Vol. 11, No. 4

In This Issue
  • SAVVY : Readers’ suggestions on how to prevent harm andimprove safety
  • SKILLS : How to guide and help people in motivational work
  • SOUL : Finding the perfect guide

Thank-you for joining us for the July edition of Tips and Topics.

David Mee-Lee M.D.


In the May 2013 edition, I discussed ways to prevent harm and improve patient safety in addiction and mental health treatment.
I asked for feedback:  What’s on your Top 10 list of ways to improve patient safety and behavioral health care NOW!? – especially if you have any supporting evidence or data.

I promised to share readers’ suggestions.

Here are three and some editorial comments:


Reader #1
Hi Dr. Mee-Lee:

I read your latest Tips & Topics (May 2013) with great interest. As you know, approximately 90% of clients seeking treatment in community mental health centers have been exposed to trauma. Safety is absolutely enhanced by resisting the urge (from oneself but also the patient) to engage in premature trauma retrieval work. This advice has been repeated over and over by such luminaries in the field as Bessel van der Kolk, Judith Herman, Joan Turkus and Lisa Najavits.



Harry Ayling, LCSW, diehard devotee to Tips & Topics  (Harry’s words, not mine).


–> Comment from David Mee-Lee

There has been a lot of attention over the past 15 years on co-occurring mental and substance-related disorders.  The more recent refinement of that attention is to be trauma-informed: to be aware of how many addiction and mental health clients present  with past histories of trauma.  When people with addiction sober up, intense feelings can rise to the surface.  It is always a fine balance to know how to address intense feelings which can’t be ignored.  Yet, at the same time it is important, as Harry says, to make sure that our clients are safe to deal with trauma; and not cope by returning to substance use or other self-destructive behaviors like cutting.

Of course, trauma-informed work is even more in our consciousness as we face the thousands of veterans returning home.
Take a look at a brand new journal from The Change Companies: “ComingHome: A Warrior’s Guide”
Reader #2
Dear David:
Thank you for your excellent comments on our health care costs and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  I am personally offended by the sizeof the executive compensation packages, and the large bureaucracies funded to try to get paid (medical facilities) and to avoid paying (insurers).  A Google search of executive compensation packages in the insurance and medical care industries show many senior execs make over $1million per year, with some getting more than $40 million per year.  Soon the taxpayers will be contributing even more to their life styles.  Steven Brill documented many key issues in his fine article Bitter Pill: Why Our Health Care Costs So Much (Newsweek, Feb 20, 2013).  A big part of what impedes our ability to solve problems in this and other arenas (guns, food habits, worker safety) is the commandment “Thou shalt not interfere with profit.”  I think all of the measures designed to bring down costs will also produce a lot of howling and attempts to sabotage full implementation of the ACA.  The more people can be made aware of what goes on in other countries, the better.  It does not have to be this way.


Joan Zweben, Ph.D.

Berkeley, CA


–> Comment from David Mee-Lee

In Overview of the Uninsured in the United States: A Summary of the 2012 Current Population Survey Report, the “Census Bureau released data on health insurance coverage and the uninsured for 2011 on September 12, 2012.  Although there are four major government surveys that produce estimates of health insurance coverage, the Current Population Survey (CPS) is the most widely cited and receives national media attention. …. During 2011,an estimated 48.61 million people were without insurance, a statistically significant decrease of 1.34 million from the estimated 49.95 million uninsured in 2010.”http://aspe.hhs.gov/health/reports/2012/uninsuredintheus/ib.shtml


Regardless of your political leanings (right or left); or where you stand on the continuum of individual rights (right to buy health insurance or not) to collective action for the greater good (requiring health insurance of all so as to pool resources to allow universal coverage), the fact remains:  There are 40 to 50 million people who do not have health insurance in the USA.  This creates huge human costs, as well as significant healthcare costs, as scarce resources are used inefficiently and ineffectively.


As Joan says on this and other related issues, “It does not have to be this way.”

Reader #3
Dr. Mee-Lee:
Number One Way to improve patient safety and behavioral healthcare now:

Address the stigma in the 12-step based treatment community against methadone and Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone) maintenance for the treatment of opioid dependence (now opioid use disorder in DSM-5).  About 95% of treatment programs in the public sector are based on the 12-step philosophy, and are staffed by people who are undereducated about medications, and either covertly or openly biased against medication-assisted treatment.

There is NO scientific controversy that for established opioid dependence, medication- assisted treatment is the treatment of choice.  Clients must receive informed consent regarding this treatment option, but in my 25 years of experience in publicly funded treatment in California, this rarely happens.  This MUST change, as we are in the midst of the largest epidemic of opioid dependence since heroin use rose in the 60’s.

Please, devote not just one, but several issues of your newsletter to educating your readership on improving delivery of evidence-based treatment of opioid dependence.  You are a thought leader whose opinion is respected in the field; you are well positioned to lead the efforts to improve the treatment of opioid dependence. Young people are dying from overdoses after completing abstinence-based treatment programs; this needs to stop.


Nancy Friel MFT
Senior Mental Health Counselor
County of Sacramento DHHS, DBH, Alcohol and Drug Services
 –> Comment from David Mee-Lee
There has been lively discussion on methadone and Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) in previous editions of Tips and Topics.  Take a look at Jerry Shulman’s piece on MAT in the October 2008 guest tips edition.
In the May 2007 edition, we discussed harm reduction and methadone treatment followed by some readers’ comments in the June 2007 edition.

