The Conversation of Recovery
by Harry Henshaw, Ed.D., LMHC
Transformational Counseling is all about assisting another human being to live a life that they love and to live it powerfully. Transformational Counseling is about creating a space for others to learn how to transform their lives, to live a life differently from how it was in the past, to truly create what they desire. Transformational Counseling is about assisting others in their getting and utilizing a powerful technology that will enable them to make a true difference in their life and in the lives of others. Transformational Counseling is about assisting another to become present to how they have stopped themselves in their life and in the process transform their way of being in the world. While comprised of a variety of distinctions that are important for understanding the process of transformation, the utilization of Transformational Counseling has five interrelated components that are crucial to its successful use with others and even with oneself.
While this article will outline the basic principles and components of Transformational Counseling for assisting others, it will also explore its use with those who are experiencing drug and alcohol dependency problems. Transformational Counseling makes available a very powerful technology for anyone who would like to create new possibilities for themselves including those who are in and struggling with recovery. The primary reason for such application rests with the fact that we are all human beings, regardless of whether or not we are experiencing addiction oriented issues. Given our sense of relatedness as human beings, our fundamental process for how we go about creating our world and what occurs there for us is the same. Those who are in the process of entering the recovery process have merely chosen to use alcohol or drugs or both in the past to manage the pain and negative emotions generated from their self-limiting belief and in the process to take themselves out of the Conversation of life. The use of alcohol and drug is merely a way to numb the intense pain generated by being their ego, who they think they are, their self-limiting belief.
Transformational Counseling fully acknowledges the power of the human mind, of thought itself. The thoughts that we have are very important, if not the most important component of what it is to be a human being in that our thoughts are truly creative in nature. We are thinking beings that create initially from our thoughts. Everything that we do or take on in life first began as a thought or idea. It is very familiar for us to believe that the external world is that which is reality and that our thoughts are merely the effect or product of such a world. From such a belief we tend to give little or no real credence to our thoughts and thinking patterns as being the fundamental cause in the matter. As a result we commonly believe that in order for us to be truly happy we must manipulate or change something about the external world, other people, circumstances and situations. However, within the conversation of Transformational Counseling it is our thoughts that shape or determine our experiences, our feelings and behavior and our very sense of reality. Furthermore, it is the thought that we have or create about ourselves that forms the background of our life, the context from which we experience life itself, how the worlds occurs for us.
Transformational Counseling also acknowledges that we are totally responsible for creating our thoughts and most importantly for that which we have about ourselves. Our thoughts are not the result of things happening to us, either from circumstance, situations or the behavior of others but rather it is the interpretation or meaning that we give to the events that happen that makes them appear to us as they do. Events do happen including those involving others but fundamental to understanding our natural, creative process is that it is about what we do with the events, what meaning we give or make them out to be about that determines our experience. We are meaning making machines in a sense, constantly wrapping meaning around everything in life, people, places and things and most importantly about ourselves. The meaning that we give or create with respect to an event will determine the experience that we have as a human being and with it how we feel, the emotions that we have, and also the behavior that will eventually result. Every emotion that we experience and behavior that we cause is the result of thoughts that we create. As mentioned above, the most important thought that we create is that which is about us, the definition that we give ourselves and it is that which determines or defines our self-image, who we think we are in the world.
The recognition that their own thinking may be that which is generating their negative experiences and dependency upon alcohol or drugs or both does not exist for individuals in recovery especially while they are actively using substances. The difficulties that they are having are believed by them to have been caused by something external, their circumstance, life situations or even other people in their life. As they continue to stay focused on that which is external in their attempt to cope with life or even to heal through recovery they are actually continuing to create the same type of experiences and life that originally brought them into recovery. Associated with this way of being is that the individual will tend to assume little if any responsibility for himself. What tends to get created is either blame or even guilt for what the individual is experiencing. Without the recognition or acknowledgement of the true source of their experience and substance use the individual will continue to create the same type of experiences that they are having. Unable to access their natural ability and power to transform their life will leave them having and being more of their past, the probable almost certain future. Unfortunately, such a missing is not only present with the one suffering from dependency issues but also for the majority of the counselors attempting to assist those in recovery. Most of the counselors working with those in recovery do not truly get the creative power of our thoughts or that we are completely responsible for creating them.
