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American expert speaks on NZ addiction treatment

American expert speaks on NZ addiction treatment

6 March 2012

Why do people so often find themselves stuck in behaviours they know are self-destructive, such as drinking too much, smoking, or being unable to separate from harmful partners? And why does all the well-intended advice from loved ones, and even medical professionals, so often fail to help?

A visiting expert says sometimes the best advice can be toxic for someone struggling to change their behaviour when it’s perceived as a form of judgment or control.

Allan Zuckoff, a lecturer in psychology and psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh spoke at a workshop in Wellington for addiction and mental health workers today about why the people they help so often fail to respond to treatment, even though they know their conditions are making them unhappy.

He spoke mainly about the treatment method known as motivational interviewing, commonly used both in New Zealand and international addiction treatment.

“Motivational interviewing acknowledges that behavioural change can only occur when a person truly comes to believe the advantages of changing outweigh the perceived disadvantages, and that they really can succeed at behaving differently.

“It helps reduce the pressure, from self and others, that has been building ever since their problem began and which has only strengthened feelings of hopelessness and failure. It helps people listen to themselves instead of talking at themselves so they can tap into their own natural well of motivation and decision-making ability.”

Dr Zuckoff said the counselling approach, though reasonably well-established, needed to be used more frequently with those suffering from addiction, mental health problems or from more than one disorder.

“Like many other countries New Zealand struggles to find enough resources to treat increasing numbers suffering from alcohol and other addiction disorders or who have mental health problems.

“Motivational interviewing has a track record of effectiveness at helping people resolve even longstanding dilemmas about change in a remarkably short period of time. Using it more widely or more effectively could help ease the burden on your busy treatment workforce.”

Dr Zuckoff was brought to New Zealand by Matua Raki, a national addiction workforce development organisation funded by the Ministry of Health. He has led a similar workshop in Christchurch and will present another one in Auckland tomorrow. He will also speak at the Motivational Interviewing Symposium in Auckland on Friday 9 March.

Click here to read more about Dr Zuckoff.

ENDS

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