Category Archives: Managing Thoughts

Book Review: Alex Korb’s The Upward Spiral

Posted on November 7, 2017

Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2015, 225 pp.

Review by Ted Alston, facilitator

Bad feelings and bad habits fly together, and evasive maneuvers for one may serve for both. Accordingly, students of SMART Recovery may enjoy this book that addresses depression. Alex Korb, PhD, is an expert on neurotransmission, but he presents a model permitting self-management and and self-empowerment to have roles in mental health. In this model. a prescriber might help someone with a medication molecule that modulates neurotransmission, but readers have the power to choose other reasonable tactics that are non-pharmacological but have neurotransmission aspects.

Korb puts forth the important and attractive concept that neuroscience does not doom anyone to depression or addiction, nor to various other conditions with labels. He emphasizes that we all have pretty much the same instrument of thought and behavior. Whatever genetic or experiential differences may be, the troubled brain is usually out of tune rather than defective. Korb has a gift for analogy, and I do not want to spoil the encounters of his readers with those gems, but I will mention one. I liked when he said, “There’s nothing wrong with your brain, just like there’s nothing wrong with the air in Oklahoma–despite the devastating tornados.” This excerpted quote might seem inscrutable, but Korb’s full argument is easy to follow.

Korb offers much advice that is in line with the philosophies of SMART tools. For instance, a section of Chapter 2 is subtitled “The ABCs of Anxiety.” The Korb ABC is different from that of Albert Ellis, but it rhymes. One could delete all of the neuroscience from the Korb book and be left with a practical and reasonable pamphlet collating many SMART concepts. However, Korb offers a lot more than that. His every point includes a rationale based on what is known about neuroanatomy and neurophysiology. The book is intended for a broad audience, so the science depth is limited. However, the work is a superb introduction to neuroscience. Even a professional neuroscientist might appreciate the book for Korb’s power of explication. Continue reading

The REBT Opp, a Useful Abbreviation

Posted on October 24, 2017

Author: Ted, SMART Recovery Volunteer Meeting Facilitator

Bringing SMART Recovery into state prisons has rewards but also poses bureaucratic challenges. Difficulties in regularly covering a Tuesday afternoon meeting in Massachusetts prompted the recruitment of a third volunteer facilitator. With obstacles, the new volunteer was able to schedule an in-person orientation class that was required but was officially offered at erratic and infrequent intervals. This volunteer traveled many miles to show up for a SMART meeting a week later. He got to the door and was denied admission because he was not yet “in the computer.” (Of course, the delinquent cyber entry happened a few hours later, after the group meeting.)

When the new volunteer was denied entry after his paperwork, classwork, and travel, the three of us looked briefly at each other. All that was said was, “Well, an REBT opportunity.”

With practice, it is often effective to quickly recognize that many potential frustrations are “just REBT opps.”

The phrase said a lot. It seemed to say it all. As SMART facilitators, we had absorbed the Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) concepts Continue reading

Over the Influence: The Harm Reduction Guide to Controlling Your Drug and Alcohol Use

Posted on October 10, 2017

Book review by A.Tom Horvath, Ph.D.

Although harm reduction is commonly used in other countries, this approach to coping with problematic addictive behavior is unfortunately uncommon in the US. The authors are two US harm reduction leaders. They founded the Center for Harm Reduction Therapy in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2000. This book is intended for persons considering change. The authors have also written a book for professionals, the acclaimed Practicing Harm Reduction Therapy, now in a 2nd edition.

To provide an overview of this impressive work I will extensively quote it. In response to the question “What is Harm Reduction?” they provide the following three paragraphs (p. 197)

“Harm reduction is a way to help people change their substance use without demanding immediate and lifelong abstinence. It uses many creative strategies to keep people alive and safe while they figure out how to develop a healthier relationship with drugs. For some people, that means abstinence; for others that means moderate or safer use.”

“Harm reduction takes a health perspective rather than a moral or legal perspective, on drug use. Drug use is not bad. It is normal human behavior, and most people don’t get into trouble with it. Drug misuse is a habit that has gotten out of hand, or it is a signal of other co-occurring problems.”

“Harm reduction attends to every aspect of health—physical, mental and emotional, social and economic. It is nonjudgmental, compassionate, and pragmatic—it starts where the person is, stays with the person through the entire process of change, and never ever kicks anyone out.” 

