Paul Sunderland is a specialist addiction counsellor with over 25 years of experience. His services are used by Pharmacist Support and clients can be referred to him through our Health Support Programme. The Health Support Programme exists to support people experiencing problems with alcohol, drugs, gambling, eating disorders or other types of dependency.
“Addiction is an all-consuming relationship with a substance or behaviour that is driven by a conscious or unconscious desire to feel something different, which results in a range of harmful consequences. We see it as a pathological process that begins with a search for pleasure but continues with an escape from reality. Ultimately addiction costs more than can be afforded. It is anti-intimacy because feelings, which are a prerequisite for close relationships, are self-prescribed to and so are never properly processed. Those who are host to addiction are taken over by their condition and become self-centred, wilful and inconsiderate. In fact will power becomes as effective with addiction as it is with the measles. These are not bad people or weak people.”
What are the main challenges that someone struggling with substance abuse faces?
Overcoming feelings of shame about their difficulties in order to ask for help. There is a fear that asking for help will automatically be seen as being not fit to practice. It can be difficult to get the right help that assesses specific difficulties and signposts appropriate interventions. For many people suffering from addiction stopping for a short period can be achieved easily and this can persuade them that there is not really a problem. However, staying stopped is often the bigger challenge.
Why do you think seeking help (even if you believe that it’s just something minor) is important?
Many people with problematic substance use issues tend to increasingly avoid honest interaction and the use of mood altering chemicals becomes a way of managing difficult feelings. Asking for help is a move towards intimacy. Addiction is a condition characterised by denial so the act of seeking help is itself a first step away from the dangers of rationalisations.
For some with addiction issues a residential stay in Clouds House treatment centre may be appropriate. What is the process for someone who is referred to Clouds House? What would a ‘typical’ day look like during their stay?
Inpatient treatment provides a safe environment away from the distractions of everyday life with a full time focus on physical recovery, psychological recovery and wellbeing. Key elements of the treatment programme include: supervised detox; group therapy; education through lectures and workshops; one-to-one relapse prevention counselling; reading/writing assignments; creative workshops such as art therapy and creative writing; therapeutic duties around the house; and complementary therapies such as shiatsu, acupuncture and yoga.
Have you spotted anything unique to your pharmacist clients, or do they face the same issues as everyone else?
Pharmacists can face many of the issues that other health care professionals face in seeking treatment: they feel that they should know how to treat themselves and can feel ashamed that their behaviour has become irregular. In particular pharmacists are often rightly concerned about confidentially if they use local services, as they may meet some of their patients who also suffer from addiction.
Are there any other interesting things that you’ve spotted whilst working with clients referred by Pharmacist Support?
Locum pharmacists appear to be more vulnerable to alcohol and substance issues. What is also interesting about this group is that we are seeing clients who appear to be addicted to behaviours as well as substances. These include compulsivities around spending, debting and gambling; food, eating and exercise behaviours; sex and relationship behaviours, and so called ‘work addiction’ which is in fact a focus on busyness.
Paul recently carried out a TEDx talk at Surrey University, that can be found here. It looks at the concept of ‘compulsive under-earning’.
To contact our Health Support Programme helpline call 0808 168 5132. All calls to the helpline are entirely confidential.