Mindful Monkey.

Mindfulness helps with Drug and Alcohol Problems

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While things might have seemed a bit quiet here on mindful monkey, there has been a lot going on. One of these is the arrival of a little person in my life Baby feetAnother was writing up the final part of my MSc, the research on mindfulness in treatment for drug and alcohol use. As far as I know this is the first systematic study of mindfulness with problem substance users in the UK.

20151003_235543I will be reporting on this in future messages but for now here is a summary some interesting results:

That mindfulness seems to improve mental health and wellbeing, helps people reduce drug and alcohol use, and supports continued abstinence.

There were positive correlations between home practice and these improvements, that is, the more regularly participants practised, the more benefits they experienced.

It showed that participants really took to mindfulness and enjoyed learning to practice. It also looked at some of the issues in rolling out mindfulness in Drug and Alcohol Services and pointed to directions for future research.

Essential Motivational Interviewing Skills

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Motivational Interviewing provides a set of pragmatic strategies to facilitate behaviour change, helping to overcome resistance in clients and guide them towards change. It is a client centred approach designed to explore and resolve ambivalence. Originally developed to help people change addictive behaviours, it can be applied to any area of behaviour change.

This 2 day ‘hands on’ course is aimed at workers in a range of settings. It can help those who wish to increase their potential for bringing about positive change in people they work with. It will provide participants with the key skills of Motivational Interviewing and enhance their confidence.

Course Content

  • The spirit and principles underlying Motivational Interviewing (MI)
  • To introduce the keytechniques of MI
  • The concept of motivation and how it relates to behavioural change
  • Skills for assessing and matching interventions to readiness to change
  • How to engage people and deal with resistance
  • Developing self-efficacy
  • How to negotiate action steps

To book Click Here

Turning Towards our experience…

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A friend of mine once explained to me that the attraction of Opiate use is that it makes a person feel ‘inviolable’. Clearly this is not just about drugs, it is pointing to something central in the human condition: our capacity to suffer and our desire to escape suffering. Surely this is the logical thing to do…

Yet it seems that all the things we do to escape suffering seem to increase it: avoidance behaviours, addictions (many other things besides drugs for example eating, shopping) and sadly, for some, hurting others! So what is the alternative to going with the automatic, knee jerk responses of trying to escape from what we feel.

Basically this involves ‘turning towards’ the experience, finding a way to ‘be with’ the difficult feeling. Initially this seems counterintuitive, why would this help? And indeed it is not at all clear how we might deliberately do this. To understand this we need to approach it more directly, through the body and senses, experientially.

In mindfulness practice we learn to turn towards our experience in ‘this moment’, starting with everyday things like the breath, sensations in the body, sounds. This helps to build the mental skill to ‘be with’ things; neither getting carried away with them nor bouncing off them. With practice this becomes a valuable skill in dealing with difficult feelings and thoughts.

This is why Mindfulness is not about relaxation (although the experience can of course be relaxing and calming) it is about learning to attend to things in a new way that sets us on the path to wiser, more compassionate responses and healing.

I will explore this further in future posts.

Motivating People

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Here are a few ideas that came up during the Motivational Interviewing workshop we are in the middle of facilitating. Miller and Rollnick define:

MI is about arranging conversations so that people talk themselves into change, based on their own values and interests

Time and time again I find myself thinking:

People change as a result of how we listen to them, rather than what we tell them

We often find ourselves in a situation where our job is to stimulate change, we are supposed to ‘persuade’ people to change in a way that will benefit them. I have found a useful way of looking at this process:

Persuasion is not about getting a person to do what you want them to do, it is about getting them to want to change.
It is not about coercion, it is about desire, the desire for change is induced within the client

I will be running a 2 day Essential Motivational Interviewing Skills in Nottingham on the 16th & 17th of December 2014.

Foundation Degree in Drug & Alcohol Counselling & Treatment


If you are working with substance users or would like to move into the field then this might be the course for you. It is part time and designed to fit alongside work. It runs as a one evening a week class in Leicester or if you live further afield or need the flexible study option then the Distance Learning Option might be for you.

“The course will provide the skills, knowledge base and expertise needed to use counselling skills within the drug and alcohol counselling field. The Degree provides an opportunity for people to train as drug and alcohol counselling workers and build a career in this profession… and will enable students to develop sufficient competence and confidence to access employment in the drug and alcohol counselling field.”

Both are now recruiting. Click the links for more information about the Face to Face Course or the Distance Learning Course.

If you want more information then contact LH114@le.ac.uk or get in touch with me.

An update on the lecture by Professor David Nutt: Putting Science at the Heart of Drug Policy

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David Nutt wins international recognition for “Standing up for Science”

The John Maddox Prize has been awarded to the ISCD’s founder and chair for his “his continued courage and commitment to rational debate, despite opposition and public criticism”

Click Here to see a short YouTube clip about the award

So, it is fantastic to have him come to Leicester to deliver a public lecture. The details and how to book are below.

