Kelley Kitley Cognitive behavioral therapist specialized in the treatment of addictions

Discussing the Stigma of Addiction its effects, roots and impact on recovery among other things.

Charles:

Hello and welcome; today we have with us Kelley Kitley; a licensed clinical social worker in private practice, owner of Serendipitous Psychotherapy. She has treated patients in Santa Monica and Chicago for the past ten years. Kelley is a graduate and Instructor at The Jane Addams College of Social Work at The University of Illinois. Thank you for joining us today Kelley Kitley; how are you?

Kelley Kitley:

I’m great, thank you.

Charles:

As you know, we have you here today to talk about the Stigma of Addiction; it’s effects, roots and impact on recovery among other things. I would like to start by letting the readers get to know a little more about you and the work you do. Can you tell us a little about that?

Kelley Kitley:

Sure. I’m a cognitive behavioral therapist and specialize in the treatment of addictions including substance abuse, eating disorders, and sex addiction. Personally, I’m in recovery and come from a long family line of addiction.

Charles:

For our readers to get a better understanding; what is cognitive behavioral therapy? How does it differ from other form of therapy?
Kelley Kitley:

CBT is a scientifically based type of therapy that focuses on changing the way we think through identifying automatic negative thoughts and replacing them with more realistic evidence based thoughts and as a result of that will help change one’s mood. In regrad to behaviors, we practice mindfulness based activities, meditation, healthy eating and exercise.

Charles:

Excellent; so now that our readers have a better understanding and know a little about you; let’s dive into the heart of the matter. Stigma of Addiction: What does it mean to you? Who is affected by it?

Kelley Kitley:

To me, a stigma is a result of lack of education. It’s an over-generalization due to lack of knowledge. Everyone is affected by the Stigma of Addiction-family members, people in recovery, people doing “research” about their own patterns and wondering if they have an addiction.

Charles:

You make an interesting point; “Stigma is a result of lack of education”. Many often look down on people battling addiction and anyone in their circle so to speak. What is the biggest point that these people miss when labeling an individual?

Kelley Kitley:

They have a tendency to disregard the individual and their personal struggle through labeling. A personal example I can give that people have said to me are…”Kelley, you aren’t an alcoholic. Alcoholics are old men who don’t have jobs and sit in front of AA meetings smoking cigarettes.” YOu are a mom with 4 kids and you are successful, you can’t be an alcoholic. That statement is dismissive and creates a vision of what someone with an addiction looks like. If that is the vision of an alcoholic, then yes- I don’t fit that stereotype. One of my personal/professional goals is to help change the stigma because it does the world a dis service.

Charles:

So one of the biggest problems with stigma is that it places people in boxes without really looking at their individuality. I want to swerve towards a question I think your background can help provide a unique point of view on. I am under the impression that It is common (is it?) for an Addict to self stigmatize or at the very least take what society believes they are and allow it to shape their own opinion of themselves. How harmful is this stigma and how CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) help overcome this?

Kelley Kitley:

Exactly. I self stigmatized for a long time. I didn’t look like the “alcoholics” I knew. I even facilitated Intensive Outpatient Programs for substance abuse and didn’t hink I looked like anyone else. Most of my friends drank similar to the way I drank. Not daily, not before 5, but binging. This way of thinking kept me engaging in self destructive behavior for a long time. CBT is a great way to start to help someone who is concerned about an addictive behavior to start making changes both the way they think about it and the behavior changes. For example, automatic thought: “I’m not an alcoholic.” -dismissive thought replaced with, “I don’t like some of my behaviors when I drink, maybe I can start to be more aware and try to change them.” Behaviorally, when someone in therapy begins to explore if they have a problem, we may use a harm reduction model and have them keep track of their drinks and try to manage from 3 bottles of wine a week to 2 bottles. My goal as a therapist is NEVER to lable someone even though insurance companies will only reimburse for a lable. hen I educate my clients, I let them know it’s not important for us to figure out if you are an alcoholic or not-your desire to make changes in your life is a result of some negative consequences so let’s focus on trying to create a healthier lifestyle.

Charles:

You just mentioned something I have to zero in and dig a little deeper. You mentioned: “though insurance companies will only reimburse for a label” does this in a way further drive stigma due to narrowing the focus down to the addiction as opposed to the individual as a whole?

Kelley Kitley:

absolutely. if someone doesn’t fit the list of criteria as outlined in our DSM IV then they aren’t “classified” as X there are verying degrees of what an addiction “looks like.” This is harmful for the client.

Charles:

Good to keep in mind. I know you said you come from a line of addicts; something I can completely relate to, I do want to ask you a question about this. Before I ask about how the world stigmatizes, I am curious to know more about the stigma sometimes family members put on the addict – (sometimes referring to them as the black-sheep etc) how detrimental is this to recovery and what ways have you found to help families come together and break this stigma?

Kelley Kitley:

In the disease model…usually with addiction there are other family members to compare individuals to- so and so isn’t “as bad as” Uncle Jimmy- he can’t be an alcoholic or they haven’t been in jail yet or his DUI was just an accident. I see more of the excuse making in my practice and personally than I do the opposite-I help families to come together by looking at behavior patterns, educating the system of how each person plays a role in the addicted persons life (enabler) and since addiction is a family disease, I use psychoeducation to bring the family together.

Charles:

Is it common for family members over time to look more at their loved one as an addict as opposed to the whole complete individual that they once knew and loved? (especially as addiction progresses) Why and how does this happen in your experience?

Kelley Kitley:

Yes, and it’s so hard to separate. The addiction takes over and it’s hard to see the person we once loved and cared for. Stealing, lying, broken promises- those are the addiction not the individual. If we remove the addiction peice, we can usually repair the person if they are willing.

Charles:

How deep does the addiction go? I think a lot of the stigma comes from the fact that relapse rates are so high? Is that changing as we get a better understanding of the disease?

Kelley Kitley:

unfortunately, no. The stigma is that “the person” has failed if relapse occurs rather than the addictive mind creeping back in. I can try to drink “normally” again.

Charles:

It seems that we have a lot more work to do on helping break the stigma of addiction and improve recovery rates by breaking the stigma. On a final note before we part ways I would like to ask you about what you think an addict can do to help break the stigma imposed upon them.

Kelley Kitley:

There is so much shame associated with addiction- as if it is a character defect. I’ve heard family members say, “Well, if you could just stop engaging in your addiction, things would be fine.”-under estimating how much support is needed to overcome the addiction. I think addicts can help break the stigma by being brave in talking about their struggles. I’m only one person, but I’ve seen a huge shift in my personal life of people being more open to their own addictions due to the fact that I don’t “look like” an addict. I speak about my struggles with addictions (eating disorder and substance abuse) publically and this is a start. People then feel more safe to ask questions because I don’t hide or minimize what I went through.

We need to keep the dialogue open to grow as a society.

Charles:

I would like to thank you for your time with us today.

Kelley Kitley:

Thank you for the opportunity to share my experience and hope.