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The Latest Breakthroughs in Recovery from Addiction:

A Report from the Twelfth Annual Gay and Lesbian Addiction Studies Conference

July 1997

Recovery can be a liberating experience, sometimes described as a "second coming out" by gays, lesbians, and transsexuals who have sought help for alcoholism and drug dependence in 12-Step programs. But it is not without a price. For many, the profound challenges of confronting underlying issues of sexual identity and internalized homophobia, in addition to alcoholism and addiction, can be devastating.

How best to help recovering gays, lesbians, and transsexuals meet these challenges was the subject of presentations and workshops at the Twelfth Annual Gay and Lesbian Addiction Studies (GLAS) Conference, held on April 18, 1997, at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. The conference brought together 130 healthcare professionals from the sexually diverse and recovery communities to discuss ways of approaching the problem of widespread alcoholism and substance abuse, estimated to be three times as prevalent among gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals as it is in society as a whole.

In his keynote address, Michael Picucci, Ph.D., M.A.C., director of The Institute for Staged Recovery in New York City, observed that a holistic approach to treating addictions and alcoholism among gays, lesbians, and transsexuals is often more beneficial than traditional psychotherapy. "If we are still thinking in terms of transference, counter-transference, and client resistance, we are light-years behind," Dr. Picucci asserted. "Complete recovery means healing from addictions, both in the primary sense of ceasing to act out, and in the broader sense of seeking fulfilling intimate relationships and the freedom from sexual and other culturally-induced shame."

Achieving the goal of complete recovery means facing core problems such as isolation, intimacy, repressed trauma, and cultural pain with the same fearless honesty that is being brought to bear on alcoholism or addiction, Dr. Picucci said.

In the course of the day's discussions and workshops other members of GLAS agreed that community- and spiritually-based programs, tailored to the needs of sexually diverse individuals and modeled on the 12-Step approach, have been most effective in helping lesbians and gays in recovery address problems that go beyond alcoholism or drug-dependence. Noted Barbara Warren, a member of the GLAS Board of Directors: "In building community, you create opportunities for people to participate and to bring in their own experience, education, and ideas."

In such a context, the therapist functions as facilitator not authority figure, commented David Shaw, the Project Director of Shalom Counseling Center in Philadelphia."For me to be able to say 'I don't know' has a freeing effect on me and the client. Once I admit I don't have the power, real or imagined, I can tap into the wellspring of my spiritual beliefs, and from there answers do come."

The perception that the methods recommended by GLAS members are"alternative" therapies has limited reimbursements at a time of shrinking support from insurance companies and managed care organizations for professional mental health services in general. However, Dr. Picucci, for one, is hopeful that the situation will change, comparing it to the gradual progress toward mainstream acceptance of cardiologist Dean Ornish's methods for treating heart disease with diet, exercise, and lifestyle modification instead of drugs or surgery."When insurance companies see that people are getting better, they'll begin to provide more coverage. They'll do it because it saves them money," he told the conferees.

Nontraditional healing methods such as body work, hypnosis, and the use of focused imagery are effective in the treatment of gays, lesbians, and transsexuals in recovery, observed Dr. Picucci. Adding that, in some Native-American cultures, sexually diverse individuals were often referred to as the"two-spirit" people and sought out as healers, he commented."We are coming full circle and engaging ancient and indigenous wisdom with our modern psychology and recovery models."

GLAS, an organization of specialists in the recovery community - over half of whom are themselves sexually diverse - is the leading forum specifically for treating addictions among gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals. Started 14 years ago, GLAS provides educational services concerning alcoholism to the gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities of New York City. Working directly with the public, as well as professionals, members of GLAS have established numerous lesbian and gay-identified 12-step groups, Project CONNECT, and inpatient and outpatient programs including the PRIDE Institute's New York-based facility.

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This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.
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