Continue reading

Personal choice and empowerment

Posted on September 26, 2017

A Diverse and Welcoming Support Community

Rob Freundlich, SMART Recovery Meeting Facilitator

When I recognized and accepted my sex-related addiction in March 2015 (2 1/2 years ago), I started looking for resources to help in my recovery. I knew that in addition to a good therapist, I would need at least one good group. For various reasons, the 12-step approach didn’t appeal to me, so I looked for alternatives, and ended up finding SMART Recovery.

From the website, I learned that SMART emphasizes personal choice and empowerment, and uses a rational thought-based approach toward recovery It’s backed by scientific research and updated as new research and discoveries are made. On the site I also found a lot of information about the organization, detailed information about the program (including “how-to” pages), and an amazing amount of reading material about addiction and recovery in general.

For a science-minded person like me, who’d always thought I was very logical and rational but was mystified and frustrated at how illogical, irrational, and powerless this addiction had made me, it seemed like a great fit. The only catch was that even though the site talked about addiction in general, the materials seemed to focus an awful lot on substance addiction (primarily drinking). Would I fit in?

More importantly, would I be welcome? At the time, I had a tremendous amount of shame – more than most people with addictions because mine was … you know … SEX!

I walked into that first meeting very tentatively,  Continue reading

Carl Rogers on “The” Model

Posted on September 5, 2017

By Ted Alston, Volunteer Meeting Facilitator

In 2005, William White and Martin Nicolaus wrote that SMART Recovery and other secular recovery groups “were influenced by the work of Carl Rogers and Albert Ellis”1. Ellis gave us the ABC Model and other tools. The influence of Rogers is less direct. I find the writings of Rogers to be tough reads. However, the following quote is clear and may be of interest to students of SMART2.

“We regard the medical model as an extremely inappropriate model for dealing with psychological disturbances. The model that makes more sense is a growth model or a developmental model. In other words we see people as having a potential for growth and development and that can be released under the right psychological climate. We don’t see them as sick and needing a diagnosis, a prescription and a cure; and that is a very fundamental difference with a good many implications” — Carl Rogers, 1978

SMART has no position on the so-called medical model, and Rogers did not find that model necessary. Furthermore, he cautioned against labels.

At different times, Ellis and Rogers were individually recognized as the Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association. From the photos, it is hard to say which psychologist sported the pointiest shirt collar.

1 White W, Nicolaus M. Styles of secular recovery. Counselor 2005;6(4):58-61.
http://www.williamwhitepapers.com/pr/2005Stylesofsecularrecovery.pdf
2 The quote is from an interview and was selected by editor David Webb for the preface to Significant Aspects of Client-Centered Therapy, Psychology Classics, Carl Rogers.
Details of the interview are at
http://www.all-about-psychology.com/carl_rogers.html

Continue reading

A Powerful Exercise for Changing Your Thinking

Posted on August 15, 2017

Three Minute Refutations by Michael R. Edelstein Ph.D.

SMART is based in part on the rational (REBT) concepts of Albert Ellis. Here, Michael Edelstein outlines his distinctive style of the application of REBT as an aid to recovery.

In my book Three Minute Therapy, I introduced the cognitive practice of the Three Minute Exercise (TME) to challenge your internal demands–your “I musts,” “Others musts,” and “Life musts.” The Three Minute Refutations (TMR) involves a powerful exercise for changing another type of addictive thinking. It targets your rationalizations or excuses, which arise from your demands. For example, if you have set a smoking quit date and find it uncomfortable to follow through, you may tell yourself you “must” avoid that discomfort and smoke anyway. Or if you have the urge to light up in an area where smoking is prohibited, you may think you “must” satisfy this urge and step outside. These “musts” lead to self-defeating behaviors.

Targeting your “musts”

The Three Minute Exercise (TME), which is discussed in Three Minute Therapy, is ideal for targeting your “musts.” Your “musts” may encourage you to make excuses for not quitting on the appointed date or not abstaining from a cigarette during work hours. Some excuses might be: “I have a lot of stress today, I’ll quit tomorrow” or “I’ll have only one drag, then I’ll stop.” Continue reading