Gender Specific Addiction Therapy: How Men and Women Benefit
Addiction can affect anyone—regardless of gender, age, race, and background. However, men and women face unique circumstances when battling addiction and may benefit from having treatment geared towards their gender. For example, having separate therapy groups gives men and women the freedom to address the issues that are specific to them in a safe space. They are more likely to allow themselves to be vulnerable and share personal experiences that they would normally keep to themselves.
At AARC, gender-specific therapy groups integrate evidence-based treatment programming with a Christ-centered approach. Ashley Buffington, LPC, MS and lead therapist at AARC leads the women’s group and David Hopkins, LPC, MS leads the men’s group. Applying the teachings of Christ as a core part of the curriculum, Ashley and David offer their perspectives on the unique challenges faced by their patients and how they are addressed in their practice.
“Our program is based on the unconditional grace and love of God. Shame is a core emotion experienced in those with an addiction and their family members. We believe that God does not shame or condemn anyone. Because of this, our approach is always from a place of love. This love can be tough and direct at times, but it is always from a place of having the patient’s best interest at heart. In addition to the spiritual component, our curriculum is evidence-based. When we facilitate groups and provide assignments from our curriculum, there is always a clear and defined intention behind it. We see our time with them as an opportunity to provide them with as much clear and concise help as possible before they transition into outpatient therapy,”says Ashley.
Gender Specific Addiction Treatment
For men, having an all-male therapy group removes gender-based distractions and possible sexual temptation, providing an opportunity to build a culture of fellowship and complete transparency. Men are able to openly deal with aggression, anger, emotional isolation and other common male emotions. The group covers a variety of issues including relationships, anger management, sponsorship, resentment and forgiveness.
Experiential treatment such as role-play is also incorporated into therapy. Overcoming challenges in relationships and intimacy issues are addressed as men learn to deal with their emotions more effectively and through their spirituality.
“The objective of the men’s group is to process their issues through the lens of God’s truth. There is nothing you’ve done that God won’t forgive you for. And to learn the coping skills to stay sober and improve one’s life and relationships ”says David.
The group reflects on devotions from leading Christian pastors that deal specifically with the temptations that men face and the issues that have contributed to their addiction including:
- L. Giglio- Passion City Church –“Goliath must fall” teaching
- Andy Stanley – “Guardrails”-personal Boundaries
- Boundaries – Townsend and McCloud
- Hope and Healing from Sexual Brokenness – T. C. Ryan
- Celebration of Discipline – Richard Foster
- Bondage Breakers – Neil Anderson
“It’s exciting to work with Christian men who are striving to gain stability in their recovery and increase their knowledge of Jesus Christ. There are few if any programs that specialize in Christian recovery in the Atlanta area, and we are confident that this program will help these men to grow and thrive in their Christian recovery and faith in Christ,” says David.
Women face very different challenges than men in recovery. Often times, they are dealing with issues of domestic violence, sexual abuse, childcare and custody, eating disorders and other trauma-related issues.
The program at AARC is dedicated to helping women become conscious about images, myths, and stereotypes that they may be unknowingly reinforcing and emulating. Acting out of these unquestioned beliefs can create negative mental, emotional, spiritual, biological and relational consequences that can trigger relapse. During group sessions, various topics such as “What it Means to be a Woman” are discussed at great length. Women explore the origin of their thoughts and perceptions of womanhood. Challenges surrounding personal boundaries, self-esteem, intimacy and trusting your judgment are addressed. Women have the opportunity to open up about topics they may not be comfortable discussing around other men—especially if the trauma they’ve experienced has been perpetuated by men. Feeling safe is essential to openness and healing. This is what a gender-specific environment creates.
Experiential exercises are a very important component of therapy. Exercises include:
- Role-playing scenarios where women assert their own boundaries.
- Sharing stories and identifying how society, culture, and family impact the patient’s belief system.
- Implementing art and creativity. For instance, the women will create Comfort Cards, a poster with drawings, magazine pictures, and personal photography. This will serve as a means to identify ways to self-soothe and to reinforce these images so that they serve as a reminder during times of stress.
Ashley, the women’s group leader, has seen first-hand the incredible change that takes place when women become empowered. “I believe that it is essential for the women in our program to have the opportunity to share with one another and find a connection in their womanhood. God created men and women differently. Way too often, our differences as women have been exploited or seen as weaknesses. Our hope is that through confronting these myths, our patients will go on to graduate from our program with a growing appreciation for who they are, not only as addicts in recovery, but as women in recovery”.