By Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT & David Lee Sexton, Jr.
As a Family Therapist, one of the techniques that I have found most useful and beneficial when working with clients is reframing. Reframing is the process of changing the conceptual and/or emotional setting or viewpoint in relation to which a situation is experienced and to place it in another frame which fits the “facts” of the same concrete situation equally well or even better and thereby changes its entire meaning. (Watzlawick et al., 1974, p. 95).
This technique has the ability to change an entire system. And, for one family physician in Tennessee, it appears that he is on that track with his own use of reframing. Dr. Daniel Sumrok prefers to use ‘ritualized compulsive comfort seeking’ rather than the term addiction. And, for some, changing the name can change everything.
Sumrok (as cited in Stevens, 2017) states that what most think of as addiction is a completely normal response to Adverse Childhood Experiences that leads individuals to engage in illegal or unhealthy coping mechanisms. Thus, contempt and punishment of the behavior of various addictions are akin to demonizing “bleeding [as] a normal response to being stabbed” (Stevens, 2017). Instead, Sumrok says that professionals should be addressing individuals’ Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) through therapy, compassion and respect, and medication to help them combat opioid and other types of dependence. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, sublimation of addiction with healthy ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking.
Sumrok provides compelling evidence emphasizing the connection between ACEs and addiction, indicating that over 90% of the patients he has worked with had an ACE score of three or higher (Stevens, 2017). Furthermore, Sumrok explains that ACEs result in neurobiological changes within the brain that cause individuals to become more susceptible to substance abuse issues, which are linking to all major chronic illnesses. In working with patients, Sumrok emphasizes the normality and predictable nature of the relationship between ACEs and substance abuse and takes care to be empathetic and supportive of their struggles rather than demean them for struggling in the first place.
Through Sumrok’s use of reframing, he has opened the door of possibility and hope for so many who are suffering and have struggled with ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking through one simple formula: “Treat people with respect instead of blaming or shaming them. Listen intently to what they have to say. Integrate the healing traditions of the culture in which they live. Use prescription drugs, if necessary. And integrate adverse childhood experiences science: ACEs.” (Stevens, 2017)
Stevens, J.E. (May, 2017). Addiction doc says: it’s not the drugs, it’s the ACEs… adverse childhood experiences. ACEs Too High, retrieved from https://acestoohigh.com/2017/05/02/addiction-doc-says-stop-chasing-the-drug-focus-on-aces-people-can-recover/.
Watlawick, P., Weakland, J.H., & Fisch, R. (1974). Change. Principals of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
This blog was written by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT and David Lee Sexton, Jr, members of the MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development team on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.