Autism expert can help those who struggle with addiction
In the late 1990s I begin attending workshops on trauma therapy because I realized many of those who struggle with addiction also wrestled with untreated underlying trauma – sexual, physical, and emotional. It was at one of the workshops that I first heard the name Stanley Greenspan. Today he is known as one of the foremost experts on autism having published over 35 books and many scientific publications since graduating from medical school in 1966. But for me, he has become an instrumental figure in understanding the foundation of long-term successful addiction management - which in a nutshell is healthy relationships.
In an earlier post I described how addictions are about relationships, and that long-term success in dealing with addiction necessitates replacing unhealthy relationships with objects with healthy relationships with people. The key to doing this is realizing that to initiate, develop, and maintain healthy relationships requires developmental skills that become constricted, or in some cases, never develop due to trauma or time spent in addictions. These skills are critical to relating to others in many contexts: intimate relationships, child rearing, work environments, marriage. Yet most treatment programs and self-help groups are unaware of the critical need to assess and treat emotional developmental problems. When they go unaddressed, many continue to relapse and struggle in life without the benefit of knowing what is missing in recovery.
Based on his extensive clinical and research experience, Stanley Greenspan created a developmental framework that I believe is among the very best at helping us understand the essence of what it takes to succeed in relationships, but even more, how to optimize our mental health. The framework, in brief, suggests that emotional development occurs in six sequential steps. This overview paper focuses on infants and toddlers, but in the book The Growth of the Mind, Greenspan details how many adults become stuck at early developmental levels and require developmentally based therapy to catch-up. Unfortunately, many treatment programs and therapists will intervene in ways that never advance emotional development, resulting in a lot of hacking at the leaves instead of getting to the root. In all fairness, I spent plenty of time hacking at the leaves with patients because assessing emotional development and knowing how to do developmentally based therapy is not so easy. In fact, it requires a therapist to be attuned to their own emotional development and have some fairly advanced therapuetic skills. But therapy is not the only way to increase developmental capacities. By doing things out of your comfort zone, joining diverse types of groups, engaging with people in many contexts, and journaling about your emotional world can help. In future posts I will be more explicit about specific things that lead to developmental growth.
To get a flavor of the genius of Dr. Greenspan, here is a very short clip from the documentary film “Autistic-Like: Graham’s Story.” Although he is talking about the early development of his DIR model of intervention for autism, such insights are very appliable to those who struggle with addiction. Because “emotions serve as the orchestra leader for getting the mind and brain working together” it is absolutely critical to long-term successful addiction management that significant energy is invested in understanding, managing, expressing, and acting on the vast array of emotions we experience every day.