Integrated Treatment: Part 2 – The Approach

by Cindy Hardy | |  

How Does the Integrated Treatment Approach Work?

(Read Integrated Treatment Part 1 here) The integrated treatment approach makes sense from the standpoint of viewing recovery from a holistic approach. This is true for individuals with one disorder or for persons with dual disorders. There are two main points of this type of approach.

First, a person with a mental health disorder can benefit from the goal of abstinence from drugs and/or alcohol. Individuals who are struggling with a mental health disorder will not be able to achieve a lasting recovery if they continue to use substances. Any use is considered abuse. Whether a co-occurring substance use disorder is present or not, a person will benefit from developing healthy alternatives to drug and alcohol abuse. These skills will enhance mental stability and mental wellness.

Second, addiction recovery always includes mental health recovery. People entering treatment for substance use will certainly experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, thinking distortions, mood swings, and self-defeating behavior patterns. This means a person in addiction treatment will benefit from the integrated treatment approach that addresses mental health issues even if they do not have a co-occurring psychiatric disorder.

Reacting to a Diagnosis

A person’s reaction to a particular diagnosis is often influenced by their feelings about a certain illness or disorder. To some people, receiving a psychiatric disorder diagnosis would be frightening because they are unfamiliar with what that would mean for their life or what the treatment might be. For others, it may be a relief because it provides an answer and solutions to the mental health symptoms they have struggled with you for years.

To some people, receiving a diagnosis of substance dependence is the most difficult to accept because it means, “I am just like my mother or father.” The thought of working toward abstinence can be frightening for anyone who feels they can’t cope or face life without the use of alcohol or drugs. Again, for others it may be a relief because it gives them the answers to why they have continued to choose alcohol and drugs over everything else including their family.

Which category of diagnosis would we find the most distressing: substance use or psychiatric disorder? Which specific diagnosis would be the hardest to hear: alcohol dependence, drug dependence, schizophrenia, major depression, anxiety disorder, personality disorder, or bipolar disorder? It can be easy to see that accepting a diagnosis of either a substance or psychiatric disorder or both can be difficult and can also depend on an individual’s view of a specific diagnosis.

Both the mental health and the addiction treatment fields have adopted the recovery model. In this model, individuals are supported in taking responsibility for their own recovery, whether their symptoms are acute or chronic. A person seeking treatment is also encouraged and supported in working a program of recovery for both illnesses.

Overcoming Objections to an Integrated Treatment Approach

People in outpatient and inpatient treatment will often quote percentages they have heard that indicated only a few of them will “make it.” It is important to remember that statistics are numbers and treatment is about human beings. Percentages like these do not represent an accurate picture. They are often based on the total number of people with a particular disorder and not those who are receiving treatment.

Statistics are often based on data from “single treatment.” Treatment for dual disorders, as with all chronic illness, is episodic. This means treatment is receiving on more than one occasion or episode. When a person receives more than one treatment for heart disease, cancer, or diabetes they don’t refer to themselves as “treatment failures.” Society, insurance companies, friends, and families do not count the times a person has received treatment for illnesses as “failed treatments.”

It is important to apply this same principle to the treatment of psychiatric and substance disorders. Treatment is available for psychiatric and substance disorders and recovery is possible. The outlook for people coping with both illnesses is improving daily. Millions of people with co-occurring disorders have traveled the road of recovery. It is a journey well worth the trip. They have changed their old behaviors, attitudes, and thinking patterns. Through an integrated treatment approach, they have learned to make better choices, freed themselves from unmanageability of untreated substance use disorder, developed coping strategies for the symptoms of a mental health disorder, and now lead productive lives.

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