Paul D. Alleva, MSW

man overlooking beautiful rocks and water at sunset

The treatment of trauma, PTSD, and addiction have a long standing history associated with cognitive functioning of the brain and the use of therapeutic interventions associated with behavior changing modalities that seem to be stuck in the dark ages of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the psychotherapy field over the last thirty or more years. As a result, patients have been left to attend psychotherapy sessions and drug / alcohol recovery centers over and over again with no true basis of change or progress towards their ultimate goal of leading a sober life. The notion of getting sober is not the same that it was in the 1960’s; today’s addict requires intellectual stimulation with a proactive change within a purposefully driven goal that redefines the addicts identity of the self when they wake up in the morning and can actually look at themselves in the mirror.

The disgrace that comes from living under the thumb of addiction and the stress of reliving trauma continues to hinder the progress of treatment to the extent that this associated stress, guilt and shame is a common thread among reasons to relapse. Spiritual Growth Therapy™ (SGT) is a philosophical concept that changes the way therapy is performed by the providing practitioner and a therapeutic modality that challenges the patient’s concept of themselves, redefines their identity, and drives them towards a life filled with purpose on a spiritual level.

The SGT Therapist
SGT is no longer a therapist with all the answers, informing the patient on what and how to act while passing judgement based on the clients pathology or newest and latest diagnosis. The SGT therapist is trained to meet the patient at eye level and to guide them through self-exploration, reprocessing, refinement of identity, and a spiritual awakening defined as a renewed purpose in life in spite of a diagnosis. SGT therapists collaborate with the patient, walking them through a set of intellectually stimulating and spiritually based practices that creates new neural pathways within the brain, opening and defining new ways of thinking and crafting new choices that are spiritually and morally sound. The ultimate goal of the SGT therapist is to guide the client to an understanding that they are able to perform the SGT tasks, practices and interventions on their own and throughout their lives. Clients will NOT have to seek the therapist’s couch every time something in their lives goes wrong. The SGT therapist MUST embody and be the perfect vehicle for Spirituality! They must engage in spiritual practices and lead by example. They must exhibit and exude peace, understanding and remain calm, cool, and collected. They must possess the ability to filter emotions from the body, both negative and positive to enhance their ability to think clearly, logically and rationally about themselves, their community and the world.

They hold dear to their hearts and manifest the attitude that failure is not an option and that nothing, NOTHING, is going to hurt anyone; not on my watch!

A Note on Research and Spirituality
Unfortunately, addiction and trauma treatment has been highly dependent on research and so called best practices of therapeutic modalities to be used during treatment. Although these research studies take into account the dominant modalities being used in treatment centers across the country, they are limited in their scope as they do not take into consideration what is left of the client after these therapeutic interventions are used. Most of the research performed views the patient as a robotic system unable to think on their own and without emotion. These two elements discount the human component of treatment, leaving in its wake an army of dry drunks who continue to exhibit maladaptive addictive behaviors only without the drugs and alcohol. It is the purpose of SGT to redefine behavior towards a positive light and positive outcome. Current behaviors are to be driven by the mindset of a “wish and do no ill will towards the self or others”. The ultimate goal is manifesting a positive purpose into the patient’s life and turning the tide of behavior towards a ‘good will to men and women’ thought process that produces good human beings, with the light of hope, joy, happiness and a clear mind to make healthier choices and establish a better future for themselves and the people they interact with daily. Being a practitioner myself, it is not good enough to just help get people sober or overcome their trauma; we have a duty to create a better world.

In all the research I have come across concerning spirituality and spiritual practices, the findings are the same; spiritual people live longer, have more productive and refined lives, are healthier human beings and are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol and use illicit drugs.

According to the research, spiritual practices such as yoga and meditation reduce the neurochemicals in the brain associated with stress. As we in the recovery and trauma field know and understand, the inability to handle stress is a common thread leading to relapse and an inability to handle situations in real time. By reducing stress levels (of course without medications for which this country has become too dependent on) our patients’ abilities to think clearly under duress lead to better decision making and more proactive positive choices when presented with adversity.

Most of the research defines a life of purpose and a strong connection with the self in an encouraging light as the reason that spiritual practices and spiritual people work. Spirituality redefines purpose; as written in our book Let Your Soul Evolve: Spiritual Growth for the New Millennium 2nd edition. Even addicts have a purpose: injecting heroin is a purpose on the negative scale if there ever was one. Initiating a positive purpose based on a spiritual connection redefines identity while creating new neural pathways in the brain towards a higher understanding of the self and a stronger connection to a higher purpose. Therefore, when a choice needs to be made based on the self, the patient exhibits a chain reaction leading to a choice based on a positive outcome. The sense of the self, the body, the mind, the heart, supersedes the want to create drama, chaos, and pain in one’s life. In conclusion, the driving force behind taking care of oneself alters the neural pathways in the brain to a point where doing things like drinking and smoking becomes superficial and a detriment to the goals the person is and has been accomplishing.

