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Psychological Perspectives of Time and Addiction Treatment

Originally by Nicola Davies PhD - adapted from an article in Psychiatry Advisor Jan 16

Recent research has shed new light on psychological perspectives of time among patients undergoing addiction treatment. This promises to provide psychiatrists and psychologists with a better understanding of subjective experiences among patients attending addiction clinics.

Researchers Dr Sarah Davies and Dr Pavlos Filippopoulos published their findings in the Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, and Dr Davies believes that the findings regarding temporal changes can be used in therapy to better help those who are striving to overcome addiction.

A Positive Shift in Perspective After Treatment

A total of 63 participants at a treatment centre were recruited and asked to complete a self-report questionnaire, both at the beginning of treatment and once treatment had been completed. The questionnaire allowed participants to add qualitative comments to further clarify their responses and was designed to measure depression, anxiety, and subjective perspectives of time.

On entering the treatment program, participants demonstrated a strong tendency toward past-negativity, present-hedonism, depression, anxiety, regret, and guilt. They also reported feeling time-pressured, which is a sense of not having enough time and little ability for time management. There was very little positivity in their perspectives regarding the past and the future.

After treatment, participants typically exhibited “a more positive view of the past, a more hopeful, goal-oriented sense of future, structure, planning, and daily routine, and a more present-time connection to the moment.” There was also a significantly reduced level of anxiety and depression.

Time Perspective to Inform Treatment

Dr Davies believes that therapists should be aware that time perspectives can be taken into account in therapy and that this will call for a more individualized approach: “When working with one person at a time, you can focus much more specifically on their individual experience, insight and personal needs. This includes working with each patient regarding their unique psychological perspective of time. They may have certain life experiences that have shaped their time perspectives — for example, exposure to illness, mortality, trauma, etc.”

It would seem that by determining the time perspectives of patients during therapy, a clearer picture of their progress can be achieved.

Presumably, interventions aimed at assisting patients to achieve a more positive time perspective could also be used to facilitate recovery.

Most of the previous clinical research in this area has focused on the associative relationship between time perspective and mental health. We know that focusing on the past in a negative way tends to be associated with depression. Likewise, having fears and worries about the future is characteristic of anxiety. Both of these kinds of temporal bias can also be features of trauma or PTSD. Little research has previously considered what happens during treatment interventions and how a positive change in perspective can be supported with psychotherapy.

Dr Davies' research has identified temporal changes that support addiction recovery and positive mental health.

Individualized Treatment

So, does she believe that group therapy can't be effective? According to Dr Davies, that depends on the patient: “There are pros and cons to both individual and group therapy. I think both are effective, depending on what help and personal insight you are looking for. “However, many of the clients I work with express reluctance or difficulties with group therapy — which is one of the reasons I specialize in individual therapy. The dynamics are different. Many people in early recovery struggle to process their emotions and issues in group settings. Some people have concerns about confidentiality and safety in groups — many just don't like it.” “We are conscious of supporting growth and recovery in different settings and so offer the additional support of 12-step groups alongside our intensive individual therapy,”

Dr Davies adds. “An individual's starting time perspective position in therapy, aim and ideal balance point differs from person to person, so whilst group therapy may help cover a generalized overview of issues and theory, in my opinion it will never rival the in-depth, tailored attention intensive individual therapy can offer.”

Broader Applications

Bearing in mind that the depression and anxiety observed in patients entering addiction rehabilitation treatment are similar to those experiencing other psychiatric disorders, we asked Dr Davies whether she feels that her findings on time perspectives may have implications for the treatment of other psychiatric disorders. She believes that it does. “Our clinical research already shows its association and effectiveness in depression and anxiety — both of which are typically present in those with addiction issues. I am currently working on a proposed treatment model for working with subjective views of time in the treatment of addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorders, anxiety and depression.” The work Dr Davies is carrying out could be useful for many kinds of obsessive or compulsive-related disorders, substance abuse, gambling, and eating disorders. “We plan to focus further studies on the application of time perspectives to the treatment of eating disorders,” says Dr Davies. “Our work so far highlights how time perspectives relate to past trauma too, and so this is a helpful adjunct to the preparation of more specific trauma therapy.”

This is taken from the original article written by Nicola Davies PhD at:

And the original published research at:

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