Counselling is not the only option

Counselling is not the only option

Counselling is not the only option


Drug and alcohol use affects not only the person using the substance themselves, but the people around them too. It is estimated that for every problematic substance user, between five and twenty family members are affected by their use (ADFAM).

I wanted to write about why counselling isn’t the only option. Don’t get me wrong, I will never, ever discredit counselling because I’ve had it myself and had a positive experience. I also work with counsellors and fully respect what they do, so they would not be too impressed with me if I said otherwise!

That said, counselling isn’t the only option. Recently, I’ve had a few conversations about this very point.


About my service


For the type of help someone using substances can access, have a look at my blog, Drug and alcohol help- choices for a friend or family member.

Speaking for myself, I am a qualified and experienced drug and alcohol practitioner, also qualified in teaching, NLP, a safeguarding practitioner and soon-to-be professional coach and I have led and developed services and teams. I have a track record of supporting individuals and families to recover from their own substance use or the effects of it as a family member.

I offer solution focused therapeutic interventions.

What does that mean? It means when a person using substances, or a family member, comes to me and asks me to help them with drugs, alcohol and associated problems, they set the goals and I guide them towards achieving these goals within a specific time-frame, following a specific programme.

The therapy isn’t just the session we have together. The individual I’m working with has to put into practice what we’ve covered in the session. Therapy requires a commitment to change.

I used evidence-based programmes for my family work. Evidence-based means that I use programmes that have been developed by other people that have been tested out to be effective for the people I’m working with. If my client goes off track, that’s fine, I’ll help them get back on their path to reach their goal, or we’ll set new ones together. Things change, so do people.

My clients are in control, I advise and guide them to get to where they want to be, but in planned, semi-structured sessions. We cover different topics in each session, have a check in and review at the start of each session and plan an action for the week at the end of it. I want to move people on.

For me, the session doesn’t end there, there is additional work that takes place behind the scenes such as recording notes, admin tasks, contacting services I have consent to speak with or refer to and so on. If there is more than one family member getting support, then this will increase the time spent on each case. I have an option to travel to my clients, so this time is factored in.

What my clients get as standard is:

  • Weekly one-hour therapeutic session (Skype/face to face with options in family home or at my Manchester base)
  • Solution-focused work so they will see a change in the time they work with me which is evidence by a relaxed assessment at the start and end of our work.
  • Actions to follow up between sessions with support
  • Programmes are evidence based
  • Referrals and communication with existing or new services (with consent)
  • Email/text contact between sessions


I also offer options to support people in their own homes or at an appropriate venue or their choice.

My expertise in supporting recovery from drugs and alcohol ensures that the people I support get a specialist service for a special issue.


Other types of support


I asked some colleagues and friends of mine what they offer in their services, so I could attempt to explain counselling and alternative support…




Louise Wilkinson is not only a qualified drug and alcohol practitioner but is also a counsellor. I asked her what the difference is in drug and alcohol work and counselling. She said,

“A counsellor process is led by the client. The counsellor doesn’t have an agenda. The session is directed and led primarily by the person coming for help. The sessions help them to achieve whatever brought them to counselling in the first place. It doesn’t mean the presenting need ends up being the problem they end up dealing with, but they are autonomous in their decision making and how the session goes.”

Following the session, some counsellors will write up brief therapeutic notes, so unless there are any safeguarding issues, when the session finishes, the therapists work is complete. The client will have a lot to think about. Louise says that in her role as a substance misuse worker, she does use counselling skills, but also offers information and advice, which wouldn’t be the case in her counselling sessions where she would encourage her clients to work through feelings, emotions and behaviours.

Some counsellors specialise in addiction (and many other areas) too, so be sure to ask this because it is really useful to work through the feelings that led to the substance use in the first place. There is usually no time limit to counselling so some people might access it for years and others a much shorter period of time.




