I sometimes notice substance abuse professionals who believe they understand addiction concepts and behaviors when, in fact, they don’t. One main reason for this false impression is that they have a profound belief that naming a particular behavior or concept, explains it. A more technical term for this naming problem is the phrase called the nominal fallacy (nominal = naming). It basically means there is an attempt to bestow explanation to something by simply naming it. The people who believe this fallacy convince themselves that they know more about the issue than they actually do. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Merely naming a behavior has little if any explanation power. Take for instance the much abused and worn out concept denial. Many in our field point an accusatory finger (literally or figuratively) to a client and thunder the ominous words, “You’re in denial!” This accusation is usually leveled at any deed or thought not indicative of full and complete honesty about one’s addiction. The accusation is quick and manifested, as if the name “denial” says it all. The problem is that such swift naming signals a shallow description of a client’s behavior.
A deep comprehension of denial entails not just that it turns its back on reality, but a myriad of other factors. For instance, consider what in the world drives denial? There could any number of thoughts or feelings lurking within a person that are the genuine culprit for not being honest besides denial. The process of discovering and addressing these thoughts and feelings are indicative of the real and meaningful nature of the therapeutic process, not just naming it. Moreover, neurological research has discovered that the brains of those with long-term substance abuse may be damaged to the point that the person in question has difficulty correcting their thinking and behaviors. So, it isn’t denial that operates with such clients. The responses coming out of these particular clients are due to injured brains.
The point is there’s a lot more to know about denial that truly explains the concept other than simply touting it by name. It is in these multifaceted levels of client dynamics that true explanation resides.
The same goes for concepts such as the disease model, children of alcoholics, dual disorders, among others. You just don’t spout off a name for all these issues and believe you have explained it. You and I really need to grasp these concepts, and a myriad of other addiction concepts, to sufficiently explain them.
So, be not proud that you can spew out names to your clients and colleagues.
Be proud if you really know what those names mean, and you can satisfactorily explain them.
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