Saturday, December 1, 2018

How Do You Heal?

There are different therapies and theories focused on emotional healing, especially when it comes to trauma. Many of these approaches are effective when an individual in need of help puts the appropriate time and effort into the process of getting better in treatment. Seeking professional help can be extremely valuable in the pursuit of healing from past trauma.

Still, on a day to day basis, in addition to formal treatments, therapies and medications, some of the best forms of healing can also take place through the consistent and persistent use of basic coping strategies. These simple strategies used alone may not be the answer with more complex cases of emotional trauma. However, having a handful of basic yet effective coping tools to get through the short term can be a lifesaver when considering emotional survival on a day to day basis.

Taking it a step further, almost anyone with a history of trauma who has also had some success with overcoming a substance use issue can attest to the importance of having some basic skills to turn to instead of reaching for that drink or drug.  Taking a drink, toke, smoke, sniff, pop, shot, or spike of a substance to escape difficult emotions associated with trauma may feel good in the short term, but it usually isn’t a long term answer when it comes to healing. Instead, committing to a plan for basic healing-based safe care can have excellent long term benefits.

So keeping it simple- consider the question: How do you heal?

First, in order to conceptualize your plan of action, think of the following action words – things you can DO

Making (Creating)

Using the list of action words provided, what do you do in order to go to that place of peace where you can rest and heal emotionally? Be descriptive of what you do and what it does for you


“The half hour at the end of the day when I am playing my guitar, my mind is clear and I feel the positive energy that comes from the songs I am singing. For those 30 minutes I am not thinking about stress, worries, fears, or anything – It’s just me, my guitar and my songs”

“The other night I was tossing and turning due to stressful memories. Even though it was 1:00 am I lit a candle, dimmed the lights and took a long nice hot bath. Even though it took a few minutes to settle in at first, eventually a sense of peace came over me and for a little while I felt the escape I was looking for, without getting high.”

“After years of struggling with my emotions, I learned that an essential part of my healing was directly tied to nature. Nowadays I make sure that walking in nature is part of my day. Whether it is hot, cold, rainy or snowing, I do whatever I can to take my dog out for a walk on the beach at least for a few minutes. When my dog and I are out there walking on the beach, I am at peace and getting high is the furthest thing from my mind”

Take turns sharing your own basic methods for peace and healing

Closing Group Process Questions:

Now that everyone has shared, be honest:  Have you been doing what you need to do to heal as you described, or have you gotten away from it and you need to get back on track?

What other ideas did you hear from others in the group that you may want to try?

Finally:  Can you make a commitment to focus on healing? – If so complete the following:

Starting today, in order to increase the sense of peace in my life
and give myself time for emotional healing,
I will do the following _______________________________at least__________ (frequency)

For a printable version of this exercise click here


CLICK To view the Taking the Escalator



Thursday, November 29, 2018

Taking a Moment to Recognize a Sad Loss of a One of a Kind Addiction Therapist...

Taking the Escalator contributor, Caitlin Kennedy Masterson, 34, of Middletown, NJ, passed away peacefully surrounded by her family on November 18, 2018 at Riverview Medical Center Red Bank. She was born in Toms River, NJ and lived in Red Bank and Middletown for the last several years. She graduated from Pemberton High School and earned her Bachelor's Degree from Catholic University. She went on to receive her Master's Degree in Psychology from Rutgers University. Caitlin worked as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker specializing in drug and alcohol counseling.  Popular group therapy activites contributed by Caitlin on the Taking the Escalator Website include -Greif and Loss Cycle, Power and Control, Self Awareness & Affirmation Development, and Plan to Avoid Relapse. She touched many lives as seen by her extremely loyal following of clients who had the privilege of having Caitlin as their counselor. She will be greatly missed by many.

Friday, November 16, 2018

What is Your Story of Resilience?

To get started, consider the following brief vignettes about endurance, persistence and resilience. After reading through this list, choose one or two that stood out to you:

Famous People:

Thomas Edison – Before finally inventing the lightbulb, Thomas Edison failed over 10,000 in his efforts. When interviewed about this, Mr. Edison stated: “I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

Buster Douglas – In 1990, Buster Douglas was a 42 to 1 underdog facing Mike Tyson, the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, who the world had deemed to be unbeatable at that time due to the ease of which he destroyed all of his previous 37 opponents. Despite almost getting knocked out himself in the 8th round Douglas survived and then later in the 10th round of the fight, Douglas slayed the mighty giant by knocking out the previously undefeated champion Mike Tyson in what is still considered one of the greatest upsets in boxing history. Douglas had lost his mother less than a month before the fight, a situation which Douglas later stated was behind his remarkable determination to win.

Walt Disney – Disney’s first company went bankrupt and then he was nearly broke and moved to California to try to become an actor. Disney failed at acting too and languished unsuccessfully for 5 years with little progress until he finally come up with Mickey Mouse, which was his eventual ticket to fame and fortune.