Thomas McGowan is a hypnotherapist and he describes hypnotherapy as,

“Relaxation, like daydreaming, that’s what the feeling is almost. Clients are fully aware of what’s going on, but are focusing on the subconscious mind, where everything is controlled, including feelings and functions. By working directly with the subconscious mind, we are able to get to the root cause of presenting problems. We cannot change memories, but we can sever the emotional ties, are so clients getting the best possible outcomes with the least discomfort.”

Thomas delivers addiction hypnotherapy in which he deals with changing perspective, letting go of the past and building the future. The initial offer is five x 1.5 hour sessions with the option of ongoing support if needed.

In Thomas’s opinion, hypnotherapy clients revisit their pain-points but they are moved on from these in a comfortable way, rather than staying in the moment. He believes counselling works through these painful times by revisiting them and the feelings associated with it.


Community Drug and Alcohol Services


Each local authority provides funded drug and alcohol services, guided by our drug strategy. They are free for people who want to use the service. Every locality offers a service for adults and also for young people. These services provide support for people experiencing problems with substances. Some also provide support for affected family members too. For example, One Recovery in Bury delivers CRAFT which is an evidence- based model supporting families living with a loved one’s substance use. It is a similar model to the one I use in my practice.

I have previously worked at Early Break and I’m currently delivering a project there for their Holding Families Service. Early Break has a range of services that supports young people and families. I might be biased but they are brilliant!


In summary


The difference between these service and the others I mentioned is that these are free and the others are private, which means the client pays for them. Some counselling can be offered through GP’s along with other therapies like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which are equally as effective, depending on the needs of the client. They usually require a bit of a wait to access them because of the high need.

It is always advisable to check a practitioner’s experience of supporting drugs, alcohol and/or families before deciding to work with them. In addition, check their credentials and who they are registered or accredited with because this gives an extra layer of protection for the services you opt for. I am registered with the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Practitioners, which means I have to follow their code of practice and I’m listed on there in their practitioner directory.

Some people want a private service, others don’t, but everyone listed above works confidentially. Every one of the services above may be qualified in one or more type of support. The important thing is to ask.

Hopefully this has made a bit of sense about the options available to support families and that counselling is not the only option.


Other support


I obviously don’t have time to mention every type of support here. There are so many options for therapy. Here are some services relevant to my clients:

  • For children affected by parental alcohol use, take a look at NACOA.
  • For families, take a look at ADFAM’s website.


I can help


My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you to get your loved one into treatment and lead a better life. I offer face to face sessions in the Manchester (UK) area or via Skype worldwide.

I also have an online therapeutic programme. Take a look at my services here

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Sign up to my mailing list here to keep up to date with Vesta news and get my free Ten Steps to Family Recovery download.


Take care,




How do I know if someone is an addict?- Part one- The stages of substance use

How do I know if someone is an addict?- Part one- The stages of substance use

Did I get your attention? Just so you know, I never ever label anyone an ‘addict’. I’ll explain why in part two of this blog. For now, forget the labels and read on…


Let’s face it, most of us have overindulged with alcohol and/or drugs in our time. Many people do this either regularly or occasionally and this causes minimal or no problems. It is difficult to recognise in ourselves that we might be going too far because ‘everyone is doing it’. ‘Such-and-such-a-body drinks more than me’. ‘I’ve been round and had nothing before (*reality check* – it was once) many a time and watched everyone get wasted’.


What I’m getting at here is that it’s easy for people to deny they have a problem. Sometimes we don’t recognise it in ourselves. Sometimes we don’t recognise it in others. Sometimes, others recognise it in us. We might recognise it in someone else that doesn’t have a clue!


Some people use drugs or alcohol and, other than tiredness and feeling a bit rubbish, get on with life as usual (ba****ds!). For others, it causes problems in daily functioning.


It is these people who often deny they have a problem and make excuses to deflect from the fact that they need to part ways with their substance(s) of choice. This is often too difficult to face for many and requires a whole lifestyle change and a lot of energy.


The starting point


The first port of call is to get clued up on the different types and stages of substance use. (Just so you know, I refer to substance use to include both drugs and alcohol)


To simplify…


I believe that if drugs or alcohol are causing problems in somebody’s life, then they need help. Depending on the stage of substance use they are at, their current lifestyle, their mental and physical health, motivation to change, Adverse Childhood Experiences and other life experiences, the help they need will vary.

