You can watch the original full-length Recovery Talk here and read our follow-up Q&A further down this page.
We hope you enjoy both!
KS: Tell us about your journey to becoming an addiction recovery therapist
WP: I came to therapy a little later in life. I was married with two children with a good job at Hoover as a Sales Trainer. I gave a good external impression of success and confidence which wasn’t perfectly mirrored internally. Life difficulties lead to some problematic drinking which led to my own personal recovery journey.
I’d always greatly admired people in the psychiatric profession. I thought they sat on the right arm of God and never really aspired to join them myself, but friends gradually persuaded me that I had the right abilities and skills to explore it.
I did my training at Edgbaston and joined the Priory Group as a trainee addiction counsellor. My first thought was to work with the homeless but I soon found myself working with people at the Priory who could afford to pay for their own treatment and I threw myself into it. I came to realise that regardless of their background and circumstances the emotional deprivation and desolation was just the same among addicts.
KS: Tell us about your work at the Priory
WP: I practiced the Minnesota Model which advocated total abstinence. 40 years ago this was seen as controversial. I remember being laughed and jeered at for speaking about it at conferences at a time when everything revolved around harm reduction and controlled drinking. There were few places which opened up to abstinence model back then, but the Priory was one of them, along with Clouds.
KS: What turned that around?
WP: It wasn’t easy to stand up for it, but the likes of Dr Brian Hore championed it, as did the Priory. People began to see that the recovery rates were so much better, so the proof of the pudding was in the eating. I was training others in it in Altrincham and had to be very patient with those less familiar with it. The statutory bodies were a closed shop, but AA was spreading too and the tide gradually turned.
Alcoholism wasn’t even seen as an addiction and much emphasis was placed on treating the root cause and correcting the reason, such as childhood trauma etc, but this approach meant that addicts were left with no shift in emotional resources. It seemed to make sense to get the alcohol out the way first and then resolve the underlying issues. Often there was a genetic predisposition too, you could see a history of alcohol abuse in families for instance.
Fellowships like AA started to be taken more seriously, when they were once dismissed as pseudo-religious, cult-like entities. I would host groups from the statutory bodies to pass on this learning. It was very gratifying to educate others to really understand addiction. But it’s only been in the past fifteen years since abstinence became the accepted model. Soon there were addiction programmes popping up all over the country and it became credible at long last.
KS: Kevin was one of many celebrities to benefit from your treatment Win. What are the main challenges associated with treating those in the public eye?
WP: Most ordinary people who come to the Priory can do so with few people knowing. They can hopefully ease their way back into work gradually. But it’s very difficult for famous people because they have a certain image to protect and can’t escape the glare of publicity during their recovery. It’s harder and more threatening because the focus is intensified on them. It’s not uncommon for a therapist to offer some support in attending events for this reason. The difficulty of attending a wedding or a funeral for example is magnified and only adds to existing anxiety about such critical situations.
Of course there are other challenges too. Celebrities are used to being liked and it can be hard to get them to stop performing when they attend groups. It’s not just celebrities though. Doctors and dentists have their own specific groups to attend so that they don’t have to worry about the stigma of their own patients finding out they have a problem.
KS: In the recent recovery talk we did with you, you covered the subject of denial in some detail. What’s important to understand about denial?
WP: It’s pointless pushing someone who’s lying about addiction into a corner. Eventually though they’ll reach a point where they can’t sustain the lie. Remember that not having a crutch to regulate your emotions is a terrifying thing. If you’re living with a young person who’s lying and stealing to fund their habit the best thing you can do is simply remove your valuables from the house, rather than telling them not to do it, which won’t wash.
When the dishonesty reaches a point that the consequences are just too great you have to be prepared to give an ultimatum – clean up or get out. Never give one unless you’re prepared to carry it out, avoid empty threats. Also have some help ready and available to the addict. Family members can often be a powerful lever to those needing help, so don’t underestimate the influence you weald.
KS: Once an addict has stopped using, how long can they expect that feeling of a void left by using this substance to last?
WP: Some people can last a while going cold turkey, but it can be a miserable existence getting by purely on white knuckled willpower. Without the right support users in recovery don’t know how to change their thinking and regulate their emotions. The early euphoria doesn’t last. You’ll soon hit reality when life deals you something difficult.
It’s only when you start to change your attitudes and learn new coping strategies that you’ll feel better. You find new ways of regulating stressors and that abyss fades and shrinks once you do. People’s desire to drink leaves them if they practice a programme of abstinence through therapy and support groups. You have to submit yourself fully to recovery and accept that abstinence is the only possible way to become well again.
KS: After a long and successful career at the Priory you retired and went into private practice. How did you find that transition?
WP: I did some general counselling courses at Keele University, pursued some different specialisms and advanced my training overseas too, as I knew that it was important to be as knowledgeable about general life issues as I was on addiction. But I found it relatively easy really and my practice soon grew to be full time. I was well known after 25 years at the Priory and had a good referral base.
I’d made good connections with various faith groups and many of my clients today come from these. Some of my clients are third generation now – their grandparents would have seen me and referred them on.
Today around 50% of my practice focusses on addictions, and that which doesn’t often looks at repeated behaviours which causes problems. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result and that’s very true of all addictions. The addictive object disinhibits them. It can turn the mildest, gentlest people into monsters.
KS: Finally Win, do you have any words of encouragement for anyone newly entering recovery today?
WP: If you’re listening to and learning from others who’ve recovered and are enjoying a good quality of life then wonderful things await you. Your life will change beyond your wildest dreams. That may sound trite but it could mean for example that you can be free of that tyrannical relationship, finally become a healthier parent or simply face every day without fear or anger. You will find connection in life to your thoughts and feelings which you’ve been searching for in an addiction and which always eluded you.