How to Help Your Clients De-Stigmatize Relapse

Help Your Clients De-Stigmatize Relapse
May 27, 2019
|   Updated:
May 21, 2021

One message you may regularly tell your clients or anyone else recovering from addiction is to take things one day at a time. It is one thing to say this, but it is another thing to accept this approach and put it into practice. The difficulty of putting this attitude into practice becomes apparent the moment someone experiences a relapse.

Your client (or whoever has relapsed) often feels a range of emotions. These emotions can feel overwhelming, and these emotions can be powerful. Your client may feel shame, guilt, disappointment, and fear. They may think that they have let down their loved ones and fear the consequences of disappointing someone else. They may lose confidence in themselves and question their ability to ever find success in their quest for sobriety. They may feel like the weight of the world is on their shoulders and that the world is judging them.

All these feelings associated with relapse, of course, are not easy for your client. No doubt, you have seen this before, and you will see this again. So how can you best support your clients or others in their path to sobriety after they have had a relapse? Try these strategies to help our client de-stigmatize their relapse. When clients don’t see a relapse in such a negative light, it will be easier for them to get back on the right track.

Normalize the Experience

For one thing, you can help your client normalize this experience. Ask them more about what it feels like to have relapsed. You may notice common themes across people you’ve helped; share these observations with your client. Validate your client’s feelings. Reassure your client that these feelings are normal and that it is common to feel these emotions and doubt themselves. There is power in people hearing that they are not alone in their struggles.

Anyone who has been through recovery or has watched people go through recovery knows this truth: each day presents itself with its challenges. Remind your client that negatively judging their struggles and challenges is not serving them well. Guide them on how to deal with the feeling that others might be judging them, and it is OK to talk about or write about how this is for them. It can be useful to address the stigma and identify ways in which they may also think about themselves from this perspective and bring it out into the open. Moreover, if they have internalized the stigma of what they perceive the world thinks of them, this is unlikely going to be useful for their recovery to focus on this.

Rebuild Self-Confidence

Once you have encouraged your clients to get in touch with their emotions, it can be beneficial to help them rebuild their self-confidence. There are several ways that you can do this. Your approach will be guided by how you connect with your client and your client’s attitude. If there are strategies that you have found to be effective already, this is the time to use them. If you are struggling with how to do this, you may want to reach out to a coworker or supervisor to bounce off ideas.

One great way to help a client rebuild self-confidence is to give them the ability to document and share their sobriety with you, their recovery circle, and their loved ones. Empowering clients with the accountability for sobriety, tools like Soberlink Alcohol Monitoring increase self-confidence because clients can easily prove to themselves and those around them that they can stay sober. It reminds them that even though relapses may happen, the stigma associated with that does not outweigh positive events of the rest of their recovery journey.

Change in Mindset

One highly effective method is to help your client achieve a change in mindset. Just as you had acknowledged that each day presents its challenges, you can also direct focus that each day also presents its opportunities.

Essentially, take what your client may see as a roadblock and help them see it as an opportunity for success. For example, if your client is facing a stressor or a trigger that is making them want to drink again, you can help them see their cycle of relapse. Reinforce that triggers are normal. Having a drink is the way they HAD responded in the past. As they are working on their recovery and creating the future that they want for themselves, learning to recognize and face this challenge head-on is a positive step. They can make a new and better decision for themselves: the choice to choose to adopt a new mindset. A change in mindset represents a huge success that clients can build upon.

Even after these successes, of course, it is possible that a relapse can occur again in the future. It is important to help your client recognize the impact of past successes, no matter how big or how small, because these successes represent the key to having success again in the future and shifting away from the non-useful judgments related to failure. Making peace with a relapse and trying again, by these standards, is the definition of success.

About the Author

Marni Amsellem, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice specializing in health psychology, health behavior, anxiety, stress, and coping. Additionally, she consults on and writes about a variety of mental health, relationship, and prevention-focused topics, which she shares on her website and social media @smartpsychreads.

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