Everyone’s recovery journey is unique and not everyone will want to stop.


The language of substance use


Firstly, there are differences between the language of substance use. Some terms commonly used are ‘problematic substance use’, ‘addiction’ or ‘dependency’, and, as they are used interchangeably, it starts being confusing!

Problematic substance use refers to drug or alcohol use which is affecting one or more areas of a person’s life. This could be work, relationships, health or anything else. People often don’t realise that the reason they are having problems, is due to their drug or alcohol use. They often don’t understand the impact of their particular drug on the way they think, feel and behave.

Dependency– is where an individual requires a drug, in order to function. In my view, this can be either physical or psychological. For example, some people use drugs to mask their feelings and some people use drugs to either mask their physical pain, or have what we refer to, as physical withdrawals when the drug starts to leave their system. Dependency is mostly attributed to drugs that cause physical symptoms in the body when someone tried to stop using them.

Addiction is where a particular behaviour is compulsive or habitual, despite the fact that it is having a negative impact on an individual’s life. The way I describe it is that the drug is in control of the person, rather than the person being in control of the drug.

Someone can be dependent and addicted to certain drugs (such as alcohol and heroin)

Someone can be addicted but not dependent on other drugs (such as cocaine and caffeine)

Someone can be dependent but not addicted (such as someone who is taking medication for pain)


Stages of substance use


Here’s a handy diagram to help you to start thinking about the above. Notice that ‘addiction’ is not referred to here as ‘addiction’ is not actually a diagnosis used for someone having problems with their substance use…

spectrum of pschoactive substances

Diagram source:


Beneficial use would generally be medicinal but, as stated, includes other benefits. Many substance users may say their drug use is beneficial for them. This could be true, but it could also be an excuse for continuing use. The minute the substance starts causing problems for them is the minute the negatives outweigh the positives.


Non-problematic use would be those people who manage their substance use with limited or no impact- This is sometimes where family members find out and start panicking. Talk to your loved one and get the facts. They might be taking them but managing their use well.


Problematic use (harmful use) can range from someone having a few problems or lots of problems- you may know more than your loved one that their substance use is causing them problems.


Dependence is where someone can no longer easily choose to stop taking their drug of choice. The individual’s priority is to source and use their drug and activities are centred around it.


Where is your loved one on the spectrum?


As I bring part one of this blog to a close, where do you think your loved one is on the spectrum of psychoactive substance use?


Head over here next week for part two where I will be focusing on the diagnosis of substance use.


I can help


My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you to get your loved one into treatment and lead a better life. I offer face to face sessions in the Manchester (UK) area or via Skype worldwide.

I also have an online therapeutic programme. Take a look at my services here

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Sign up to my mailing list here to keep up to date with Vesta news and get my free Ten Steps to Family Recovery download.


Take care,


Resilience- how to cope under pressure

Resilience- how to cope under pressure

Resilience- how to cope under pressure

Liggy Webb

I attended Liggy Webb’s Resilience Master Class in Manchester a few years ago and I’ve been a huge fan of her work ever since. I am so excited that she has agreed to guest blog for us. Liggy has worked all over the world supporting individuals and organisations through her amazing knowledge and specialism of this subject. She ignited my passion for the subject which I taught to staff and managers in the NHS at the time. See my blog “How the Circle of Influence can help you lead a better life”.

Resilience is such an important skill/behaviour/attitude to have in order for us to cope with difficult situations thrown our way. That’s not to say that we will always be resilient all of the time and in every situation! Learning how to “be” resilient is crucial when living with a problematic drug or alcohol user. Whether you are in this situation or not, Liggy wrote this guest blog for me last year and it’s just too good not to re-post:

By Liggy Webb

The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.

Japanese Proverb


What is resilience?


Some people describe resilience as the ability to bend instead of breaking when experiencing pressure or the ability to persevere and adapt when faced with challenges. These abilities help people to be more open and willing to take on new opportunities. In this way resilience is more than just survival, it is also about letting go and learning to grow.