Click Here to download the Dave Nutt Lecture Poster

Here is an update on the details:

 Date: Wednesday 20th of November

Time: 5:15pm

Venue: Frank and Katherine May lecture theatre at the Henry Wellcome building, Lancaster Road Leicester, LE1 9HN

The event is free but places are limited so you need to register your

attendance. Please contact: Russell Knifton, t: 0116 252 5780 · e: rk191@le.ac.uk

A Public Lecture with Professor David Nutt – ‘Putting Science at the Heart of Drug Policy’

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We at the Foundation Degree in Drug and Alcohol Treatment and Counselling teamed up with the Criminology Department and invited Professor Nutt to come to and speak in Leicester.

He will be coming to speak at a Public Lecture on Wednesday 20th of November, at Leicester University. The title of his talk is:

‘Putting Science at the Heart of Drug Policy’

Watch this space for time, venue and booking details.

In case you didn’t know here is a bit of background on Professor Nutt:

He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Academy of Medical Sciences. He holds visiting professorships in Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands. He is a past president of the British Association of 2012-05-30-DrugsWithoutHotAirPsychopharmacology and of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology. He is currently the president of the British Neuroscience Association and vice-president of the European Brain Council. He is currently chair in Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. (This CV carries on, you get the idea, he is very eminent!)

He was Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). One paper he co-authored, was published in the Lancet (2007 Volume 369, pp 1047-53) under the title “Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse”. This was part of a continuing critique of the current drug classification system according to the Misuse of Drugs Act. Proposing a more rational way of classifying drugs according to their potential harm and pointing out the inconsistencies in the current system.

This made him a bit unpopular and in 2009 got him sacked by the Home Secretary as Chair of the ACMD. He went on to found the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. In 2012 wrote a book on the topic of drug policy: “Drugs without the Hot Air”

Working with Problematic Alcohol Users

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There has been increasing concern about the harm done by this legal drug; with growing media interest in its health and social impact. There are common misunderstandings around what constitutes ‘problem drinking’ and what just ‘social lubrication’ is. This course aims to raise awareness of the important issues and to consider what the recent, evidence based interventions can do to actively involve people who have or may develop problems with alcohol.

This one day course is aimed at those who need to have a working knowledge of how to use a person centred, collaborative approach to helping clients understand alcohol, its effects and the treatment options available. It will centre on skills to engage clients towards change and to help prevent relapse.

Course content includes

  • The social context of alcohol and potential harms
  • Physical and psychological effects (including problems associated with withdrawal)
  • Skills and strategies for opportunistic brief interventions, dealing with ambivalence and resistance
  • Principles of assessment and assessment tools
  • Types of problem drinking
  • Models of treatment (Abstinence & Harm Reduction)
  • Medical interventions and signposting

To book Click Here

What is ‘Addiction’?

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We often hear the word ‘Addiction’ used in the following way: “This person is using drugs because he is addicted”. The diagnostic label is then imagined to explain things. Let’s have another look at this.

Addiction is usually defined along the lines of: “When an individual persists in use of alcohol or other drugs despite problems related to use of the substance”

This seems to be saying is that – someone is doing something that is bad for them and they cannot control it.

So the statement we started with becomes – this person is using drugs because he cannot control it. Hmm and why can they not control it? – Because they are addicted. This seems to go round in circles without telling us anything; it is what we might call a tautology.

So the first thing we need to do is to remind ourselves that the word addiction is not an explanation but a label.  It is a label we use to denote someone doing something ‘non optimum’ while being unable to stop or control the behaviour. Note that this is not telling us why they are like this, we still need to find out.

The other thing that people do is to treat the word addiction as a thing, when it is more like a process. You cannot pick it up and put it in a wheel barrow can you? In fact it is a set of processes that interact in complex ways. And these processes contribute to the experience of not being able to control the behaviour.

Then we begin to realise that it is not ‘all or nothing’; it is a matter of degree. The amount of control seems to be on a continuum. One can be fully in control on the one hand of the spectrum and not at all in control at the other end. It seems to me that most of us with most of our behaviours are somewhere between these two ends.

So now we can start to ask some useful questions:

  • To what degree is the behaviour harmful?
  • To what degree are we able to control it?
  • Can we increase the degree to which we control this behaviour?
  • In what ways could we do this?

This helps us to look at the multiple processes that contribute to addiction and we find ourselves in a better position to do something about the problem. This discussion will continue in future posts on this topic.

John Davis has some interesting things to say on the topic in his book ‘ The Myth of Addiction’ – here he is talking about his ideas

(This article originally appeared here a couple of years ago and is reproduced here with a few edits)

AA Founder had interesting ideas on LSD

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Many people have heard of Bill Wilson. In 1935 he was the co founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). This was a sobriety, abstinence based organisation in Ohio, USA. What people may not realise is that a new book due to be published asserts that Wilson experimented with LSD in order to tackle his own battle with depression. He came to believe; about 20 years after the setting up of this movement that LSD could help people with alcohol problems to achieve a sort of “Spiritual Breakthrough or Awakening” and promote recovery. This is a controversial point of view and he realised this; often speaking about this in a guarded manner. He thought that LSD was a non-addictive substance that alters thought processes in a way that could be helpful.

The Foundation Degree in Drug & Alcohol Counselling and Treatment aims to provide an in depth understanding of the issues in addiction and responses to this.

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