Why labels are helpful
When clients come into therapy for help with compulsive/addictive behaviors, the first point of consideration is whether they can acknowledge their problems.
Sam Louie is a psychotherapist with an emphasis on multicultural issues and behavioral addictions (i.e. porn/sex, eating, gaming, gambling, etc.). He is also a public speaker on diversity issues and addiction recovery (growing up with 3 generations of addictions). Sam received his Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in marriage & family therapy from Azusa Pacific University. Prior to counseling, Sam worked as an Emmy Award-winning television journalist where he researched, produced, and reported on stories related to psychotherapy, culture, and addiction.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
Oftentimes, there’s denial that must be confronted because the client may be there under duress such as being “asked” to commit to therapy or face a divorce or have a partner leave them.
While many people argue against labels like calling oneself an “addict” lest one lose any sense of control or responsibility for their actions. But I believe differently. If anything, when someone can either acknowledge their behaviors as being “addictive” or themselves as being an “addict” (i.e. I’m a drug addict, alcoholic, porn addict, etc.), this can be seen as a therapeutic breakthrough.
Keep in mind, there are times when the label “addict” is not recommended such as those dealing with such shame that the term only makes them spiral even deeper in self-loathing and hatred. These individuals first need to separate their behaviors from their identity. Once that is achieved, the term can be used to serve the initial purpose.
The main purpose for someone identifying themselves as an addict is to gain self-awareness, take responsibility, and validate their past experiences. It is not to excuse or justify past behaviors but can be used to help understand what drove them there in the first place.
For example, alcoholics who can acknowledge their addiction are able to recognize their addiction for what it is-a a coping mechanism. Without any self-acknowledgment, they could continue to rationalize their alcohol consumption with a limited desire to get help.
In my own work with clients, this has to come from within. Despite the best intentions of a spouse, family members, or friends to help break denial, it has to be owned by the addict. Once they own their addiction, they are able to truly seek help, recovery, and embrace therapy for themselves.