In the new edition of The ASAM Criteria, there is an expanded section on Opioid Treatment Services (OTS) to include opioid agonist medication like methadone and buprenorphine in Opioid Treatment Programs (OTP) and Office Based Opioid Treatment (OBOT); and opioid antagonist medication like naltrexone. Take a look at the updated website all about the new edition at www.ASAMcriteria.org


One of the skills I address very often in Tips and Topics is how to do truly individualized, person-centered work.  The recent third edition of Motivational Interviewing (MI) explains a  continuum of communication styles.  This distinction has really helped me understand MI.


Here’s the reference:Miller, William R; Rollnick, Stephen (2013): “Motivational Interviewing – Helping People Change” Third Edition, New York, NY., Guilford Press. Pages 4-5 and some resources on the third edition:





Identify where you are on the continuum of communication styles from Directing to Guiding to Following


Directing <————-> Guiding <————–> Following


  • Here is an example of a Directing style for working with a client who says they want help to stop drinking:


It’s good that you want to stop drinking because you’re an alcoholic and you need to really accept that you suffer from addiction and develop a supportive recovery network. Here’s what I want you to do: go to an AA meeting every night this week and get some names and numbers so you can start calling people and developing that network. It is also important for you to stay away from those three friends of yours you usually drink with and start hanging around recovering people. Any questions?”


  • Here is an example of a Following style for working with a client who says they are depressed:


Clinician: So I understand you have been feeling down and blue lately.


Client: Yes, I’ve been really feeling depressed and don’t know what to do.


Clinician: So you feel lost and not sure how to handle your depression.


Client: Yes, I have no energy and can’t concentrate at work. Is there medication that can help me?


Clinician: So you having trouble with work in your concentration and energy level and wonder if medication would help.


Client: That’s right. What medication should I take because my primary care doctor’s medication didn’t seem to work well?


Clinician: You’d like me to tell you what medication would help.


Client: Yes, should I see a psychiatrist or is my family practitioner OK to prescribe?


Clinician: You’re wondering whether to see a psychiatrist or a family practitioner?


Client: Yes, I’m really depressed and don’t know what to do.


Clinician: You really feel lost and not sure how to handle your depression.


Client: Yes, what should I do – see a psychiatrist or is my family practitioner OK to prescribe?


Clinician: You’d really like to know whether to see a psychiatrist or a family practitioner.


At this point the client is really depressed and hopeless.  You’ve done nothing except follow the client around their presenting concerns, reflecting back what you hear.

There is some following that is important and necessary to do at first with a client so you know what they want and what to focus on.  But if that is all you do, they understandably get frustrated as you act like a therapy robot.


  • Here is an example of a Guiding style for working with both these clients. Guiding is a combination of Following and Directing in what Motivational Interviewing calls a “conversation about change”.


Clinician:  So I understand you want help to stop drinking. (Following)


Client: Yes, I’ve been trying to do that on my own for six months and am not getting anywhere.


Clinician: What have you tried that hasn’t been working? (Following)


Client: Well I went to some of those AA meetings, but I’m not as bad as those people.


Clinician: How many meetings did you go to? (Following)


Client: Two or three, but I didn’t get anything out of it except for one person I spoke to who seemed to really understand me.


Clinician: Did you get that person’s name and number? (Following)


Client: Yes, but I haven’t had any more contact.


Clinician:  Would it be OK with you if I gave a suggestion? (Seeking permission to be Directive)


Client: Sure, go ahead.


Clinician: How would you feel about calling that person and seeing if they would go to a different meeting, because sometimes certain meetings fit certain people better? (Directing)


Client: I guess I could do that.


Clinician: You sound a bit unsure if you want to do that (Following).  Do you need to think about it a bit more; or would you like to give it a try, at least one or two times? (Guiding).



And for the depressed client:


Clinician: So I understand you have been feeling down and blue lately (Following).


Client: Yes, I’ve been really feeling depressed and don’t know what to do.


Clinician: What has been most troubling about your depression? (Following)


Client: I have no energy and can’t concentrate at work. Is there medication that can help me?


Clinician: Have you taken medication before? (Following)


Client: My primary care doctor’s medication didn’t seem to work well.


Clinician: There are other methods besides medication that we could try if you were interested. (Directing)


Client: What do you mean?


Clinician: We could try cognitive behavioral therapy and exercise? (Directing)


Client: I’d rather take medication.


Clinician: So you feel more confident that medication would help the best. (Following)


Client: Yes, I’d like to see a psychiatrist to get my medication changed.


Clinician: So let’s arrange for a psychiatric consultation and track how you are doing. If medications don’t seem to be the full answer, maybe we could try some of these other approaches I mentioned. (Guiding)



Directing is easy to do, as it involves just telling people what to do to change regardless of whether they are ready to do that.  You have taken little time to listen to what goals and methods are important to them.


Following is also easy to do, as it involves just reflecting back what you hear they are saying.  This can be frustrating to the client if every interaction is a question and summarizing without moving forward to get some sense of direction of what to do next.


Guiding is the art of using both Directing and Following to ask enough questions to clarify what goals and methods are important to the client, but then building on that knowledge to collaborate and Guide the person in a facilitated self-change process.