Liggy’s work


Personally I find the topic of resilience fascinating and have spent the last few years deep in research exploring the habits and behaviors of resilient people.  In the work that I do with the United Nations travelling to some very challenged parts of the world I have had the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life.

For my latest book Resilience – How to cope when everything around you changes I interviewed over 100 people who had experienced varying degrees of set backs. From these interviews and various other research channels I was able to create a competency framework around resilience, developing a deep understanding of the necessary coping strategies for dealing with adversity.

Resilience- how to cope when everything around you changes


Personal experience


Then I was given a huge opportunity to personally put my knowledge and the strategies that I had designed to the test!

Two years ago, quite out of the blue after feeling very lethargic and out of sorts, I was diagnosed with a very rare tumour actually growing inside my heart. The prognosis was critical and open-heart surgery was the only way to proceed. For someone who is in good health and still in my forties it came as a huge shock. I guess we never really imagine things like this are going to happen to us until they do! The most significant thing that I learnt was that whilst we may not be able to control some of our circumstances, we can absolutely choose the way we respond to them.

I think in many ways I surprised myself, you never really know how you will react in these situations and it’s amazing how resourceful we can be when we need to.

I learnt so many things and I can honestly say it has certainly taught me a few things about recovery and indeed my own resilience. It was without doubt, life changing, with so many defining moments.


Top tips for resilience


Recently I was interviewed about my own experience with regards to recovery and asked to define the three most important resilience behaviors and this is what I concluded:


1. Accept your current situation

Let’s face it we all like to be in control, however, in some situations you have to put your trust in others hands and ask for help. For example, if we think of what we can control and what we can’t, we need to accept we cannot change the choices other people make. We can only change the way we behave. Sometimes acceptance of your situation and taking care of yourself is the best use of your energy.

 Tips for accepting your current situation

  • Remember acceptance is not about resignation, it is the recognition that fighting a situation that you cannot change may be a waste of personal resources
  • Acceptance will put you in state of flow which will help to reduce stress and anxiety
  • Learn that you cannot control other people’s choices


2. Take personal responsibility

Life can be very unpredictable and invariably we will all be subjected to various set backs and personal challenges. You can’t always control what happens to you in life.

You do however have total control about how you choose to respond to those situations. By taking personal responsibility for your reactions and attitude you will be far more empowered to cope and manage the ultimate outcome.

Tips for taking personal responsibility

  • Acknowledge that you are in total control of your response to any situation that presents itself to you
  • Be aware of the victim trap and focus on what you can do
  • Avoid the blame game and spend your time seeking solutions – spend your time instead seeking solutions


3. Be positive

Thinking positively is not about putting your head in the sand and being unrealistic, as some people may believe. With a positive attitude you can recognise the negative aspects of a situation and then make a conscious decision to focus instead on the hope and opportunity that is available. This releases you from getting locked in a paralysing loop of negative emotion and allows you to bounce back from adversity and challenging experiences.

Tips for seeing the glass half full

  • Try to make a conscious decision to challenge each negative thought and flip it over into a positive thought
  • Understand that every experience in your life whether it is good, or bad will bring a valuable lesson with it which will enable you to cope better in the future.
  • Remember that life is ultimately what you make of it and your attitude can have a huge impact on everything you experience


In summary

Being resilient takes effort and practice. It may well feel sometimes as if you are taking one step forwards and two steps back, almost as if you are doing a little dance with life. The key however is to keep moving and to not lose the faith that you can and will pull through if you remain positive and hopeful. The quicker that you can start recovering and bounce back, the better because life can pass so quickly and this is your golden opportunity to make the best and the most of it.

More information about resilience


Thanks so much to Liggy for writing a blog for us.

For access to a complimentary life skills library email

Click to access The Little Book of Resilience

Check out Liggy’s Website

Please comment about what you do to keep resilient.


I can help


My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you to get your loved one into treatment and lead a better life. I offer face to face sessions in the Manchester (UK) area or via Skype worldwide.