The first distinction necessary for one to begin to transform their life has to do with the existence of the self-limiting belief. Becoming present to the self-limiting belief is a process of getting what has truly stopped a person in his life, has stopped him from living a life that he loves and living it powerfully. Once there is the distinction or awareness of the self-limiting belief, of what has been driving a person's bus, possibly for the first time in that individual's life the opportunity or space has been created for them to begin to create themselves anew, to reinvent themselves, to be differently in the world. This creative act takes place with the inventing of possibilities. It is by taking on creating and living into a person's possibilities that the individual begins to create a life much differently than how it once was before a Conversation of transformation. Once possibilities have been created a person next learns how to consistently be or live inside his possibilities by learning the process of enrollment. Once the technology of enrollment is gotten and one begins to consistently apply it in his life, it is by engaging in the development of a Daily Plan and staying in the Conversation with others that the technology of transformation becomes fully realized and lived for the person. This powerful technology is applicable to both the one being assisted and the person doing the assisting and can only be fully realized when both are involved in the Conversation.
The self-limiting belief is a belief that we have about ourselves, about who we think we are in the world. The self-limiting belief is a belief that has affected if not determined our life in the past, is shaping what we think, say, feel, and do in the present and will generate our future. Within the Conversation of Transformational Counseling, the self-limiting belief is a thought or idea that has its genesis between the ages of three and six. An event took place in the individual's life, an event that the child believes should not have happened as it did and as a child the individual made a judgment or gave the event meaning. Given that for a child everything is about them, it is from this event and the meaning that they invented about it that the child also created an idea about itself, about who they think they are in the world as a result of the event. The child next converts the idea into a belief, a belief that is all about their sense of adequacy, value or worth as person. A sense of something is wrong or not being enough about the self is created. Getting the distinction of the self-limiting belief is crucial to the individual's personal growth and continued development. If the individual does not get the distinction of the self limiting belief, if it stays hidden from them, of who they have been being, their life will remain as it has always been, as they will continue to be the person they think they truly are. Such a distinction can be gotten several ways. One way, for example, is to have a person begin to monitor their spoken word. Becoming present to what they actually say will eventually reveal the self-limiting belief. Another way to get the distinction of our self-limiting belief is to monitor our self-talk. The self-limiting belief actually exists inside our everyday language, in the words that we say especially when reference is made about the self and inside our inner voice. Even though its genesis is from the past, the self-limiting belief exists in our real time play, self Conversation in the present.
For the individual who is experiencing the pain of alcohol and drug dependency, getting this distinction is crucial to their transformation and also for them to be successful in their recovery. While a Conversation about the existence of the self-limiting belief is very unfamiliar to anyone, there will also be a tendency for the addicted individual to not want to discover it. Common to all human beings, we tend to want to keep our self-limiting belief hidden from ourselves and especially from others. No individual, at least initially, wants to share with another their sense of inadequacy but rather is caught up in looking good or not looking bad to others. We generate a great deal of energy in our attempt to repress its existence, energy that will eventually have a very negative consequence for our way of being or existence in the world. The very process of engaging in a Conversation about the self-limiting belief will eventually recreate the negative emotions associated with the cravings for substances. To become present to the self-limiting belief will necessitate that the individual experience that which is hidden in their fundamental way of being inauthentic in life. Once gotten the individual will also experience the negative emotions that the self-limiting belief generates and it is inside the emotional state that gets created that the addicted individual will have a tendency to want to fix by returning to very familiar ways, to using drugs and alcohol. However, unless the self-limiting belief is gotten life will tend to be as it has been in the past resulting in a probable almost certain future.