If you’ve ever done touristing in a foreign country, it’s a relief to have an informative guide,especially an English-speaking one.  Actually, only an English-speaking guide for me.  A good guide is one who knows how to balance “directing” and “following”; to get you where you want to go in the most efficient, effective and enjoyable way.

(That sounds a lot like good person-centered treatment – no wonder Motivational Interviewing is founded on good guiding.)


In May, we were in Yangon (Rangoon) for just a day!  There is no way anyone could see all the major temples, pagodas and top tourist spots.   So it’s really important to have a guide who can “follow” your lead about the sights you are most interested in seeing, in the limited time available.  At the same time, what we needed from Nandar, our female guide, was also to “direct” us- by listing the top recommendations for what could be done realistically in six hours.  Then collaborate with us on:


  • what sightseeing goals were important for us (which temples, markets and local crafts caught our fancy)
  • what methods would best achieve those goals (taxi, walking, timing at each spot)
  • what was the plan for the day – Now that sounds like a therapeutic alliance and a great service plan.


Imagine if Nandar had told us we had to go to the top five tourist spots whether we wanted to or not; stay there for a fixed amount of time, whether we had seen what we wanted or not; and then kicked us off the tour if we weren’t able to be the perfect tourist. (I know, it’s not the perfect analogy, but sounds a bit like some addiction treatment programs).  Nandar, I thought you were our guide, not a director/dictator!


What if we had a guide who followed us around all the time, passively walking in our footsteps?

We ask: “Where should we go next?”

Well where would you like to go?”

“I can’t decide which would be better – another temple or the silversmith crafts.”

“Well they are both interesting.”

“So what would you recommend?”

“You want me to decide for you?”


At this point, I would fire the guide who is not a guide.  She must have missed the Guide School training class on how to balance directing with following.


There are no perfect guides, perfect tourists, perfect counselors and clinicians plus no perfect patients and clients.  However if you can join up with someone who has a good sense of balance between directing and following, you can enjoy both the journey and the destination.


Whether you tour Yangon or Yakima, the museums of Florence, Italy or New York, New York,  or the temples of Thailand or Salt Lake City, may you find a good guide.

Until next time

Thanks for reading. See you in late August.


Vol. 12, No. 5

Welcome to all the new readers of Tips and Topics and to all our longtime readers as well. Thanks for joining us for the August edition.

David Mee-Lee M.D.


I recently was in a rush and jumped in the car to get to an appointment. Once on the road, I reached down to my cell phone belt holder and realized I had left my cellphone on my desk at home. I noticed a little twinge of panic…..somewhat like when you suddenly realize your wallet, with all your money and credit cards, is not in your pocket. Have I dropped it? Did I leave it on the store counter?


But this is just my mobile phone. I know where it is. If I miss a call or a text, my voice mail and the message will still be there. So no big issue…right? Well it is worth taking a look at your own reactions if you find yourselves without your mobile device or smartphone. Or, even if you have it with you, what is your usual behavior?

  • Can you sit alone at a restaurant, bus stop or airport departure gate without picking up your phone to check messages or email?
  • For that matter, can you sit anywhere even with friends, partners and loved ones and not look at your phone’s screen?
  • Even if you don’t look at your phone, look around. Observe how many people have heads down, fingers tappingthe little screens on the device cupped in their hand.

A group of young, passionate, mission-driven young adults has recently been challenging the relationship we have with our digital devices.  Take a look at what “digital detox” is all about at http://thedigitaldetox.org. They’ve been getting a lot of attention in the mainstream press. There’s a shift in the culture…a little shift. They don’t just blog about it; they’ve been introducing people to the experience of digital detox at what they call Camp Grounded (and other such device-free events.) Take a look at http://blog.thedigitaldetox.org/camp-grounded-official-video/

By the way, catch a glimpse of my son, Taylor in the box titled “Talent Show. ” It is one of a collage of images halfway down the page, with the main title- “CAMP GROUNDED IS.”  At Camp, he leads singing, songwriting and a capella groups (proud father speaking).



What’s So Bad About Being Alone With Your Thoughts?


This is the title of a July 11, 2014, segment on Public Radio International’s Science Friday radio program. “Researchers at the University of Virginia were recently amazed to discover that many people would rather self-administer painful shocks than sit quietly with their own thoughts for 15 minutes. They also found that men were significantly more likely to shock themselves than women. So what’s so bad about sitting alone and thinking? One of the study authors, Erin Westgate, talked about a fascinating experiment you can hear more about at:



It is worth the 10 minutes to listen to. If you don’t have the time right now, here are a few excerpts from that program and other news items about this study:


Excerpts and Tidbits

In the year 1654, scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal said “All of humanities problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” This age long premise was tested in experiments that were published in the journal Science. Here is the Abstract of that published paper:


“In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.”


“Now the big question is, ‘Why would someone do this?’” Erin says. “Why is it so hard to entertain ourselves with our thoughts that we’re willing to turn to almost anything, it seems, to avoid it?”


College Students in a study

Studies at universities often start with college students. College volunteers were asked to sit alone in a bare laboratory room and spend six to 15 minutes doing nothing but thinking or daydreaming. They were not allowed to have a cellphone, music player, reading material or writing implements and were asked to remain in their seats and stay awake. Most reported they did not enjoy the task and found it hard to concentrate.