Stephen King’s first book was originally rejected by 30 publishes. He has since sold over 350 million copies of his books and still counting, to date

Sylvester Stallone was broke for years and even at times homeless while being rejected over 1500 times by talent scouts prior to iconic success with his first film “Rocky”

Albert Einstein reportedly could not talk until age 4 and he failed his high school entrance exam. Einstein attempted to be an insurance salesmen after college and failed at that too until later going on to be one of the greatest minds in the history of the world

Oprah Winfrey reportedly survived years of childhood sexual abuse. She was fired from her first television job but did not give up and now is known to be one of the most successful television personalities of all time.

Michael Jordan is considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Jordan was actually cut from his high school basketball team so he learned to deal with failure at a young age. In fact, in spite of all of his records and championships, Michael Jordan is famous for saying: “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Even more impressive are the billions of people in this world today who may not be famous but have their own remarkable story of resilience and survival…

Think about what many people have endured (or are still enduring right now) –

Loss of loved ones
Mental Illness

Discuss: What are some stories that you know of resilient people who endured, persevered and survived some of these serious life struggles?

What is Your Story of Resilience? – As a group try to come up with an example for all three: Past, Present, and Future stories of resilience:

Past – What is something you have overcome, survived, and bounced back from, in your past? What is a trial or struggle that you got through successfully because you did not give up?

Present – What is a situation that you are fighting through now and you refuse to run away, quit or give in?

Future – Use your imagination and come up with a story that you may be able to tell one day about your resilience once you get there. (For example: “One day I want to be able to say: After years of relapsing and going in and out of trouble, I finally got things together, completed my last treatment program and got the life I finally wanted…”)

Three Basic Concepts that Promote Resilience –

Taking things “One Day at a Time” – Resilient people look at each day as a new opportunity to improve on the day before. Every day the sun rises is a new opportunity to keep trying. Resilient people don’t let fear of the future be an excuse not to push forward and they do not let the failures and mistakes of the past weigh them down. What can I do today? – Is the way a resilient person often has to view things to keep going

Bend but Don’t Break – Resilient people may make mistakes, experience misfortune or injustice. Resilient people may get depressed, anxious or overwhelmed at times. Resilient people may have occasional or even frequent setbacks. Still, in spite of negative events, feelings, and experiences that may come up, a resilient person will not allow these things to break their spirit. Resiliency is about getting up off of the canvas if you get knocked down (but not knocked out) by life once in a while

Hope – The power of hope is well documented. Holding on to hope that things can be better is at the core of resilience. Sustaining the belief that persistence and endurance will eventually pay off can carry a resilient person through, especially during times of struggle

How are you using these concepts to promote resilience in your own life?

What else helps you to be resilient and to keep pressing forward without giving in or giving up?

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Professing the Positive

Many people will agree that there is just too much anger in the world. It is not uncommon for a conversation to revolve around the things that get people upset and the ways people react when they are upset. Surely you have had the experience of someone next to you on their cell phone telling another person how they “told someone off” for making them angry. Maybe you have been in those conversations yourself, because after all we are only human and most people take the time to vent once in a while. Still, venting can become habitual especially when there may seem to be a million and one reasons to get angry these days. Therefore, to start a positive group discussion on anger management, instead of listing things that make us angry or upset, it can be therapeutic to have a conversation about some things that do not make us angry. So if talking openly about things that get you upset is venting, then let’s call this process of talking about things that make you feel calm, regulated and content: professing

Group questions for professing the positive:

What are some things you can think of that are both enjoyable and good for you?

What is hopeful in your future, even if it’s just something small or personal to you?

What (non-substance related) things take you to that place of contentment even if it’s for a little while?

Who in your life knows just what to say to calm you down and keep you focused on what is good?

What is one thing that you’ve learned not to stress over anymore?

When things are quiet and you self-reflect, what can you be grateful for today?

What is something good you have done for someone else recently (even if it’s something small)?

What is going right in your life right now?

FOR COUNSELORS - Below are 12 links for ANGER MANAGEMENT related therapy activites on Academia (including a printable link for this exercise)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Sophisticated Debates

Of course it is always best to avoid arguing and debate whenever possible as usually nothing good comes out of it. However, it is still important to build skills for effectively expressing your viewpoint in a manner that shows respect and thus minimizes the likelihood of an argument or fight. Below are 5 basic tips for expressing your viewpoint in an effective manner. After that there are links below for additional relavent information and activities related to this topic- 

Build your viewpoint on facts – Anyone can have an opinion, however if you can base your views on credible facts and information it will be a lot more solid. Think of expressing your viewpoint like building a wall with each fact like a brick in the wall. The more bricks you have the more sturdy the wall. Building fact upon fact can be even more effective than scattering a bunch of information randomly

Nonverbal communication – Your volume, your tone, eye contact, posture and hand gestures can help make your opinion easier to follow and more persuasive if used correctly. Try to exhibit poise. (Poise - a dignified, self-confident manner: composure, stability)

Avoid absolutes – Words like “never” or always” can ruin the credibility of the point you may be trying to make. It is good to be specific rather than make sweeping generalizations

Respect – Avoid being offensive or insulting. Usually once you insult the person you are expressing yourself too that usually shuts down any hope of coming to an understanding.

