I worked with a 49 year old woman who wanted to stop binge drinking, let’s call her Lisa. Lisa said she wanted to discontinue her 10 year binge drinking habit because it was ruining her health, her relationship and career. On the surface she seemed to have it together; intelligence, sense of humour, sharp and witty. But she reported feeling panic/anxiety when she was not drinking, but while drinking she coudn't stop and would "embarrass herself incredibly".
She was focused on getting rid of her drinking but felt she had no control herself to do so. Initially we spent time exploring her drinking triggers, and building a trusting counseling relationship in which she felt she could tell me anything.
Lisa felt guilty and frustrated with herself that she did not know why she would binge drink. Like so many clients she would say things like “I don’t know why. I had a good childhood!” As therapists we know this kind of defence often blocks unfulfilled emotional needs from the past due to painful feelings.
So as I began to wonder what Lisa was really trying to “fill up” by drinking excessively, it became clear that she had not adequately dealt with the death of her father 20 years ago. He died while she was doing a postgraduate degree. A lecturer actually said to her “Look, for goodness sake it’s been three weeks since he died, just move on!” This lecturer whom Lisa had come to admire academically nonetheless delivered this remarkably unskillful hypnotic suggestion to Lisa (most likely a projection of his own unresolved grief or death anxiety) which she took on board, small wonder given she was vulnerable and in the initial shock stage of the grieving cycle.
So she blocked her normal emotions associated with grief, such as anger and mild depression. Most of Lisa’s psychotherapy with me involved processing her grief reactions and learning self-hypnotic skills in which she could fill herself up emotionally without relying so much on external sources.
Gradually, her drinking ceased completely and her previously avoided feelings of anger and depression were then able to be skillfully worked through. Her anxiety also reduced and she ceased having panic attacks.
Combining mindfulness counseling (non-judgemental acceptance of inner experience), hypnotherapy and psychotherapy helped Lisa to gain insight into the source of her drinking and stop at her own free will with minimal withdraway and no relapse to date. A lot of therapists have commented that people who regularly abuse alcohol and other drugs are not responsive to insight oriented work and thus are better suited to more surface based therapies which focus only on thoughts and behaviour. Lisa helped disprove this view. I believe almost anyone willing to work through the causes of their suffering can change with mindfulness based counselling.
Any identifying information has been changed to protect the confidentiality of the counselling case.