The researchers experimented to see if the student volunteers would even do an unpleasant task rather than just sit and think:

  • In one of the studies they offered students a chance to rate various stimuli:ranging from seeing attractive photographs to the feeling of being given an electric shock about as strong as one that might come from dragging one’s feet on a carpet.
  • After the participants felt the shock (which Westgate described as a mild shock of the intensity of static electricity) some even said they would prefer to pay $5 rather than feel it again.
  • Volunteers were asked whether, if given $5, they would spend some of it to avoid getting shocked again. The ones who said they would be willing to pay to avoid another shock became a subject in the experiment.
  • Each subject went into a room for 15 minutes of thinking time alone. They were told they had the opportunity to shock themselves, if desired, by simply pushing a button.

College Students- The Results

  • Two-thirds of the male subjects — 12 out of 18 — gave themselves at least one shock while they were alone.
  • Most of the men shocked themselves between one and four times. However, one “outlier” shocked himself 190 times.
  • A quarter of the women, six out of 24, decided to shock themselves, each between one and nine times.
  • All of those who shocked themselves had previously said they would have paid to avoid it.

Next: Different subjects- not college students

The researchers wondered: were the young college subjects just overly fidgety, not being allowed to tweet or text or check their e-mail? So they reached out to the wider community for non-college volunteers. New subjects ranged in age from 18 -77, recruited from a church and farmers’ market.

  • Researchers asked them to sit alone in an unadorned room in their home – without the shock, since “we weren’t there to supervise them.” They were asked to do the same thing: just sit there at a time of their own choosing, with no mobile phone, reading or writing materials. They were to report back on what it was like to entertain themselves with their thoughts for between six and 15 minutes.   The researchers got pretty much the same results.
    “These were adults,far past college age,” Westgate says, “and again they were terrible at it!”
  • 57percent found it hard to concentrate; 89 percent said their minds wandered.
  • Over half of the participants confessed to cheating. They weren’t supposed to get on their phones or talk to other people, but over half said they had. “And those were just the ones who were honest with us,” Westgate says.
  • About half found the experience was unpleasant.

Thoughts from the researchers- Westgate & Wilson 

Erin Westgate said she is still astounded by those findings.
“I think we just vastly underestimated both how hard it is to purposely engage in pleasant thoughts and how strongly we desire external stimulation from the world around us, even when that stimulation is actively unpleasant.”


She added that the research showed, by and large, that people prefer some positive stimulation, like reading a book or playing a video game.

“Many people find it difficult to use their own minds to entertain themselves, at least when asked to do it on the spot,” said University of Virginia psychology professor Timothy Wilson, who led the study. “In this modern age, with all the gadgets we have, people seem to fill up every moment with some external activity.”


“I think they just wanted to shock themselves out of the boredom,” Wilson said. “Sometimes negative stimulation is preferable to no stimulation.”


Whether the effects seen in the experiment are a product of today’s digital culture or not is a matter of debate.


So try this experiment at home!
All you need is a timer and an empty room.  Tell your friends and loved ones how you did. You could lie (if you want) that you sat perfectly calm and serenely.



Timothy D. Wilson, David A. Reinhard, Erin C. Westgate, Daniel T. Gilbert, Nicole Ellerbeck, Cheryl Hahn, Casey L. Brown, Adi Shaked: “Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind” Science 4 July 2014: Vol. 345 no. 6192 pp. 75-77


Here is a combined Stump the Shrink question and Skills section this month.


Kurt Snyder, Executive Director of Heartview Foundation in Bismarck, North Dakota asked about treatment planning and The ASAM Criteria assessment dimensions.



“We are wanting to list random drug and alcohol screens as a method and strategy on the treatment plan. Our treatment plans are organized using the structure of the ASAM Criteria six Dimensions. We develop goals and objectives for the high severity dimensions. So as people progress through treatment the severity risk scores tend to fall in Dimensions 1, 2, and 3. Would you suggest we list the random tests in Dimension 1 or Dimension 5?”




Now for readers unfamiliar with The ASAM Criteria six assessment dimensions, here is a brief overview (The ASAM Criteria 2013, pp 43-53):


Assessment Dimensions

Assessment and Treatment Planning Focus

1. Acute Intoxication and/or Withdrawal Potential  Assessment for intoxication and/or withdrawal management. Withdrawal management in a variety of levels of care and preparation for continued addiction services 
2. Biomedical Conditions and Complications Assess and treat co-occurring physical health conditions or complications. Treatment provided within the level of care or through coordination of physical health services 
3. Emotional, Behavioral or Cognitive Conditions and Complications Assess and treat co-occurring diagnostic or sub-diagnostic mental health conditions or complications. Treatment provided within the level of care or through coordination of mental health services 
4. Readiness to Change Assess stage of readiness to change. If not ready to commit to full recovery, engage into treatment using motivational enhancement strategies. If ready for recovery, consolidate and expand action for change 
5. Relapse, Continued Use or Continued Problem Potential Assess readiness for relapse prevention services and teach where appropriate. If still at early stages of change, focus on raising consciousness of consequences of continued use or problems with motivational strategies. 
6. Recovery Environment


Assess need for specific individualized family or significant other, housing, financial, vocational, educational, legal, transportation, childcare services


You can obtain a great working knowledge of The ASAM Criteria dimensions by doing the eTraining module for continuing credit “Multidimensional Assessment”. See http://www.ASAMcriteria.org and click on Resources & Training.