I also have an online therapeutic programme. Take a look at my services here

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Sign up to my mailing list here to keep up to date with Vesta news and get my free Ten Steps to Family Recovery download.


Take care,




Drugs, alcohol and lies

Drugs, alcohol and lies

It’s tough for family or friends of people who use drugs to understand why their loved one lies to them about their drug or alcohol use (I’ll refer to drug use from this point on, to include alcohol). It’s also incredibly frustrating because when we know someone is lying to us, it’s always really hard to call someone out about their lies because it’s all a bit embarrassing. Either that, or when we do challenge someone about catching them out, they are likely to react with anger or denial which can provide a great excuse to go and have a drink.


Why do they lie?


We know that when people are addicted to a particular substance, they struggle to find interest in anything other than their alcohol or drug of choice. This means that they are likely to do anything to get their drug, which inevitably includes lying through their teeth!

Here’s the reasons why your loved one is lying to you:

  1. Avoiding help- even if someone is aware that their drug use is causing problems, it is a HUGE hurdle to admit it to themselves, let alone anyone else. This means that in order to stay comfortable, it is easier to lie. Admitting it, getting help, being challenged, is not a nice place to be.
  2. Denial- it’s so much easier to deny drugs are a problem. It feels much safer and denial means that a loved one can continue using their drug of choice, which is their priority. It’s easier to blame every man and his dog for the problems that go on than the drug. It is important that the drug is protected, as, for whatever reason, your loved one is benefiting from their substance. It is helping them to get away from something, or it is giving them something they need.
  3. Fear- It is far too scary to admit drugs are a problem or to think about making the changes your loved one needs to make for themselves. It is easier to lie to others and ourselves when we feel frightened about facing up to something.
  4. Loving the drug- People who use drugs cannot imagine their life without their drug so they truly believe it is a part of their life and that they need it and want to continue using it.
  5. Shame- Loved ones go through periods of wanting to change. During these times, they will experience shame about using their drugs, how they have treated their own family and friends, their desperation. Then, it can becomes clear that burying their head in the sand and lying to themselves about the situation is much more manageable than face up to their lives and the hurt they have caused other people. Some people even start to believe their own lies!
  6. Survival- yep. Right down to survival mode… Lying is simply a way to survive and help people feel safe.


How to handle lying


  1. Call it out compassionately- This is cringeworthy, but you’ll get used to it. Use positive communication such as I-messages to feed their lies back to them. This is done in a way that is non-confrontational and gentle which focuses on YOUR feelings, not their behaviour.
  2. Remember it’s not you, it’s them substance- try not to take it personally as your loved one is avoiding reality and thinking they are making it easier for you if you don’t know the whole truth.
  3. Enabling (bleugh! Hate the word)- if you want to help your loved one do something that they are not capable themselves of doing as an adult, then feel free. Do not protect them from the negative consequences of their substance use. Avoid lying anf covering up to friends and family, don’t cover for them and don’t clean up messes. This is hard, but, if they don’t see the damage their substance use is doing, and you start lying too, then this gives a message to your loved one that lying is acceptable. This is always done with a balance of being kind and compassionate.
  4. Create open communication- I have supported many people that use the strategies I suggest, but this does not mean ignoring your loved one! It is absolutely crucial that positive communication methods are used. What we are aiming for is to reduce the covering up and lying, and create a secure environment where your loved one feels they can come to you and speak to you without judgement.
  5. Acceptance- accepting your loved one’s substance use, instead of fighting against it will save your energy and allow you more time to use effective strategies to reduce or stop their substance use and to learn how to put your self first and lead a better life. This will tip the balance so that your loved one learn that being sober is an attractive option.


I can help


My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you live your most happiest and peaceful life.

I have a closed Facebook Group Not My Addiction, for professional women living with a loved one’s alcohol or drug use.

If you are affected by a loved one’s substance use, come and join me

Take care,


Why waiting for someone to hit ‘rock bottom’ is wrong

Why waiting for someone to hit ‘rock bottom’ is wrong

One thing I often get asked or I often hear people say is that a loved one has to hit ‘rock bottom’ before they will start to think about changing their substance use.


