An alcoholic therapist’s search for an evidence-based treatment

published on January 21, 2016 by Cathy Gulli in Maclean's

Alcoholism nearly killed therapist Michael Pond. Now, he’s looking for answers on why substance-abuse treatment can be so hard to find.

Michael Pond is a Vancouver psychotherapist who lost his practice and his family after alcoholism took a hold of his life and nearly killed him. Despite many unsuccessful attempts at sobriety, Pond eventually succeeded. Soon after, he met Maureen Palmer, a documentarian who became his partner. Together, they are telling Pond’s story of addiction through a new book and film to raise awareness about evidence-based treatment options that exist for substance abusers and their families – but which aren’t always easily accessed in Canada. Wasted: An Alcoholic Therapist’s Fight for Recovery in a Flawed Treatment System was released today; a companion film will air on Thursdayon CBC’s The Nature of Things. The pair have also co-launched to spread their message.

Q: What motivated you to put your story out there?

Pond: I was a professional for many years, and I would refer people to treatment centres and recovery houses all the time. When I ended up in them, two of the worst, I realized that’s where most people wind up – young people, and people suffering from mental illness, eating garbage for food basically, and treatment was a ride to the next AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] meeting. When I got sober, I was saying, “Somebody’s got to do something about this.”

Q: What is the pill version that’s approved for use in Canada used for?

Pond: It’s supposed to be used for alcohol addiction. It’s an opioid antagonist that’s designed to treat heroin addicts.

Palmer: Here’s the core of the problem in Canada. Dr. Evan Wood, who you see in the film, explains that probably less than 10 per cent, probably closer to one per cent, of Canadians battling substance abuse get Naltrexone or any other approved medication.

Q:So besides this drug, did you discover other things in the evidence-based category?

Pond: Motivational interviewing, community reinforcement and family training (CRAFT), I use it all the time now in my work. That’s for the loved ones. Behavioural couples therapy is very effective. This is a systemic problem. With CRAFT you start off excluding the substance user. You work just with the family, empower them, and give them different ways of coping.

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