Rather than dual disorders, I think a better term to bring home the power of this comorbid brain and body chaos is “Dueling Disorders.”
Guest author: Lesa Fichte, LMSW
No, the title is not a typo. I know that Dual Disorders and Co-occurring Disorders are the correct terms for the combination of substance abuse and mental health disorders. I think a better term to bring home the power of this co-morbid brain and body chaos is “Dueling Disorders.” That’s what killed my brother. The mental health issues and addictions battled within him, each fueling the fight until he finally surrendered. The treatment he was given did not help him stop the battle.
I do not believe he had any hope that the behavioral health and medical system could help him. Maybe it was the lack of hope for healing that really killed him and not the Dueling Disorders? Our family will never know for certain.
In our work, I ponder if we too easily compartmentalize people’s needs and address only their parts we are most comfortable with? If yes, does this impair our ability to see the whole person in front of us—their strengths, their joys, their dreams, their level of confidence, their history of trauma, their facade or “curtain” that they put forth to hide behind, as well as the parts of themselves with addictions and mental health challenges? Humans hide in plain sight so what does it take to create a good therapeutic relationship so you can have a chance to see the whole person and engage them in treatment?
Obviously, my brother is always on my mind. But also because the title of an article in the August 2013 publication of Counselor: The Magazine for Addictions Professionals stopped my breath: "Dual Diagnosis: Expectation, Not Exception." The point being that we should expect that our clients come to us with a Dual Diagnosis and not just expect a single diagnosis. And working at a school of social work with a trauma-informed curriculum and trauma continuing education programs, I am acutely aware of the need to see the whole person through a trauma-informed lens. I don’t know if any care provider ever saw the whole of my brother. I think they only saw his successful facade and the little bits he would reveal as needed.
According to SAMHSA, approximately 8.9 million adults have co-occurring disorders. Approximately 90% of those seen in public behavioral health settings have a trauma history. I find these numbers horrifying, a sad statement about the world we live in.
Some days, we just need to stop and take a breath to celebrate how much we already do to effectively help people heal, and identify the steps to get us to enhanced skills in evidence-based and best practice so that even more people can have that chance. And remember that hope is one of the most powerful things we can give our clients in a therapeutic relationship. Resource information is listed below.
Jacobs, D. & Brewer, M. (2004). American Psychiatric Association Practice Guideline: Provides recommendations for Assessing and Treating Patients with Suicidal Behaviors. Psychiatric Annals 34:5 (373-380). Available online.