is about change and helping clients get to their next level.
  6. People always make the best choice available to them at the time: given their situation (the event), beliefs, values and attitudes. There may be a wealth of better choices that have not been examined. But, the belief system must be changed first as Ellis suggested in his ABC Theory***.
  7. Every behavior is useful in some context. Even drug use and crime. It is just not appropriate.
  8. Choice is better than no choice. Treatment is about giving clients more and better choices.
  9. Anyone can do anything. If one person can do something it is possible to model that behavior or skill and teach it to anyone else. Of course, we cannot expect to violate the laws of Physics or nature and expect to be successful. Desired outcomes must be realistic to be achievable.
  10. People already have all the resources they need to examine and resolve their own issues given the right counseling in a suitable environment. Carl Rogers might fully endorse this theme.
  11. There is no such thing as failure, only feedback. We learn from our trials and errors.
  12. Chunking is a way to accomplish any task. If we break goals down we can be successful with anything such as with ‘one day at a time’, a famous AA slogan. (Alcoholics Anonymous)
  13. Positive intent. All behavior begins with a positive intent. Even substance abuse or crime. Again, we must remember that AOD/CTC could be problematic as well as not be legal.


*These are based on Major Presuppositions or tenets of Neuro Linguistic Programming, the work of Richard Bandler, PhD., and John Grinder, PhD., framers of NLP. It is adapted and reproduced here with permission from Tom Dotz, NLP Comprehensive, Inc. Colorado where I did a training course. This writer feels that Neuro Linguistic Programming could be a misnomer and may have been more aptly called Applied Cognitive Behavior Theory. But, that is only my opinion.




FIG. 1, p. 15, “Drug Court Treatment: The Verdict”

You’ve heard it before. A picture is worth a thousand words (Confucius, Fred Barnard). That’s why I present this illustration. There is a book that I really like written by Kenneth Wanberg and Harvey Milkman showing an illustration depicting the same concept. The image looks like an electrical diagram.

While it is totally accurate it can be confusing and intimidating to some folks. Clients told me that this illustration makes much more sense to them. Others have said the same thing. To me this picture explains the Cognitive Behavior Theory process as well as the ABC Theory of Albert Ellis.

On page 14 of my book I describe the ABC Theory. Simply, Ellis said that “it is not the event (A) that determines our behavior (C) but rather our (B) beliefs about the event. So, we have(A) the event followed by (B) our beliefs about the event that lead to (C) our behavior. Thus, ABC.

While we are here we can examine what the map is saying. The event occurs and we filter the meaning of the event based on our beliefs, values and attitudes. We are exposed to millions of bits of information on a daily basis. Our brain knows that we cannot process all of these pieces of data. So the data are filtered.We delete, distort and generalize the information based on our ‘imprints’.

Imprints are critical when it comes to understanding old behavior and learning new behavior. This includes using alcohol and other drugs (AOD) and criminal thinking and conduct (CTC). Konrad Lorenz is given credit here for this theory. He discovered baby geese will bond with the first image they see after birth as if it were their mother. In his case the goslings bonded with his boots and followed him around like he was the mother, if I have the story correct. He postulated that these imprints are permanent.Why is this important to mention here?

Our history or learning has everything to do with how we interpret and define ourselves and our world. So often it is past events that limit us in the present or prevent having our desired outcomes or futures. Imprints can occur at the molecular level, the psychological level and the social level. So, we and our behaviors truly are biopsychosocial in nature.

As we filter data we turn it into a thought stack made up of decisions, attributions, appraisals and expectations (follow the arrows). Don’t people use drugs or act based on their expectations of what is supposed to happen by using them? Remember? We avoid pain and seek pleasure.

We then form solid internal maps of our reality based on our five senses. All of us experience our realities by seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting.

If our restaurant server presents a messy plate (see) that (smells) like it is decaying already we are certain that we don’t need a taste. We (expect) it will be terrible. We (feel ) bad enough already. Our self-talk (hear) says no – don’t eat it. But you (taste) it anyway and send it back (if you are assertive) if it is not satisfactory.

The short name for the five senses is VAKOG. This is visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory and gustatory. More generally they are see, hear, feel, smell and taste.

These lead directly to the next step which is feelings and emotions. As you can see by the flow (following the arrows) feelings and emotions lead to behavior choices. That’s why it is important to learn how to control your state. Your emotional state is what is meant here.

