Why I love Dr. Drew: part 2

by Mary Oxford, PhD on March 26, 2010 · 2 comments

in addictions,stigma,therapy

Yes, I still love him. No, that wasn’t me who was arrested recently for stalking him and threatening his family.

Dr. Drew Pinsky

In my previous post, I talked about how I think his shows (Celebrity Rehab, Sober House, etc.) perform a much-needed public service because they reach millions of people with powerful messages about recovery, the therapeutic process and hope.

Addiction, and indeed all mental illness, is complicated, a fact that is demonstrated on each and every episode. And this is a good thing:  If everyone sees just how complex the disease is and how difficult it is to treat, I think people are bound to develop greater compassion for those struggling to overcome their disease.

Listen up!

You know what else the audience sees on each show? Reflective listening (some of you may know this as “active listening). In individual sessions with patients and in group settings as well, Dr. Drew and his staff model this valuable skill, one that each of us could benefit from developing whether or not we are or someone we love is dealing with addiction and mental illness.

Here’s my simplest explanation of reflective listening:  putting aside your own judgments and preconceived notions to fully engage in trying to understand the speaker’s point of view. A critical aspect of this process is being sure your understanding is accurate, and the way to do this is by reviewing it with the speaker and getting either confirmation or additional information to enhance your understanding. (Free tipMessages: The Communication Skills Book by McKay, Davis and Fanning is filled with examples of reflective listening and practice exercises, in case you’d like to practice paraphrasing, clarifying and giving feedback in an empathic manner.)

Reflective listening is vital to recovery. In my work, I’ve seen firsthand how it makes a difference: Demonstrating a genuine and respectful interest in a patient’s feelings and experiences can help teach someone in great pain that their communication is valued, their thoughts are valid AND as a person they are valuable. This is essential if we truly want to connect with and successfully treat patients.

But the value of reflective listening goes far beyond therapy sessions.  It helps us whether we’re working with our patients, talking to our boss, hanging out with friends or dealing with our spouses and children.

Don’t get me wrong–I know it’s hard to do, especially when we’re feeling angry, stressed, offended or tired. But the consequences of not developing and using this skill are many, including defensiveness, misunderstandings and escalating negative emotions. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t lead to a happy Hollywood ending–just isolation, confusion and loneliness.

Lessons learned

So when I see Dr. Drew at work, I see him modeling this skill and helping others learn it. I also see that learning it often leads to greater understanding and less judgment, enhancing relationships not just between patients, but also between patients and their family members and friends. Of course this doesn’t happen overnight, but we didn’t perfect eating with a fork the first time we tried it, did we? It’s a skill like any other and requires practice, lots and lots of it. I think Dr. Drew, just like any other clinician helping someone with a mental illness or addiction, is simply proving that there are new skills that can be learned to aid in recovery.

If we could only get everyone to learn this new skill, I think we’d see a considerable reduction in stigma. I also think it would lead to a lot fewer people struggling alone because people with addiction and mental illness would feel much freer to seek treatment.

That would be the good news. The bad news:  There wouldn’t be a need for Dr. Drew to have all those TV shows and then what would there be to watch on TV?!

PS:  Thanks to all of you who shared my previous post with others and for leaving such great comments; all of us here at SayNoToStigma.com really appreciate it.

Dr. Oxford is a psychologist on the Hope Program for adults at The Menninger Clinic.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Catherine March 29, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Dr Drew admirer here, for sure, but, I also have some views on the shows we love to follow. They seem to be turning into “Can’t miss the weekly soap opera to see what happens” rather than “reality” Much of the viewing audience, are what I like to call, our regular Joe’s that make the world go round, the normal, everyday, down to earth get down and dirty hard working people, and also endure the same issues. Except, without the advantages of NOT having access to someone like Dr. Drew who is wonderful, caring and for the high profile, high paying, rich, famous and beautiful. (I quote, just not sure who coined that phrase) It is also agreed those in the spotlight do have the same very real traumas, addictions, and mental issues. . My problem lies in this unending defensiveness that the viewer is judging them unfairly! First off, it is known celebs do not do these shows without compensation, that’s the first strike when attempting to produce “reality. That alone could make some be led to beleive there is no help out there for themselves, and surely the show is NOT real, or, the celeb really is not sincere about taking the help and sticking to it, forever. 2, It seems to show the celebs acting so unappreciative and thinking they are so “above work” beyond the spotlight, and the everyday real life tasks and so the same additctions and problems are re-visited over and over again.In the real world, the viewed might perceive this behavior as , “Oh yes, lets make season #3!” Drew’s help is surely worth more than that? If one is so passionate and so determined and driven to change , act accordingly I say. I was told by one pt. “Reality TV is not real life”. Hmmm I’m quite confused as to why then act so badly on camera? It makes it difficult NOT to judge, IE: when the sober house pts had to “work” for a day, or was it an hour? I recall one who wouldnt touch the laundry even with gloves? Are you serious? Again, I was told, “TV is not real life”. Perhaps a better, more eye opening, more effective means of curing some of the attitudes and behaviors, would be to actually put some celebs in a real life situation? Not for a day, or, (and I chuckle) not for an hour, but maybe a month? Same problems, same traumas, addictions, illnesses, but, without the resources. It would prove quite an interesting “reality” show. And I’ll go a step further, without pay! If the viewers are to truly beleive these pts want help, and want to change and want to show everyone that they too, are not exempt from the same pain, and addiction, and past trauma as their fans, then they need to act accordingly, ON camera and off. My heart goes out to those with mental illness, addictions and childhood trauma. Some of us, have heard, seen, lived it and we tire of the excuses we hear and read from the celebs. I, myself can say, its not “judging” rather more we’d say, “We know, you’re in pain, and struggling and reaching out for help, but Geeeeeeeesh Louiseeeeeeeee, appreciate it, grasp it, take it, use it, and most important, stick with it and conquer your demons. The only stigma is that the public percieves it the way they portray themselves on these so called reality shows. We all do, I’m sure, myself included love that Dr. Drew though. Congrats and thank you Dr Drew. One suggestion, please try to cast the lovely, beautiful and super talented, in danger though, Linsay Lohan. She truly needs help now!
Thank you.

stanley kowalski March 26, 2010 at 9:00 pm

How does one know if said therapist is engaged in active listening (i.e. mentalizing)? What’s the patient’s/clients’ clue that he/she is being heard?
Does the patient need to feel felt? Or, is just a lot of head nodding, brow-furrowing, “un-huh-ing” do the trick, satisfying the therapists need to make sure the pay-sient indeed is being reached?

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