Determine why the drug and alcohol testing is needed. Then decide which ASAM Criteria dimension the random testing strategy relates to.


As regards your question, Kurt: Let’s look at all the possibilities when random drug and alcohol testing might be used.


Dimension 1, Acute Intoxication and/or Withdrawal Potential
If you want to verify what drugs a person may be intoxicated with, or go into withdrawal from, then the random testing would be under Dimension 1.

If you want to be sure a client is taking their maintenance medication to prevent going into withdrawal (methadone or buprenorphine), then random testing can check and monitor that. These are 2 examples of Dimension 1 strategies.


Dimension 2, Biomedical Conditions and Complications

Perhaps you have concerns about the drug interaction with a client’s physical health medications- e.g. drinking while taking anti-hypertensive or diabetes medication. Or you have concern about a person using heroin while also on chronic pain narcotics. This would put the random testing under Dimension 2.


Dimension 3, Emotional, Behavioral or Cognitive Conditions and Complications

As with Dimension 2, you might have concerns with the person drinking and drugging along with their psychotropic medication. In assessing whether a patient’s psychosis or depression is substance-induced, random testing would be a diagnostic strategy under Dimension 3.


Dimension 4, Readiness to Change

Clients will often say: “I can stop anytime, I don’t have an addiction problem.” In trying to engage the person, you might try a motivational “Discovery” plan. Such an approach would have the client try the “I can stop any time” plan. Random testing would track and monitor the client’s success or not.


Dimension 5, Relapse, Continued Use or Continued Problem Potential

In a Relapse Prevention plan, random testing would track how well a person’s coping skills are working. Are they maintaining abstinence or not?


Dimension 6, Recovery Environment

The Department of Transportation (DOT) and other employers require everyone to be drug-free. Random testing in this situation would be a Dimension 6 example.

Perhaps someone is enrolled in a Drug Court program where random testing is part of the Court expectations.

Some parents have children who are playing high-level sports with costly equipment and travel expenses. As a condition for ongoing financial and emotional support, they require their child to be drug-free. Using random home-testing kits would be another Dimension 6 example. This is the same expectation as in professional and college sports.


So drug and alcohol screening has many purposes. It is a lab test to help track the effectiveness of treatment. It is not a “gotcha” spying activity as part of an adversarial relationship based on mistrust and suspicion.


What a tragedy that Robin Williams is dead. This month he killed himself in his home about two hours from my home. It is a grim reminder that celebrities, so talented and creative, are nevertheless people who can suffer the same addiction and mental health problems, of which we are all vulnerable. But their very celebrity status can be a curse, aggravating their vulnerabilities and even inhibiting reaching out for help.


I have gotten a glimpse of how celebrity can be a blessing and a curse, not because I consider myself a celebrity, but because I travel a lot. I have been on planes for over 18 years due to my full-time training and consulting work.


Here’s what I get just because I travel a lot:

  • Priority boarding at the front of the line because I am approaching 3 million lifetime miles on United Airlines.  I have flown over 100,000 miles every year with them for 20 years.
  • Free upgrades to first class domestically and business class internationally – oh it is such a let down to be on another airline and be up the back with all the “common” people! (LOL)
  • Even the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) often lets me skip the long lines and zip through TSA PreCheck. I can keep my shoes, belt and coat on and just show them my computer, wallet and cellphone. No stripping down and going through those big fancy security machines.
  • When I hit 2 million miles with United Airlines, I received an engraved 160 gigabyte Apple iPod and lifetime membership in the United Clubs at airports around the world. I wonder what I’ll get when I hit 3 million miles next year….a new BMW car?
  • On some trips, the pilot has even come to greet me by name. On occasion I have received a personalized note from the pilot thanking me for my loyalty. All I’ve done is buy airline tickets, not entertained millions of people like Robin Williams.

Anyway, you get the picture.


The problem with all this ‘special treatment’ is it’s easy to start thinking you arespecial and deserve this all the time.   You can see why celebrities start acting like entitled celebrities. (My wife quickly reminds me I am not a celebrity, so there isn’t too much danger.)


This is so insidious for real celebrities who are always in the public eye, with fans and swooning groupies paying homage to them. And their money can buy almost any material desire or best seat in the restaurant……


Reality starts to become very distorted. So have some sympathy for celebrities. For many it is a curse that can kill you. Who knows, for Robin Williams, it just may have.

June 2007 – Tips & Topics – june-2007

Volume 5, No.3
June 2007

In this issue
— Until Next Time

Welcome to the June edition. Thank you to all who write expressing appreciation and offering your opinions. I read and appreciate them all, even if I can’t respond personally to each and every one.


July/August 2007 – Tips & Topics – julyaugust-2007

Volume 5, No.4
July/August 2007

In this issue
— Until Next Time

Welcome to a combined July-August edition of TIPS and TOPICS (TNT). In August I am leaving the warmth of summer in California to enjoy family and friends in wintry Australia.


March 2005 – Tips & Topics – march-2005

Volume 2, No. 11
March 2005

In this issue
– Until Next Time

Welcome to the March edition of TIPS and TOPICS. Spring is in the air for us here in California, but not yet for other parts of the country; and certainly not for our readers Down Under. Sorry that autumn is coming for you, unless you like cold weather, which I do not as I get older.


