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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