From a life in Addiction to a Sucessful Career in Addiction Treatment
Therapist, Intervene Columnist, Trainer and Recovery Groupwork Programme Manager, Chula Goonewardene, talks through his experiences of moving from residential treatment for his own addiction, to BACP registration.
I entered residential treatment for addiction from a place of desperation and despair. When I left six months later I was filled with enthusiasm for life and hope for the future. The counsellors had inspired me greatly and my immediate desire was to become like them and support people with similar issues to my own.
Luckily for me, an enlightened witness in my life suggested that I take two years to build a solid foundation of recovery in a fellowship, focus on my other great passion of music, and if I still wished to become a counsellor at the end of that, then I could approach it with greater stability and self-awareness. Wise words indeed.
In 2005 I began a placement in the voluntary sector of the Substance Misuse field and not long after, became employed as a worker on a Structured Day Programme in Westminster. It was here that I ‘cut my teeth’ in the caring professions and soon became a qualified Motivational Interviewing Practitioner and Advanced Group Facilitator.
The experience I gained here was invaluable, as I was exposed to a wide range of different settings such as; frontline drop-in, needle exchange, 1:1 assessments and care-planning, workshops and process groups, outreach and community engagement, child protection, GP shared-care and the criminal justice system. I worked with many dual-diagnosis and complex clients, which taught me that in most cases and to varying degrees, addiction is the symptom of underlying trauma. Most significantly, it was impossible to predict who would have the capacity to be successful in the their quest for change and who wouldn’t, so it was vital that I worked with complete dedication to each and every individual, applying the core conditions of empathy and unconditional positive regard at all times, no matter how chaotic or resistantly entrenched they presented.
Becoming a Senior Practitioner in 2008 gave me supervision experience and I was supported by my employers to undertake several management qualifications and eventually move in to my current role of Recovery Groupwork Programme Manager. Alongside our client work, my team were charged with delivering Drug & Alcohol Awareness Training for health-care professionals in what is now the Tri-Borough of Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, and Hammersmith & Fulham, which developed my skills even further and is something that I have found to be incredibly rewarding, which I also enjoy immensely.
After two years of not working directly with clients, I decided to return to my original passion and embarked on a Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling. I had observed in myself and others that leaving behind a life of active addiction is just the beginning, recovery is a long-term process for most, and in order to maintain positive change, and continue personal growth, deeper therapeutic work is usually required at some point. To support my studies I was very fortunate to find an opportunity to work as an Aftercare Facilitator for a private treatment clinic, alongside my 1:1 counselling placement. This gave me a broader perspective on the treatment of addictive disorders and introduced me to working with a different social demographic than I’d been used to. The advantage of working in the public and private sectors at the same time, has been the insight I have gained into the common denominators of addiction, and the understanding that addiction is absolutely a human condition that needs to be treated from a human perspective, irrespective of social differences, something the fellowships have always held true.
My key areas of interest as a therapist take a psychodynamic perspective, and coming from a Buddhist family, my life philosophy also supports this approach; I believe in causality and the conditioned mind. The majority of the clients that I work with, both in and outside addiction, report esteem issues and often an aching vulnerability that for some becomes incredibly debilitating. On assessment this commonly reveals its roots in the parental dynamic and family system. As John Bowlby explained to us so well, it is these attachment developments that set the blue-print for our patterns of relating and ultimately how we experience adult life, and as soon as we act from introjected values to place conditions of worth upon ourselves, we are in danger of building upon a dysfunctional foundation, as each thought and feeling colours the next.
In my opinion, the most effective form of treatment for addiction is a combination of mutual aid and professional support.
There needs to be some element of group interaction for those who are suffering to find connection to others through identification and reflective feedback, as this fractures the isolation of addiction. There must also be space on the journey of recovery to take personal responsibility and make healthy choices. These processes often require to be introduced by professionals who hold appropriate knowledge and understanding in this area. From my observations, it is not enough for the addicted person to only see a 1:1 therapist in isolation, it is not enough for someone with deep under-lying trauma to only attend mutual aid groups, and it is certainly not enough for treatment providers to only focus on the addicted individual alone. A systemic approach will support and enable all aspects of care to be considered and attended to, in order to build successful, long-term recovery.
The last three years have been incredibly demanding for me, attempting to balance: full-time management, college attendance and private study, counselling placements
, personal therapy, clinical supervision and playing drums in The Should Be Deads, a band consisting entirely of members in recovery. What I can say, is that without the support of others I could not have got through it, there were several times when I felt like giving up, but the care and encouragement of the family, friends, peers, colleagues and fellows around me, enabled me to persevere and push on through. The day that I received my BACP registration was one of the proudest moments of personal achievement in my life and a gift of recovery no doubt; it seemed impossible to equate it to the painfully monotonous drone of heroin addiction that I had suffered years before.
Most recently I have set up private practice (CM Therapy) with my wife, also an experienced therapist in recovery, who I have always found to be incredibly insightful and inspiring, both personally and professionally, and we are hoping to cross bridges between the public and private sectors by drawing upon our combined skills and experience, to offer a variety of therapeutic interventions at whatever the level of need presents. We work with a wide range of issues including; stress, depression, anxiety, bereavement, anger management, relationship difficulties, eating disorders and other addictions.
In my experience, people in distress seeking help, have often suffered from a lack of love, care and understanding in their lives.
I see it that my job as a therapist, is to provide a safe space in which I can support those who come to us, to find healing through exploring their issues and examining their internal world, and eventually, hopefully, arrive at personal resolution in order to live the life they have always wished for.