Archive for Counseling Models and Techniques

Paganism, Sobriety, and AA

I found an interesting take on AA today on CNN’s religion blog.  Click here to see it — it’s entitled My Faithlessness: The atheist way through AA.

The author talks about the difficulty of being an atheist in a room full of Jesus.  She acknowledges the reputation AA has for being kind of a cult in and of itself.  Towards the end she states:

“I believe that the most important spiritual principle of AA is humility. The recognition that we are flawed, that we can and must change and that our purpose not only in sobriety but in life is to be of service to others.”

So she has found a way to spiritually connect in the end — through humility and service and a recognition of flawed nature.  I’m glad for her.

I’m not sure this will work for many Pagan alcoholics.  My Pagan clients are especially annoyed with the emphasis on surrender of power. They tend to think that they need to take back personal power and personal responsibility in order to rebuild themselves. They feel oppressed by the assumptions of one male deity.  They DON’T want a nonspiritual alternative.

See:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pagans_In_Recovery

There are a number of alternative 12- and 13-step Pagan programs.  Here is one such system I like which was created by Circle Sanctuary priestess Selena Fox as part of her counseling master’s degree thesis at University of Wisconsin-Madison entitled “When Goddess is God: Pagans, Recovery, and Alcoholics Anonymous”(1995):

PAGAN TWELVE STEPS

1. We recognize that we have given away personal power by addiction to substances, that this has resulted in dysfunctional living, that it’s time to reclaim our power and restore balance to ourselves and our lives.

2. Came to acknowledge that the Divine Power within can bring about healing change and harmony.

3. Chose to allow the Divine within of our own personal path to be the central guiding force in ourselves and our lives.

4. Examined ourselves deeply and honestly on all dimensions, physical, mental, behavioral, emotional, and spiritual.

5. Acknowledged to the Divine, to our egos, and to at least one ally, what is
unhealthy and unbalanced in our bodies, thoughts, emotions, behaviors & souls.

6. Were ready for the Divine within to work transformation to restore balance to ourselves and our lives.

7. Sincerely invited the Divine within to dispel barriers to change, and to facilitate transformation.

8. Made a lists of all beings we have harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such beings as much as possible, except when to do so would cause harm to them or others or make a difficult situation worse.

10. Continued our process of self-examination, acknowledging our strengths as well as our problems, promptly acknowledging our mistake & successes when they occurred.

11. Sought through spiritual activities such as rituals, meditations, chanting, dancing,
rhythm making, invocations, prayers, vigils, nature walks, journal writing, and other practices, to strengthen our relationship with the Divine within and to allow this dimension of ourselves to be the guiding force in our lives.

12 . Having had a spiritual rebirth as a result of this process of healing transformation, we continue to work with these principles and are willing to share our story with those who come to us in need.

There actually used to be a Pagan AA meeting in office space I rented on Saturdays before the local Pagan shop Mystickal Voyage shut-down.   I’d love to know if they managed to relocate somewhere nearby.

I will comment that vanilla AA is often effective. I’m frequently glad it exists.  I think most of the problems are as much a result of local failings and local members as of the AA system itself.  Few groups run perfectly as intended.

My occasional objections to it are along the lines of AA as its own religion, the 12-Steps and the program being  inviolate and those questioning are “in denial”, and of course the emphasis on surrender to higher power.  Again — much of this depends upon how the local meeting is run.

Here are a few of the other variants I hear from my clients (Pagan or not):

1) Frequent complaints by high IQ clients that it seems simplistic and not open to intelligent challenge.

2) Frequent complaints of hypocritical/relapsing sponsors.

I’m not sure there is a summary point to this posting — I guess maybe that some flexibility is needed in finding a path to sobriety and to the Divine.  Also that such flexibility is being created by Pagans and atheists and others who need the help while stuck in our mainstream culture.

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Light Therapy and Negative Ionization for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder in which persons experience symptoms associated with depression (sadness, low energy, weight gain, loss of interest in activities, & more) during the winter months when exposure to sunlight is diminished.

Several research studies have shown the effectiveness of full spectrum (mimics natural daylight) light therapy boxes in improving depression symptoms.  Users sit beneath the lights with the lights shining into their eyes at a slight downward angle.  They usually do this for about 20-30 minutes per day.  Some studies have suggested that early morning is the best time for this.  Research has also shown the value of negative air ionization therapy — especially at high density concentrations.   The Center for Environmental Therapeutics has information on environmental therapies for SAD and other disorders, including the use of light therapy boxes and negative ionizers.  They have a useful online self-assessment instrument instrument for depression, including questions for SAD, which can be found here. The results should be discussed with a therapist or doctor.  The criteria that therapists and doctors generally use when diagnosing SAD can be found here.

I have recently purchased a  Day-Light(TM) light therapy box by Uplift Technologies Inc. so I can show clients what these look like and start experimenting with it.  This looks like a good model given the adjustable legs, downward angle of the light provided, and the low cost.  It’s also recommended by CET — which is run by a group of doctors primarily out of Columbia University and Yale.

I have also purchased an ionization unit from Comtech Research (model IG-133DG). The various manufacturers fight back and forth as to how useful negative ions are for air purification (HEPA filter companies claim negative ions just cause dirt to cling to walls and surfaces) but that’s not the point — for help with SAD (and perhaps other forms of depression and some sleep disorders) high concentrations of negative ions are clinically indicated.

As I think I’ve said before, a high percentage of the clients who come to me seem to be adverse to taking medications.  While I’m not adverse to sending someone for a psychiatric evaluation for possible medication, OF COURSE holistic drug-free alternatives should also be explored.  These alternatives delight me.

They also delight the Pagan in me.  Most of the light therapy options work by providing bright light at colors close to or identical to natural sunlight.  Negative ions are found naturally at fairly high levels in forests and along beaches.  In other words, these healing alternatives help bring us back to nature and affirm its healing value.  Now, if we could all just get OUTSIDE more and go for a walk in the forest or along the beach more!!

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