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Addiction as a Creative Adjustment


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A term that is often used in Gestalt therapy literature is “creative adjustment.” “This term refers to an individual’s way of finding behaviours, means or strategies to cope and or survive in various situations. Human beings possess an extraordinary ability to adapt to an infinite number of situations.” (Dave Mann p9.) A person for example grows up in their family learning how to deflect unwanted attention off themselves by asking another person in a group…


“Addiction as a Creative Adjustment” 

A term that is often used in Gestalt therapy literature is “creative adjustment.” “This term refers to an individual’s way of finding behaviours, means or strategies to cope and or survive in various situations. Human beings possess an extraordinary ability to adapt to an infinite number of situations.” (Dave Mann p9.)

A person for example grows up in their family learning how to deflect unwanted attention off themselves by asking another person in a group or at a party questions to avoid the pressure of having the attention on them. Another person might have low self-esteem and so they learn to build their body up at the gym and become very muscular. This gets them verbal validation from other people. By using this strategy they don’t have to do the hard work of emotional and mental self-esteem building but choose to get their ‘feel good’ through positive comments from others on their external physical appearance. This is not a solution, just a way of temporarily feeling better – a creative adjustment.

Addiction can also be seen as a creative adjustment in that it is a repetitive behaviour a person learns growing up which they repeat. While using drugs they do not have to deal with certain challenging aspects of their life such as being in intimate relationships or it allows them to avoid responsibility or their personal issues. They might use drugs in order to have more “personality” or so they do not have to feel the affects of an abusive relationship…and there could be many other reasons. So using alcohol and drugs in these situations may work initially but the real relational needs of the individual are never actually attended to and in the end the drug or alcohol use stops working anyway. This is when a person needs to look at letting their addictive/alcoholic “creative adjustment go.

“New creative adjustments require the de- structuring of the old creative adjustments.”

(Dave Mann, p9)

The statement above relates to when an addict chooses to let go of their old behaviour. They must de-construct the old behaviour and create a new adjustment and this is what happens in treatment or in counselling. The underlying issues of why the addict does what they do are attended to and together the counsellor and the addict formulate ways that that person can “be more responsible’ or ‘how they can learn to be more intimate,” etc. In this way new healthier relational adjustments are formed that increase the persons functionality in the world while simultaneously letting go of the dysfunctional and life threatening addictive behaviours.

New creative adjustments allow an individual to be more honest and authentic, they may find new ways to have fun or they learn more authentic ways to be more confident in the world and so on.

Problems arise when creative adjustments from the past are used in the present when they no longer work. Coming into recovery therefore is about they individual loosening their grip on old creative “addictive” adjustments and being open to finding new healthy ways of being in the world. This is how liberation from addiction begins.

References taken from: “Gestalt Therapy” – 100 Key Points and Techniques, Dave Mann, London, 2010

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