August/September 2003 – Tips & Topics – augustseptember-2003

Vol 1, No.5
August- September 2003

– Until next time


I have been in summer vacation mode, so this August edition of TIPS & TOPICS is a little later than usual. In fact, since this is already September, I’ve decied to give myself a break and give you less mail to read. So this is now an expanded August-September edition which has the usual sections, with two additional sections that appear periodically – “Stump the Shrink” and “Success Stories”.


May 2004 – Tips & Topics – may-2004

Vol 2, No.2
May 2004

In this issue
– Until next time


Welcome to the May edition of TIPS and TOPICS. Unlike big magazines like TIME where you receive the week’s edition before the date on the cover, this humble effort usually comes late in the month. Finding the “spare time” to get this to you often gets lost in other deadlines. But here it is.


June/July 2004 – Tips & Topics – junejuly-2004

Vol 2, No.3
June-July 2004

In this issue
– Until next time


Welcome to the June/July edition of TIPS and TOPICS. This monthly publication just suddenly turned into a two-editions-in-the-summer, “monthly” newsletter! You will receive a July/August edition around mid to late August. You can also see this and previous editions on my website.


October 2008 – Tips & Topics – october-2008-tips-topics

Volume 6, No.6
October 2008

In this issue
— Until Next Time

Welcome to October’s TIPS and TOPICS (TNT). Occasionally I have a respected friend and colleague contribute their ideas to TNT, especially where there has been a topic of debate or controversy in the addiction and mental health fields. This is one of those months.


Gerald D. Shulman, M.A., M.A.C., FACATA has been in the design, delivery and administration of addiction services long before many of you thought about entering the field. Jerry’s years of experience on the frontline of services as well in training and consulting around the country has given him a perspective about a variety of issues that not many have a chance to match. This month in SAVVY, Jerry shares some thoughts on Medication Assisted Treatment. With his permission, I’ve edited his work; and all of the text in italics is excerpted from a larger manuscript he is preparing for future publication.

  • Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) in Addiction Services Stirs Attitudes and Practices

Early treatment for alcoholism in the USA consisted of psychosocial interventions, modeled on the philosophy of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Early clients were “rehabilitatable” (e.g., had acquired the skills to function effectively, but whose drinking interfered with the application of these skills). Later, clients referred to treatment presented with a much greater complexity and pathology, and often these clients were only “habilitatable.”)

Riding a Unicycle

The only treatments available were psychosocial, and even when evidenced-based practices were used, successful treatment outcome was considerably less than desired by providers, payers and the clients themselves. The use of psychosocial treatments alone was like riding a unicycle, very difficult to do, many falls while learning and limited to only a small number of people, and for clients, of limited effectiveness alone, especially after initial treatment.

Graduating to the Bicycle

It became clear that without environmental supports (e.g., housing, education, employment, etc.), that even the best psychosocial treatments would be limited in effectiveness. In part because of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment’s (CSAT) Access To Recovery grants, the field then began to couple Recovery Support Services (RSS) with psychosocial treatments. The field graduated from trying to ride a unicycle to riding a bicycle, something that provided more support (two wheels instead of one) that many more people could do, rather than to ride a unicycle. But even at this point, the hoped-for outcomes for alcoholism treatment fell far short of expectations.

Moving to a Tricycle

More recently, there has been a focus on Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), particularly the use of medications which reduce craving and therefore increase probabilities of remaining abstinent. MAT is not designed to replace, but to augment, psychosocial treatments and RSS. To complete the analogy, we have now moved to a tricycle. A cycle that can effectively be utilized by the greatest number of people including young children who have not yet acquired the skills to ride; and older adults who may still possess the skills, but need the extra support and stability of three wheels.

MAT- Welcomed or not?

While it would be assumed that practitioners would welcome MAT, in many quarters this is not the case. For many people suffering from alcohol and other substance dependence, their disorder is a chronic disease characterized by an exacerbation and remission of symptoms, in addiction, known as “relapse.” There are many chronic diseases and all of them present a range of difficulties in their management for similar reasons.

  • Some are patient-related, e.g., non-adherence with lifestyle recommendations or medication.
  • Other difficulties may include the client’s response to treatment- ranging from the stages of readiness to change to the effectiveness of a particular type and dose of a drug.
  • Still others may be clinician characteristics, ranging from attitudes about the client and his/her condition to the clinician’s willingness and ability to engage the client in a therapeutic alliance.

Consider our attitudes about other disorders

—-> Isn’t it interesting that if a patient is hypertensive, his/her physician is likely to recommend a low salt diet, weight loss, smoking cessation, stress reduction strategies AND anti-hypertensive medication. BUT we do not refer to this as “medication assisted treatment.”

—-> Isn’t it interesting that if a patient is diabetic, his or her physician is likely to recommend lifestyle changes of losing weight, smoking cessation, a low sugar diet, regular testing of blood sugar AND an oral hypoglycemic agent or injectable insulin or other medications that increase the body’s production of insulin or make it more efficient. BUT we do not refer to this as “medication assisted treatment.”

—-> Isn’t it interesting that if a patient is asthmatic, his/her physician is likely to recommend the lifestyle changes of smoking cessation, avoidance of known asthma attack triggers, exercise AND either or both medication to prevent asthma attacks and medications to treat an attack once started. BUT we do not refer to this as “medication assisted treatment.”