The second component of this process is that of creating possibilities for oneself. Creating possibilities is the process of redefining or reinventing oneself, of actually creating new language and words from which to begin to develop a new and more powerful, self-expressed individual. Once the individual becomes present to who they have been being in the world, to their self-limiting belief and the impact that it has had in his life, both on himself and others, a space is now created or opened up for them to literally say or declare who they will now be for themselves, others and the world. Such a process of redefining oneself is as simple as initially creating new words from which to begin to speak or refer to oneself as being. For example, if an individual's self limiting belief is that he is "not enough," he could begin to redefine or invent himself as the possibilities of "acceptance", "creativity" and "leadership" merely by declaring and intentioning himself to be these possibilities in his spoken word. Creating such new language from which to refer to oneself will become for that person his new self-affirmation. Committing such a self-created affirmation to ones spoken word will create a space from which the individual will have the opportunity to experience life differently, a life of power, freedom and full self-expression. Such a declaration is not merely linguistical but will begin to call forth action. Who we are, who we say we are, will eventually determine what we do and have in life.
The listening for the Conversation of possibilities will be even more unfamiliar than the one about the self-limiting belief. Even though possibilities will be caused for the individual and a sense of hope and inspiration created, there will be a tendency at some point for the person to not belief that their life can be truly transformed merely by creating possibilities. Even when the person gets the existence of his self-limiting belief, how he has been being that in his life and the impact upon himself and others as a result, a sense of doubt will arise that mere words or language will truly assist them in transforming their life let alone cause them to be successful with respect to their recovery. As with a newborn child, the existence of possibilities once invented or created will be quite fragile. There will be in the beginning of this Conversation a tendency to return to being ones self-limiting belief if for no other reason than it is familiar to the person. The self-limiting belief is about life in their comfort zone, from the ego, in what is reasonable and familiar to them. Even though the individual will become enrolled into his possibilities it is in the person's initial not getting of its application in life that will leave it vulnerable. The individual will return to his community and with this reentry a breakdown will happen. The success of this process will rest upon the individual continuing to stay in the Conversation about his possibilities and also upon the one assisting to continue to generate the space necessary for this creative process to be lived fully.
The third component of Transformational Counseling is that of enrollment. Enrollment is the process of continuing to stay inside or live into ones possibilities and out of ones self-limiting belief. The process or technology of enrollment will be vital when ones starts to again experience a loss of power, freedom or self expression which is equitable to the negative human emotions of anger, depression, etc. When we have such an experience our past has again reappeared for us. Such reappearance is merely our self-limiting belief once again determining who we are in the world. Once again our self-limiting belief is driving our bus. The process of enrollment allows us to get the inauthenticity that we have created by again being our self-limiting belief. Enrollment allows us to get present to what we are pretending about the experience and what we are hiding. The pretense is always about another person, place or thing and with it there is the experience of some sort of sense of threat and blame. The story from pretense has something to do with the other person, situation or circumstance causing us to feel a certain way. Enrollment technology allows us to get that we created the pretense, the story, and furthermore what the experience is truly all about. Becoming present to what is hidden from us in the experience allows us to again make the distinction of our self-limiting belief and that which is truly creating the experience. It is our self-limiting belief that actually creates the breakdown due to the individual's sense of inadequacy with respect to the situation, circumstance or interactions with another. Once we become present to that which is creating the inauthenticity we are able to give it up through enrollment and again reinvent ourselves through the creation or even regeneration of our possibilities. Once a person does enrollment with himself the inauthenticity he created disappears and with it the individual's power, freedom and full self-expression is once again restored.