SGT and the Treatment of Addiction

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has recently redefined the definition of addiction relating it to a brain based disease and not a behavioral disorder, meaning the causes of addiction, the behaviors associated with the addiction
(sex, gambling, etc.) are an underlying result of the addiction disorder in the brain. The SGT therapist utilizes a skill set called Decompression to initiate and solidify new neural pathways in the brain which helps the patient to change the neural connectivity associated with addiction and addictive behaviors in order to redefine the concept of choice when faced with situations where normally the addicted person would view the circumstance as
a reason for relapse or for the use of drugs and alcohol. They
say that practice makes perfect and that perfect practice makes perfect results, the first step towards recovery is admitting there is a problem and then doing something about it. I tell my patients all the time that if they want to change they actually have to change everything there is about themselves; they have to redefine their identity and move towards a place in their hearts where purpose and passion live and breathe freely, so ultimately it becomes much more important to them than drugs and alcohol and there is no longer a choice. Their drive towards purpose supersedes the need for drugs and alcohol. However, first they have to get to the point in their lives where purpose and passion drive their choices, and self-love or self-preservation overrides the need to defile the self
.Patients need time to reset neural pathways; this is why traditional thirty day programs have been a failure of biblical proportions.

SGT redefines, defines, and redefines again the addict’s behaviors, causes of behaviors, and emotions that drive those behaviors on an everyday basis while receiving treatment in a safe environment. This time is spent in self-reflection where the SGT therapist utilizes the art of reframing to substantiate a positive response from a self-defeating thought process. The goal of the therapist is to guide the client to redefine themselves, their experiences and their present and future responses into a positive outcome and redefined behavior system, where, in time, the client is able to perform these tasks on their own through simple exercises utilized under SGT. The constant reframing, decompression, and again reframing while in a safe and caring environment are what drive behavior changes by creating new neural pathways. The attending result is the normal addictive response becomes a faded echo as the redefined neural pathway is heard loud and clear in real time. My suggestion is a minimum of sixty days in a safe environment with a gradual step down (recovery residences etc.) into society while maintaining contact with practitioners, recovery coaches and those who are all on the same page with the patient’s use of practices learned during the sixty days of treatment.

SGT and the Treatment of Trauma/PTSD

SGT views trauma/PTSD through the lens of a philosophical point of view of a karmic reaction that the soul has called in to overcome, conquer and spring board into a spiritual purpose.
A person who has experienced a traumatic event, either be it a rape, combat threatening for soldiers, fear of death, or moral injury associated with leading a substance abuse lifestyle, becomes overwhelmed with the emotional content of the associated trauma, either by blocking out the traumatic experience and suppressing the emotional content of it, or being consumed with the emotion to the point where the emotion drives every action associated with pushing or blocking the emotion from the forefront of the brain. Having such overwhelming emotion blocks the brain from creating and forging new choices and relationships in the brain and fogs the brain from making new or better choices.

This emotion is like poison to the body and the mind, often leading the patient to drown themselves in alcohol, drugs or other self-defeating behaviors like self-injury or promiscuity; the goal being to defile and hurt the self. Keep in mind that the dominant word behind Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is STRESS. The stress the patient is experiencing is the blocked or stuck neural pathway formed during the traumatic event. In other words, the patient is locked in an endless cycle where the brain is convinced the traumatic event continues even until this day; however, the event is NOT happening and the brain seeks relief from the symptoms (i.e. drugs and alcohol) through learned behaviors. In a study performed by Segerstrom and Miller (2004) the experience of chronic stress was associated with suppression of cellular activity leading to compromised immune systems.

The chronic emotional content associated with the traumatic event is like poison to the body. Traumatic events become stuck in the brain, disconnected from the processing of the event which is what allows the event to be stored into the subconscious mind as a lesson learned and to not be repeated. This process of
‘getting stuck’ often leads to self-deception where the brain is tricked into believing the event still continues to this day and the mind then reacts to triggers associated with the event, including emotions such as stress, anger, or fear that the body has used self-defeating behaviors as a means of coping with these emotions. But stress, anger and fear are normal emotions and are difficult, if not impossible to avoid. Life is a roller coaster ride with its severe ups and downs, twists and turns; the odds of experiencing such emotions are extremely high if not definite. The way SGT treats trauma is through practices associated with cleansing the energy body, or cellular activity while allowing the brain to process the experience(s) utilizing a host of techniques including hypnosis, bilateral stimulation and language. The SGT therapist is responsible for teaching and guiding the client through these processes reframing past events in a spiritual sense with an ultimate purpose of defining meaning to the events and choices of where and what the client wishes the outcome of these experiences to be; simply, redefining the process through spiritual means. The use of colors, scenes, spirit animals and symbols are utilized to convey the desired positive outcome for the patient.

As with any required change, the patient is expected to practice therapeutic and spiritual techniques on their own to obtain the desired result as a self-healer with a strong positive purpose. Cleansing the negative emotion allows the body and mind to think clearly; thinking clearly allows the mind to process real time experiences logically and rationally without the strong emotional content associated with these events, therefore allowing the ability to make better choices.

SGT for trauma is a six week program of study and therapeutic intervention that leads to the desired outcome of processing newly learned positive coping skills that can and should be practiced daily as a way of changing past behaviors and negative thought processes; the desired outcome being self-love and self-preservation. Spiritual Growth Therapy™ is a collaboration between practitioner and patient that is not the therapist doing all the work and merely telling or dictating to the client what they want, need or have; but an alliance that dictates the patient will do the work necessary to change and the practitioner will guide the client through struggles and emotions as they arise to put into a positive context the experiences of the past, present, and future.

References Provided Upon Request

Paul D. Alleva is the founding owner of Lifescape Solutions and Evolve Mental Health which he opened in December of 2011, based on a new model of healing and psychotherapy called Spiritual Growth Therapy. His newest book Let Your Soul Evolve: Spiritual Growth for the New Millennium 2nd edition describes the model.