Client Empowerment: Taking Charge of Addiction Treatment

When it comes to picturing addiction treatment that works, many people think of the old labor camp model – a gray, dingy facility where patients scrub away at the floor with a toothbrush. Some people embraced this model of treatment-punishment because they thought of addiction as a moral failing that needed to be corrected through penance. However, addiction is a chronic disease of the brain – not something shameful – and a much more effective approach to treatment is through client empowerment.

So what is client empowerment? It is a process that allows people to gain control over their own lives and increases their ability to act on issues they feel are important to their healthcare. According to the EU Joint Action on Patient Safety and Quality of Care (PaSQ), collective client empowerment is a process through which individuals and communities:

  • Express needs
  • Present concerns
  • Get involved in decision-making
  • Take action to meet expressed needs

In an addiction treatment setting, the more engaged an individual is in their treatment, the more motivated that person feels to complete treatment and commit to recovery. Client-empowered care helps addicted persons internalize the insights needed to overcome short-term challenges as well as develop the inner-strength needed to maintain sobriety for the long term. They, in effect, become a resource for themselves to better navigate addiction treatment.

According to a recent study, client participation improves health outcomes and enhances quality of life. If clients are regarded as equal partners in healthcare, they actively participate in their own healthcare process and more carefully monitor their own care, the report said.

Although there are obvious benefits to client-empowered care, different demographics may not be encouraged to participate as a partner in their healthcare. Emil Chiauzzi, research director at PatientsLikeMe, found greater self-reported empowerment in people who had Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis than people with psychiatric conditions.

His theory about the reasons for this difference? “One of our speculations was that perhaps conditions that have a greater stigma might be associated with less of a sense of empowerment than conditions that might be more recognized, like Parkinson’s disease,” Chiauzzi said.

Addiction carries with it a social stigma. It hearkens back to addiction being considered a moral failing. As a result of this stigma, addicted persons and their families begin to feel ashamed about the illness. One previously mentioned aspect of client empowerment – health literacy – can help clients and their families cope with the stigma.

Here at Mountainside, programming is centered on several aspects of client empowerment:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-efficacy
  • Confidence
  • Health literacy
  • Coping skills

Clients here have the opportunity to be active partners in their treatment by having a say in what complementary treatment and therapies in which they are going to participate and their continuing care. No matter where an addicted person seeks treatment, they should always feel as though they are a partner in their recovery.

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