—-> Isn’t it interesting that for patients who have a major depressive disorder, his/her physician is likely to recommend lifestyle changes of stress reduction, exercise, engaging in positive pursuits AND a combination of psychotherapy and an anti-depressant medication such as a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) or a Selective Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor (SNRI). BUT we do not refer to this as “medication assisted treatment.”

Some roots for attitude differences

There are understandable reasons for this schism between alcoholism and other chronic, relapsing diseases. In the 1960s and 1970s, because of the lack of understanding by most physicians about alcoholism, many patients were prescribed a benzodiazepine or other sedative-hypnotic drugs as a treatment for the alcoholism, which not only did not help but often resulted in an additional dependence.

In the 1950s, disulfiram (“Antabuse”), which is an aversive medication rather than one than one which directly reduces craving, began to be used in hopes of eliminating drinking because of the patient’s fear of an alcohol-Antabuse reaction. Disulfiram blocks the breakdown of acetaldehyde, a toxic substance, in the metabolism of alcohol. The results are rapid and irregular heartbeat, rapid breathing, elevated blood pressure, sweating and feelings of pressure in the chest.

In another MAT strategy, a longer-acting opioid is substituted for a shorter acting one, first methadone (methadone maintenance) and more recently buprenorphine. This approach to the management of opioid dependence engendered many concerns: chief among them is the perception that the opioid addict on methadone is “still addicted.” This is an inaccurate statement! Addiction is described as loss of control, compulsive use and continued use in spite of adverse consequences. As long as the methadone client is not abusing methadone or other psychoactive substances, this characterization does not fit. The most accurate comment is that the addict remains “physiologically dependent.”

Making the case for the tricycle

To return to alcoholism, when considering treatment, we have learned that targeting the cortex, as we do, with individual and group therapy and psychoeducation (the unicycle) is insufficient, and is not likely to alone lead to a positive treatment outcome. This is because this brain disease involves more parts of the brain than just the cortex, in this case, specifically the limbic system, the center for drive generation (e.g., hunger, thirst, sex and the drive to continue using).

  • There have been a number of medications approved to reduce craving in the treatment of alcoholism: acamprosate (“Campral”), oral naltrexone (“Depade” and “Revia”) and most recently, “Vivitrol” which is naltrexone in a sustained-release (once a month) injectable formulation which bypasses the adherence problems of daily or more frequent oral dosing.
  • Some clinicians, who neither embrace the use of MAT nor are outright opposed to it, ask the question, “How long does the patient need to be on the medication?” Ideally, the course of medication should be continued until the patient achieves a level of stability in their recovery where they no longer need it.
  • The other answer is that it should be determined by the patient’s goals and how well the treatment approach has been working. Short of any medical contraindications that occur, there have been patients who have been maintained on disulfiram and methadone for in excess of twenty years. One way of assessing the situation is that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

With the combination of psychosocial treatment, RSS and pharmacotherapies (MAT) we now have a tricycle available to us, a paradigm, which based on the research, is likely to increase positive treatment outcome. The question we must ask ourselves is that do we as clinicians have the right to deny our clients strategies which have proven efficacy for achieving and maintaining recovery?

Contact Information:

Gerald D. Shulman, M.A., M.A.C., FACATA Shulman &Associates, Training and Consulting in Behavioral Health.
8658 Rolling Brook Lane Jacksonville, FL 32256 Ph.: (904) 363-0667 Fax: (904) 363-0668
Email: GDShulman@aol.com
Website: www.ShulmanSolutions.com


Whether talking about anti-addiction medications or anti-psychotic, anti-depressant, anti-manic, or anti-anxiety medications, clients and patients will achieve no positive results IF the medication stays in the bottle or bubble pack.

In many charts, the first treatment plan goal is often “medication compliance”. But many people do not adhere to their prescribed medication regimen.

  • If your client and patient is not taking his/her medication as prescribed, the first step is to assess for a variety of medication adherence issues. Then you can target for the right strategy.

Here is a comprehensive, but not exhaustive, list of:

  • *What to check out about a person’s medication non-adherence – not in any particular order- +
  • *Some possible things to do.

1. Check for bad side effects in client’s current medication. Or has the client felt medications have not worked before and so won’t take them anymore?
To do: Treat the fear of side effects. Change doses or types of medication, and/or address the lack of confidence in medication.

2. Check Readiness to change issues. Perhaps your client is not ready to accept medication as necessary for an illness which s/he may accept, or about which is still ambivalent?
To do: Try motivational enhancement, stages of change work

3. Check if client wants to use natural substances rather than psychotropic medication.
To do: Try what the client wants, if not convinced by your explanations about medication. Track results and continue what works; and change what is not.

4. Check for Cultural issues. Perhaps the client believes the medication is dangerous from his/her cultural perspective (ethnic or religious cultural reasons).
To do: Explore to understand the concern; when necessary, see if you can find a person of the same cultural background who is more accepting of medication to influence the client.

5. Check for unconscious non-adherence. Client has somatic complaints; takes on a sick role; has characterological problems; the more the therapist is involved, the more it reinforces and rewards the sick role.
To do: For this person, for example, avoid Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) because the more you go to their home to count pills, the more they are non-compliant to keep you coming back.

6. Check for drug addiction, or swapping meds with others at Pharm Parties; overusing pills due to a prescription dependence on benzodiazepines or narcotic medication; or wants to drink or drug so stops their Antabuse or naltrexone.
To do: Address whatever stage of change the client has slipped back to.

