As is a common occurrence, “Arnie” – a problem drinker—denied that he had a problem with alcohol. Almost everybody who knew Arnie – especially his partner, “Cheryl” – believed he was an alcoholic. (Note: I do not believe it is helpful to put word labels on people.) On one occasion, Cheryl called the police when Arnie was ragefully out of control and was threatening to harm her. On many other occasions, Arnie came home much later than he said he would; he explained that he lost track of the time when having a good time with his drinking buddies. This explanation or rationalization enraged Cheryl. She sometimes got emotionally out of control herself – saying things she later regretted saying.
Cheryl became chronically frustrated and upset with him and insisted that he change his drinking habits. In response, Arnie told her that he didn’t think he, or they, needed professional help, and that they should be able to work things out on their own. Well, as you probably can imagine – Arnie’s plan didn’t work out well. Things just got worse between them. Cheryl then gave him an ultimatum: either he go for counseling, or she would leave him! He then, reluctantly agreed to see me. He didn’t think I – or any therapist – could help him (or them).
We worked together both individually and jointly for several months. (We usually alternated individual sessions with joint [couple] sessions.) (Note: There is no one right or standard way to work with individuals or couples. Effective therapy always needs to be tailor-made. One size doesn’t fit all.)
Since I see problem drinking and other drug misuse to be symptoms of underlying and deeper psychological problems, we discovered together (after many ups and downs), what seemed to be at the root of Arnie’s drinking problem. Gradually over time, and with much effort made by both Arnie and Cheryl, Arnie’s drinking got under control. He was able to find other satisfactions in life that substituted for the enjoyment, relief, and escape that he had gotten from drinking.
The couple was then able to get on with their lives without the burden of substance abuse or substance dependency hanging over their heads. They ended therapy feeling much happier and satisfied as individuals, and closer as a couple.