The creation of possibilities will begin a process of bringing forth action. The individual who takes on creating possibilities for himself and his life will become very motivated to do and be differently in life. With the creation of possibilities the person will experience a renewed sense of power, freedom and self-expression. However, it is in this breakthrough of creating possibilities that the person will eventually experience breakdowns in the various domains of his life especially when he begins to live life on life's terms. When the individual returns to his community, to life as it was before the recovery process started, there will be a tendency to experience breakdowns. When one returns to his community there will exist a discrepancy of how he was being before his transformation began and how he is being now from possibilities. When one returns to his community there will also be a tendency to return to familiar ways of being and dealing with the circumstances and situations of life and even other people. It is within his return that the technology of enrollment will be crucial to his continued transformation and recovery. The use of enrollment will allow the person to get how he is actually creating the breakdown himself, to get how he is creating a story about the situation, circumstance or others and most importantly the source of this creation, his self-limiting belief. The self-limiting belief generates the context from which the world occurs for us. Knowing that he is creating this experience from the background of his self-limiting belief will give him the power to choose, the power to return to being his possibilities thereby allowing him to experience the circumstance, situation or another in a manner that is in alignment with or from his possibilities.
The Daily Plan is the fourth component in the utilization of the technology of Transformational Counseling. Transformational Counseling is not merely about understanding the power of our thoughts but ultimately about action. We live in a world of action and for us to make a difference in our life as well as in that of another we must ultimately create through action. The Daily Plan allows one the opportunity to begin to create their life anew by assisting them in monitoring their day-to-day activities and behavior. As our possibilities will call forth action, the Daily Plan allows one the opportunity to begin to create their life differently by planning what they will specifically take on or do to create or bring forth their chosen possibilities in their lives. The Daily Plan is about making a commitment to oneself to fulfill on their intentions, to fulfill on being their possibilities. One of the fundamental elements of this structure is how will an individual measurably bring forth his possibilities into his life, how will he go about practically creating them for myself and in the world. The Daily Plan also allows one the opportunity to stay present to his self-limiting belief as it arises in the act of fulfilling on his Daily Plan. Having a breakthrough with the creation of possibilities and especially with their implementation in life will eventually create a breakdown too. With the use of a Daily Plan the person will have the opportunity to become present to what is stopping him and as a result get back into generating his possibilities through enrollment and as a result continue to create from the present.
While the use of the Daily Plan will support and assist the individual in his transformation and recovery, there will also be a tendency to not complete it on a consistent basis. The use of the Daily Plan is antithetical to the existence of the self-limiting belief, with the way of being the individual is very familiar with. In addition to assisting the individual in creating the life that he wants and to be able to distinguish his self-limiting belief as it reappears, the Daily Plan is also about ones commitment and integrity both to himself and others. When the individual develops or creates his Daily Plan he will be making a commitment to himself and others, to what he says that he wants to create in his life. Once the individual's plans for his transformation and recovery are made real by committing them to written form in his Daily Plan, it will become an issue of integrity, of doing what he said he would do, of doing complete work with whatever he does and of doing what he does as it was meant to be done. It is only be staying in integrity and fulfilling on his commitments to himself and others that he will be able to live into his possibilities, to transform his life. The individual will either be his self-limiting belief or his possibilities and it is through his integrity that he will have the opportunity to become present to his commitment or intension in life. The Daily Plan is a powerful technique that will effectively assist one in his transformation and recovery.