If you are sad you may act sad. If you are angry you may act or react in an angry manner. Could that be important in homes where domestic violence may be a problem? Seldom is a spouse happy and giggly and then turns around and backhands the other.

We can learn to map the outcomes that are more desirable. We have the power and resources already. We simply need access to them at the appropriate time. This will be demonstrated below.

This was a powerful lesson taught by Carl Rogers. He is a world famous therapist. To paraphrase him, “clients already have all the resources they need to explore and resolve their own issues given a healthy environment.” Hopefully, I as a guide would provide the healthy environment, online or in person.

What’s the take home message? Between the CBT Map above and the lessons taught to us by Albert Ellis and Carl Rogers there is HOPE for all of us. We are in charge of shaping our beliefs, thoughts, feelings and behavior. We can re-imprint our history mentioned my Konrad Lorenz?

The map above is your operating system. It applies to each one of us. Nobody, not the neediest narcissist – is immune to that fact of life. Learn the map, how you and it are connected and you will discover that you are in charge of how you feel and your future. We examine ‘how to’ do that in the next post.


If we go far enough back on any person’s timeline we will discover a point before the first using event occurred. It could be the second before, the minute before or the day before. It is a time when the brain and nervous system were free of alcohol and other drugs.

Some people will be shocked at how young others were when they first experienced alcohol, being drunk, drugs and being high or an injury due to using these substances. Some were as young as three, four or five years of age.

Other clients report first use as in their teens, 20’s, 30’s or even older. People who develop a gambling problem (addiction) later in life (50’s,60’s or older) never knew they had a problem until one day – boom! it hit them and they were taken over in a moment.

It is not necessary to cover all the brain activity or the details of the chemical reactions that occur in different parts of the brain to discuss the problem of addiction. Suffice it to say that after enough using episodes or trials the person or brain will eventually be taken over.

After repeated usage of alcohol as an example a person begins to build tolerance. More of the substance is needed to get the same effect. The person begins to experience withdrawal symptoms from that particular drug if they don’t get it. If he does not get the ‘hit’ or ‘hair of the dog’ the symptoms can persist. People can feel out of sorts, lousy, cranky, feel like they will die and may be very unpleasant to be around.

In the beginning let’s say a person could get a buzz on from one or two 12 ounce beers. It feels great and the brain says ‘Hey Stan, I like that. I want more of that.’ Before you know it I need three or four beers to get the same sensation. I begin to dose myself or titrate – determining the amount I will need to get the desired effect. Before you know it I need 12 beers to get the effect and soon after that I’m loaded.

So – why do people drink or use any drug? Why do people do any behavior? One theory is that everything we do is to either move away from pain or move toward pleasure. Using alcohol or other drugs has been called ‘self-medicating’ by some professionals.

By the way, if I define every phrase such as ‘titrate’, ‘self-medicating’ or ‘withdrawal’ this writing will turn into a thesaurus or dictionary. That is too far astray from my goal. The reader can Google these terms and come up with volumes of information. But don’t Google too much because I want you here.

Why do we shoot ourselves in the foot then? And how do we do that? Talking recently with an anonymous client who was seeking to ‘feel better’ about herself and her life, she reported that the reason she experimented with drugs was because of the ‘feelings’ she got from them and that she could ‘escape’ from how she ‘was feeling’ by artificially creating a new feeling.

That’s her ‘why’ answer. She was moving ‘away’ from the bad feelings (pain) and ‘toward’ the better feelings (pleasure). The ‘how’ was with a half dozen different drugs that she got from the most unreliable people one could imagine – dealers.

That is another problem. The dealers. Do you really think they care about you? I think they care more about my money than me. They want it to go from my pocket to theirs as quickly and as often as possible. Some of you might say ‘but it’s only weed.’ How does anyone know if and with what weed may be laced today?

The dealer wants your repeat business. If his product knocks your socks off and it seems cheaper or the same price as a competitor you might return to her or him for a ‘better high.’ If we can get a ‘cleaner clean’ today I suppose a ‘better high’ is not too far fetched.

What’s the simple take home for today? The once pure brain or nervous system can become addicted to a substance or even gambling by building tolerance. Repeated behavior reinforces the effect. Before you know it – addictio – taken over.

The next part of the simple take home is that we use or do other behavior to move ‘away from pain’ and ‘toward pleasure.’ So, we see that it is our feelings and emotions that lead to behavior choices – good or bad. One of the things that I do for clients is to show them ways to control feelings and emotions. The Power of Emotional State is critical. We will discuss that in the next post.