7. Check if client is psychotic, delusional, believes they are being poisoned.
To do: Maintain the relationship and don’t struggle over the diagnosis. ACT is appropriate in such situations to proactively avoid deterioration and rehospitalization.

8. Check if there’s malingering with external ‘rewards’ for this behavior e.g., client stays sick to keep getting workers compensation.
To do: Set the limit

9. Check out if there are Recovery Environment problems. Do they have insufficient funds to pay for medication and/or transportation and/or childcare to keep appointments for medication monitoring?
To do: Address whatever obstacle stands in the way.

10. Check if client feels better, and therefore stops taking medication. Or if now stabilized from a manic episode, they may actually feel that they are depressed, would rather be hypomanic, and stops taking their medication.
To do: “It’s great that you’re feeling better. But how are you going to avoid a relapse with all the bad things that happened before, if you stop the very medication that helped you improve now?”

11. Check for the reasons someone is missing follow-up appointments for medication monitoring.
To do: Explore and address any logistical or attitudinal obstacles; involve family and significant others.

12. Check if pride and self-defeating will-power exists that says “I don’t need meds. I can get better by myself.”
To do: You may have to ‘Roll with Resistance’ and try the “I can do it myself; no medication” treatment plan to see if it works.

13. Check if client gets busy and forgets to take medication.
To do: Use reminders and pill containers that set out the medications for that day or that week. Tie pill-taking to some specific daily activity like tooth-brushing which may help your client to remember a routine of medication.

14. Check out if client is embarrassed or afraid of what others will think – stigma issues: “What if people know I am taking antidepressants? They might think I’m weak or a psycho.” “What if my sponsor gets onto me for seeing a psychiatrist and says I am chewing my booze and shouldn’t be taking pills?”
To do: Empathize and educate about mental illness and addiction, neurotransmitters and brain disease. For those in AA, refer to the AA pamphlet at the following link, “The AA Member – Medications and Other Drugs.”

15. Check for poor therapeutic alliance and trust issues; mistrusts the therapist or physician
To do: Work on empathy and alliance building. Explore negative attitudes in a patient-centered manner and address knowledge, attitudinal or misconception issues.

16. Check if the client wants specific medication that the physician disagrees about.
To do: Patiently explain the rationale for the physician’s preference. Take a collaborative approach rather than an authoritarian role. If the patient’s preferred medication is not dangerous, try out their preferences and continue if the outcome is good. If outcome is not good, this is a motivational strategy to gain client ‘buy-in’ to try the physician’s preference.

You can probably come up with ten more reasons your clients don’t take their medication.

–> Send me any that are not listed and what you have found works. We’ll add those in a future edition of TNT.


My morning jog took me through the park where the 10 & 11 year old boys’ soccer team was at half-time. The coach was earnestly pep-talking the huddle of sweaty, tired-looking boys who were obviously losing at this point.

“OK, guys, let’s stay focused. You’ve got to run and work as hard as you can. We win this game and we’re in the playoffs. If we don’t, it’s not a big deal; you just go home and watch some football. But which would you rather do? Be in the playoffs; or watch football on TV?” The answer was obvious.

“So you’ve really got to work hard right now and focus. Joey, look at me. You’re—–” Even with my jog (now a walk) I had passed the team by now and didn’t get to hear what Joey needed to do to improve. I started thinking that lots of kids don’t think they have a choice. In lots of things, either way it is not life and death to win or lose. Naturally it’s more fun at the moment to win, but there’s a lot to be learned from the losses too.

  • Mandated clients don’t think they have a choice. You only feed into their victim view by reinforcing that they have to be here, so “suck it up” and “see what you can get from treatment.”
  • Disgruntled employees feel they have no choice and are victims of a dissatisfying job and a tyrant of a boss. Even if they can’t storm out and quit for fear of defaulting on their mortgage or letting the family down, they do have choices. They can choose to be perpetually negative and poison the work environment. Or they can take responsibility for staying; and use the current experience to help design the next kind of new opportunity.
  • Cash-strapped and unemployed, a person may feel they are a victim of the crazy economy and greedy Wall Street traders and tycoons. It’s true- there are not going to be many gifts under the tree and there may not even be a tree. But we could choose to make all the gifts from materials around the house; or have gifts only of original poems, short stories; or handmade, handwritten cards; or choose names out of a hat with one gift per person.
  • Burdened with sickness, you can fume over the frailties of failing health. Or you can embrace what faculties and abilities you still have and develop those to your fullest capacity. (What must it be like for all the athletes in the Special Olympics?)

It always easier to point out the choices others have when our backs are not the ones against the wall. But it is true that when you are looking at a problem with the “page” one inch from your eyes, the perspective is all out of whack. Hard to focus at one inch. That’s where a coach comes in handy—-or a trusted ally, therapist, counselor, spiritual mentor.

Whether you get a “coach” or not, the choices are yours.

What is that quote? Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Or my version: Adversity is mandatory. Suffering is optional.

Until Next Time

Thanks for reading. See you in November after the Election.


June 2008 – Tips & Topics – 41

Volume 6, No.3
June 2008

In this issue
— Until Next Time

Welcome to June’s edition of TIPS and TOPICS (TNT). Thanks for all your e-mail feedback and comments. I do appreciate them, even if I can’t respond to all personally. If you have a SUCCESS STORY to share, please send that along too.