The Conversation is the fifth component of Transformational Counseling and is about enrollment and the self-limiting belief reappearing in ones commitments to his Daily Plan. While identified as the fifth component of this process, the Conversation actually begins when one is introduced to the work of transformation. It will always be a question of whether or not one will stay in the Conversation to continue to do the work of transformation after enrollment has taken place. However, the Conversation is about communicating with another through the enrollment process. It is in the Conversation that we have the opportunity to begin and continue utilizing the technology of Transformational Counseling. There will always be breakdowns in life even as we utilize the work of transformation. When we once again experience a loss of power, freedom and self-expression our past has reappeared again in our life and with it a breakdown. Staying in the Conversation with another person within transformation will give us the opportunity to become present to the inauthentic way of being that we have recreated and also to create the space for us to experience another breakthrough. It is only in a Conversation with another where we get the stories that we invent in the pretense about others, situations and circumstances that we will have an opportunity to also get present to that which is hidden from our view, the context, that which is truly creating our breakdown experience. That which is hidden is always from our past and has to do in some manner with our self-limiting belief. Furthermore, it is only from this distinction that a clearing will be caused to live in possibility again. The Conversation is about enrollment, enrolling ourselves and assisting others through enrollment. It is only in communication with another that we can continue to be and live into our possibilities and with it stay in the work of transformation with another and ourselves.
As alluded to above, there will be a tendency to want to leave the Conversation especially when one has first gotten or been introduced to the technology of transformation and Transformational Counseling. The initial experience of power, freedom and full self expression is very enrolling and with this feeling of being touched, moved and inspired by our possibilities one may create a belief that no future work is really necessary. However, the technology of transformation is not something that you simply get but something that is constantly gotten. When not in communication with others inside the Conversation of transformation there will be a tendency to stop doing the work and go back to what is familiar and especially to the familiar ways that we attempted to resolve breakdowns. It is the familiar that is within the world of the self-limiting belief. As mentioned above, the self-limiting does not go away, it is there throughout our life. While the self-limiting belief will reappear in our life through a breakdown, staying in the Conversation with another will assist us in distinguishing the inauthenticity that we create and once again empower us to get back into or create new possibilities for ourselves. Continuing the work of transformation by staying in the Conversation with others is not familiar and in many respects unreasonable. However, staying in the Conversation is crucial to our continued transformation as a human being living in the world and to the recovery process too.
I am currently the Director of Outpatient Services at the Holistic Addiction Treatment Program in North Miami Beach, Florida. In working with people entering recovery in both the inpatient and outpatient programs it has been my experience that one of the first behaviors that will appear for the individual entering a relapse mode is when he takes himself out of the Conversation. This process of taking oneself out of the Conversation applies to whether one is attending transformational oriented group sessions or attending daily AA or NA meetings for those the 12 Step Program in recovery. When the person stops seeking and having human contact with people assisting him in his recovery, when one drops out of communication with other human beings who are helping him to transform his life, there will be a tendency to go back to that which is familiar for dealing with breakdowns. For those in recovery one of the familiar ways of attempting to fix a breakdown is to self-medicate with either alcohol or drugs or both. When the individual cuts himself off from the very process of his transformation and recovery, cuts himself off from communicating with another human being about what he is experiencing, the relapse process has begun for that person. The individual is once again unable to get how he is creating the breakdown and how to transform it.
Staying present to the existence of his self-limiting belief, generating his possibilities through his Daily Plan and processing breakdowns with others through enrollment does create the space for the individual to transform his life, be enrolled into the 12 Step Program and be successful in recovery. Much of why this technology is not utilized in the recovery field or even in the mental health arena is that most counselors are not even aware of its existence. For example, most counselors are not aware or present to the concept of a self-limiting belief let alone how it will, if not distinguished, continue to create a barrier or constraint for another. Most counselors are not even aware of the actual power of our thinking, of how we actually create our experiences, thoughts, feeling and behavior. Unfortunately, this lack of awareness as to how we create the occurring world leaves most counselors being able to only focus on that which is external to the client, that is, situations, circumstances and other people and their behavior. When we focus on that which is external to the client and engage in a discussion about situation, circumstance or another we run the risk of not generating the space for the client to get how he actually created or is continuing to create his experiences. When we are unable to assist a client in discovering how he actually created his situation, circumstance or relationship to another through his thinking and thoughts we run the risk of having the client assume little if any responsibility for his life, reinforcing or supporting a state of total disempowerment and leaving the probable almost certain future for the client.
Harry Henshaw, Ed.D., LMHC