I personally believe THIS IS NOT TRUE!

Here are ten reasons why…

  1. The message that a lot of services give is that nothing can be done unless the person using substances wants to change- this is not entirely true. No, we cannot force somebody to go into treatment for substance use. The individual has to be willing themselves. A very good practitioner and/or a family member to influence change in somebody. Waiting for someone to hit ‘rock bottom’ implies that NOTHING can be done when, in fact, it can. We can work with families to teach them the skills to support their love one and reduce pressure on the family. Or, get somebody through the door with a good practitioner and they might just stay.
  2. As it’s implied that ‘rock-bottom’ has to be reached, this leaves families with a painful wait until their loved one loses everything, and creating more stress and worry waiting for this journey to end, leaving them completely powerless.
  3. This often leaves a question around whether they should cut ties with their loved one or practise ‘tough love’. I do not agree with this either. Yes, people can unknowingly enable a loved one’s substance use and make it a little easier, but the suggestion that throwing them out on the street will help them to change is not going to be effective. People who have problems surrounding substance use need to know you love them and that you care.
  4. Harm reduction is always an option! If a loved one is not even entertaining the fact they have a problem, that’s fine. Another approach can be tried. It’s called harm-reduction. It’s easy to assume that abstinence is the only way forward, which means that people have to stop using and there is no other way to live. The reality is that if someone wants to continue to drink or use drugs, then we can support them to do it in the safest way possible. You never know, this type of support may even convince your loved one to change like in this article
  5. These opinions ignore the fact that you are the people living with your loved one’s substance use. You are the people that can be instrumental in supporting someone to change. You can help your loved one see that it is more attractive being sober than it is to be intoxicated.
  6. This does not help your mental and physical health. The Drug Strategy, 2017, states that “Evidence-based psychological interventions which involve family members should be available locally and local areas should ensure that the support needs of families and carers affected by drug misuse are appropriately met.” What we should be doing when families ring up for help is to be offering you a service for you, regardless of whether your loved one wants to change.
  7. Problematic substance use can be influenced by environmental changes. Families and friends are in a position to initiate this influence. They can change the environment and their responses when their loved one’s drinks or uses drugs. Families can be supported to help tip the balance so that the negative consequences of substance use outweigh the positives. Family members can show them that being sober is more attractive than being intoxicated.
  8. Family members have also been labelled as ‘co-dependent’, ‘controlling’, ‘victims’ and enablers (Landau et al) this adds further weight to families not wanting to get support for themselves. I believe families are POWERFUL, not powerless.
  9. A study took place in 2001 by Marlowe et al and concluded that ‘virtually all participants reported a combination of both negative and positive pressures’ 35% of these pressures was family pressure. So, this suggests that along with other pressures, this is a pretty high percentage that responded to their family. Therefore, ‘rock bottom’ was not necessary for them to change.
  10. ‘Intervention’ is often advertised as an alternative way of getting a loved one into treatment. It assumes addiction is a disease and therefore they have no control over their choices. Each member of the family takes it in turns to read out a prepared speech to the person having problems with substance use and then they are whisked off to rehab or alternative for forced treatment. How long do you think this success lasts for long term? I’m sure this method works for some people but I work using a person centred approach so it’s not for me (and rehab is not the only option- but that’s another blog for another day).


As you can see, there are lots of myths, beliefs and varying methods to support substance users. I challenge some of these. What is important is that you research them and find out what is best for you and your loved one at the time you are seeking help.


I can help


My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you to get your loved one into treatment and lead a better life. I offer face to face sessions in the Manchester (UK) area or via Skype worldwide.

I also have an online therapeutic programme. Take a look at my services here

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

I have a closed Facebook Group called Vesta Confidential. If you are affected by a loved one’s substance use, come and join me.


Sign up to my mailing list here to keep up to date with Vesta news and get my free Ten Steps to Family Recovery download.


Take care,