Focus on building up rather than only tearing down – It can be useful to point out some reasons why you disagree with a belief or viewpoint. However, if all that you can bring to the table are reasons why you feel that other viewpoints are wrong but you cannot make a positive case as to what is good about your viewpoint then you really don’t have a leg to stand on. For example if you were in a discussion about why you thought one sports team was better than the other you need to be able to explain why you believe your team is good instead of only bringing out why you think the other team stinks.


Friday, October 5, 2018

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

At first, this saying may seem corny to some, especially those who remember that the saying “I love it when a plan comes together” originates with an old 1980’s TV show. Putting the television show aside, the actual phrase: “I love it when a plan comes together” is really very meaningful in day to day life. The saying itself is in contrast to Murphy’s Law, which states “If something can go wrong, it will”.

In spite of Murphy’s Law, things often do go just fine according to plan. The problem is that we may just tend to notice it more when things go wrong which makes it seem like if something can go wrong, it will. This is likely because of the strong emotions often tied to frustrating situations that tend to stand out thus giving the illusion that nothing ever seems to go right. If you have ever found yourself in a difficult situation saying to yourself something like: “I can’t believe this- this always happens to me” you can understand.

However, when we really take the time to focus on the positive that goes on day to day in life, it becomes evident that quite often when we face various challenges, we make a plan to address those circumstances, and our plan does work out effectively. If we take the time to really appreciate it when things do come together it can really help to cultivate a grateful attitude. Sometimes the timing of things is in our favor and other times the right person comes along and saves the day and sometimes we are in the right place at the right time. It often takes a grateful attitude to be able to appreciate that Murphy’s Law does not always turn out to be true. Rather, if we remain alert to and appreciative of the little things in life, we will start to notice those times when we can sit back, take a satisfying breath, and look back at what we’ve accomplished and say “I love it when a plan comes together”

Group Activity - Everyone in this room has personal examples of things that they do each day to make things come together as planned just the right way on a regular basis. This group activity is about focusing on the positives in life with a grateful viewpoint to recognize and really pay attention to and appreciate it when things go work out for the best.

Directions: Try to come up with at least one or more example in your own life when things worked out just the way you needed it too for each of the following topic areas. Some examples are provided to help get everyone started

Example 1 – (Work) “I was unemployed and going broke and couldn’t find a job anywhere when suddenly one day my Uncle called me and told me about an opening at his work and he could put a good word in for me. I took him up on the offer, got hired and I’ve been working there ever since!”

Example 2 – (Health) “I thought my life was never going to be the same again because of the health problems I was experiencing that no doctor could seem to help me with. Then one day I met someone at the bus stop and we started talking and she told me about a doctor who I started a new treatment with and I now I finally have been feeling so much better”

Now come up with your own personal examples as a group, where you can:






Health (Physical)

Health (Mental/Emotional)

Bad Habits/Addiction


Friday, September 21, 2018

Are You Just Doing Time, or Viewing Time Wisely?

One of the greatest resources is time. How a person uses their time is closely linked to his or her level of overall success and happiness. Also, beside just how we use our time we need to consider how we view our time. Almost everyone in this world has some share of responsibilities and obligations that need to be done, regardless of whether or not we want to do them. (All kids who transition to adulthood soon learn that lesson from experience as they get older). Therefore, how we choose to view the things that we need to do, but don’t necessarily want to do, is of utmost importance
If you are reading this now and you are in a substance use treatment program, perhaps you are there because you really want to be, or maybe you are attending just to avoid getting into trouble, or possibly when you break it all down, you are somewhere in between. Regardless of where you want to be right now, in order to get the most out of a group therapy program, the general rule for group therapy is that often you get out of it, what you put into it.
With that in mind, complete the following thoughts for discussion as a group:

How can I contribute to this group in a positive way…?
…With my words? (Or how I choose to speak and share)  

…With my attitude?

…With my personal experience and knowledge?

…By listening to others?

…By being open to learning?

…By being real and honest?

…By being encouraging and helpful to others?

…By being my unique self (What is something about you that was not already mentioned that you can bring to this group?)

Final Thought:
If the time spent in this group is like a river,
won’t you get farther if you don’t swim against the current?



(Group topics made specifically for closing out longer groups such as Intensive Outpatient Programs- GROUP CLOSE OUT IDEAS)