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Mental Health And Addiction Treatment Theories and Approaches

Differing Approaches: Individual Responsibility and Treatment Focus

Traditionally, patients in mental health settings have had the responsibility of getting themselves to treatment services and appointments as a sign of treatment motivation. More recently, and in recognition that many severely mentally ill patients are unwilling or unable to use traditional community-based services, the mental health field has emphasized the role of case management. Case management (also called care management) can help to engage, link, and support patients in needed community services. Case management can help to reduce the negative consequences to the individual from lack of followup and participation in treatment. Without case management, many severely ill patients would decompensate, need to be hospitalized, or become homeless.

The case management model identifies individual limitations, deficits, and strengths and aggressively attempts to provide patients with what they need. When a patient rejects professional assistance, the case manager assumes the responsibility for finding a different way to get the individual to accept assistance. The case manager may minimize the negative consequences to the individual in order to engage or maintain the patient in treatment. This activity might be seen as “enabling” by traditional addiction treatment personnel.

In contrast, the addiction treatment system focuses on individual responsibility, including the responsibility of accepting help. Motivation for recovery is enhanced through confrontation of the adverse consequences of addiction. Further, addiction intervention and treatment involve diminishing the individual’s denial about the presence and severity of the addiction through direct but therapeutic confrontation of examples of addiction-related behaviors. Thus, traditionally, patients in the addiction treatment system who did not want help or could not tolerate confrontation might not get help. Mental health personnel might regard this situation as an abandonment of the most needy. More recently, the addiction treatment system has been developing case management models to better address treatment-resistant patients.

Treatment of patients with dual disorders must blend both mental health and AOD treatment models, with each applied at appropriate times and in appropriate situations according to patients’ needs. There should be a balance between clinician and patient acceptance of responsibility for treatment and recovery from dual disorders.

For example, in AOD treatment, clinical staff and fellow patients often aggressively confront patients who deny that they have an AOD problem or who minimize the severity of their problem. However, treatment of individuals with dual disorders first requires innovative approaches to engage them in treatment as a prerequisite to confrontation. The role of confrontation may need to be substantially modified, particularly in the treatment of disorganized or psychotic patients, who may tolerate confrontation only in later stages of treatment (when their symptoms are stable and they are engaged in the treatment process).

In addiction treatment, the focus is often on the “here and now,” while in mental health treatment, the focus is often on past developmental issues. Mental health practitioners may identify AOD abuse as a symptom of a prior trauma rather than an illness in its own right. The focus of treatment may be on the developmental issues, with the assumption that the AOD use disorder will improve automatically once these issues are treated. Inadvertently, the mental health therapist can enable AOD use to continue.

The Role of Abstinence

Within parts of the addiction treatment system, abstinence from psychoactive drugs is a precondition to participate in treatment. For the more severely ill patients with dual disorders (such as patients with schizophrenia), abstinence from AODs is often considered a goal, possibly a long-term goal, similar to the approach at some methadone maintenance programs. On the other hand, treatment of less severe dual psychiatric conditions, such as depression or panic disorder, should require AOD abstinence, since AOD use compromises both diagnosis and treatment.

For some patients with dual disorders, requiring abstinence as a condition of entering treatment may hinder or discourage engagement in the treatment process. For these patients, abstinence may be redefined as a goal, with encouragement provided for incremental steps in the reduction of amount and frequency of drug use. For example, patients who experience homelessness and housing instability likely do not live in drug-free environments. For such patients, it may be unrealistic to mandate abstinence as a requirement for treatment. Exhibit 3-1 describes some of the treatment strategy differences for managing patients in mental health, addiction, and dual disorder treatment approaches.

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Mental Health And Addiction Treatment Theories and Approaches

Richard K. Ries, M.D.

APA Reference
Ries, R. (2020). Mental Health And Addiction Treatment Theories and Approaches. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 30 Jul 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.