By Katherine Jenkins, Head of the Centre for Addiction Treatment Studies, Action on Addiction

 

I've heard it said that addictions counselling is 'all about the 12 steps'.

 

The 12 step programme is a well-established and respected approach to supporting recovery from addiction. It has been described by many people I have worked with as 'a life saver'.

 

However, in my experience it is also not the only way to treat addiction and support recovery and it doesn't suit everyone. Addiction is a very complex issue, the consequences of which are wide ranging.

 

It is non-discriminatory - it can and will affect people from every walk of life. Its reach extends beyond that of the individual experiencing the devastating effects of their addiction. It infiltrates their family members, friends, the communities in which they live and society as a whole.

 

Therefore, given the multiplicity of factors associated with addiction, our addictions counselling degree can't just focus on the 12 step programme. We should and do cover a number of other core areas of counselling to enable students to develop the skills and knowledge needed, to competently work with addiction and the many issues related to it. As professionals we need to learn about a range of evidenced based interventions to address this level of complexity.

 

For any individual working in a helping profession the ability to reflect on their own practice, learn lessons from their experiences and understand how internal and external factors influence their own decision making is absolutely crucial. Consequently, there is a core requirement of personal and professional development for every student across the degree programme, which is assessed in the form of a portfolio submitted at the end of each year.

 

Similarly, the development of a student's person-centred counselling skills is focused on as soon as they start their first year of study which then leads in to the development of motivational interviewing (MI) skills. This approach, first developed by William Miller and Stephan Rollnick in the 1980s, is a directive, client-centred counselling style. It can be applied to any presenting need which requires a change in behaviour by helping clients to explore and resolve ambivalence. This includes addiction, but is also extremely relevant and widely used in other areas such as obesity, phobias, making life decisions, managing medical condition such as diabetes and more. In fact, it's quite hard to think of an area where the use of MI would not be helpful.

 

Importantly, as part of the curriculum students develop their understanding and practical use of cognitive behavioural interventions - how do our core beliefs about ourselves, our relationships and beyond impact how we respond to the strains and stressors of life? What if our responses create more problems for us, cause us more harm? How can we support people to think about things in a different way to help change negative responses into more positive ones?

 

We also explore the relevance and use of interpersonal group therapy in the context of addiction treatment and students develop their understanding of the potential benefits as well as the application of both 1:1 and group interventions in treating complex addictions.

 

The work based learning nature of our degree means students are required to apply what they learn in the classroom to real life professional practice. Every student is required to be in a suitable community or residential treatment placement, where they are supported to practically develop their therapeutic skills. Our placement providers play an integral role in shaping the professionals of the future and the unique relationship between the Centre for Addiction Treatment Studies, the University of Bath and placement providers enhance the learning opportunities and environment for all our brilliant students.

I have only touched upon some of the core elements of our degree – the threads which run throughout each year, but we also cover many more related subjects such as:

 

  • Assessment and treatment planning
  • 12 steps and mutual aid
  • Harm reduction
  • Relapse prevention
  • Research
  • Supervision
  • Diversity
  • Family work

 

If you'd like to find out more about our addictions counselling degree then call us on 01985 843780 or email training@actiononaddiction.org.uk.