The most important thing for recovery

Posted · 6 Comments

Recovery-mattersWhat’s the most important thing for service users seeking recovery? Service users were asked this at an event I was at recently. The answers were surprisingly consistent.

Were service users looking for warm empathetic professionals? Important but not the most important thing. Was it doctors and nurses getting the dose of ORT right? Not on the radar. Was it getting decent housing, getting into employment or building better relationships? No, important as they are, these were not at the top of the list. Neither was it being able to attend nice premises, getting access to acupuncture or having integrated treatment. No, it was something else.

The most important thing for recovery

What did service users at this event say they valued above everything else? Well for these guys it was the instillation of hope. This most important thing, – hope,  as it turns out, is not a quantity measured by the average outcome measurement tool.

And how do service users find hope? Well it comes about partly because professionals believe in them and what they can achieve – that was mentioned and valued, but even this wasn’t the key ingredient in the growth of hope. The main hope-inspiring thing for recovery seekers is what happens when they meet other people in recovery.

I wonder how much this is understood by treatment professionals and how ready we are to act on it. Mark Litt and fellow researchers at the University of Connecticut found in a randomised controlled trial that there was a 27% reduction in relapse rates when one sober person was added to a recovering person’s social network.

Yet locally we have evidence that our success rate of connecting people in services up to recovery community resources is still pretty low, despite there being simple, evidenced interventions designed to do just this.

The service users at our event were delighted to be asked what was important to them. Asking people in recovery what they value about treatment certainly seems like a good idea. Lee Kuskutas and colleagues did just that and found some surprising things. It’s been done in this country too.

So the answer for what matters most (at least for these service users) was pretty simple. Hope. But is it simple to deliver?


I’m left with four questions to which I have my own answers, but I’ll put the questions out there for others to mull over:

  1. How do we start to value intangible essentials like hope in our services?
  2. How do we make services hopeful places?
  3. How hopeful are we as professionals generally about the chances of recovery – from the needle exchange to the rehab?
  4. How do we make sure every service user regularly gets to meet people in sustained recovery
    6 Responses to "The most important thing for recovery"
    1. Peter Sheath says:

      I have long said that hope should be the minimum standard for any contact a person receives from treatment services. My belief is that when someone comes into a service looking for help, they have at least a 50/50 chance of recovery. Personal qualities like the instillation of hope, empathy and compassionate curiosity swing the chances more in favour of recovery.

      I’ve lost count of the people who have come up to, often many years since I last saw them, saying that the only thing that kept them going through their dark times was another human being who was prepared to show an interest and acknowledge their existence.

      Maybe as a very basic values based assessment of prospective drug workers we should be asking them something like, how do you give someone hope when they’re in a pretty hopeless situation?

    2. Late in my addiction and early in my recovery, I was suicidal and extremely depressed. I went for months, thought AA was a bad fit for me. I thought I was different and had no hope for myself. Several things hooked me and kindled hope within me, but here are a few of them.

      1) The kindness people showed me. Dan L. got up and insisted I take his seat at my first meeting with my first home group. There were not enough seats, which meant Dan would be sitting on the floor or standing the entire 2 hour meeting. Ron S. kept refilling my coffee cup.

      2) People seeing though me and identifying with me. Simple statements of concern like Nels R saying, “You look like you’re in a lot of pain.”

      3) People explicitly offering me hope. Dave H. looked me straight in the eye and said, “I know don’t believe it right now, but just believe that I believe things are going to get better for you.

      4) People like Rob M. encouraging me to really watch and pay attention to what was happening to other guys in the meeting, to watch them getting better.

      5) After some time, people suggesting that I had something to offer others and suggesting I do 12 step work.

      No one thing filled me with hope. The accumulation of these over a period of almost a year.

      As a helper, this process is often so slow that it seems invisible. It can be hard for us to maintain hope, but what’s the alternative?

      • Anon says:

        thanks for this reminder that for all our skills, models and applied thought, what is often needed is simple human kindness and faith

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *