Free Will

Free Will

Free will – do we have the freedom to change our habits?

A colleague at our local hospital recently gave me an article from a ‘creationist’ website regarding free will. As one of two humanists in a chaplaincy department otherwise consisting of various shades of theists we do tend to have plenty of opportunities to consider alternative viewpoints regarding life, the universe and everything! The original details of the research had been held back, and the article instead sets their unchallenged view of the research against a position that started from a given (the Bible says…) and then worked back to support an answer that was pre-determined by faith.


I was more interested in thinking about the extent to which I, with a secular and scientific background, agreed with the premise of the article – which was that despite the controlled experiment to the contrary, we do indeed have free will.


What choices do we have when seeking to break an  addiction and make positive changes? As a therapist, this is, of course, important to me. If we don’t have free will, then am I mistaken when clients take actions to consciously make changes to their lives? Should I just shut up shop (would that be a decision I made?) and quietly wait politely until fate has decided it is time for me to pop my clogs?


The experiment would have been structured to avoid ‘confounding variables’, so it would test the response of participants to a single response under very limited conditions.


In life, however, confounding variables usually travel in packs and rarely extend us the courtesy of attacking one at a time. We can and do obviously do make many decisions throughout the day, but not alas always with all our cognitive abilities available.


We have been described as ‘cognitive misers’ (Susan Fiske and Shelley Taylor, 1984.) – beings who use only the minimum thinking skills necessary to get by. Through tricks such as priming and the use of schema – packets of data available to use off the shelf like a ready meal, we can get by using stereotypes rather than having to tackle every situation as if it is happening for the first time.


This is usually helpful, and I can understand how our ancestors who managed to come up with the formula ‘lots of teeth and claws and coming in this direction = get up a tree or run away’ got to pass their genes on. ‘Think of it as evolution in action’.


We are also shaped by our parents or caregivers – either through a tendency to replay their thoughts and actions as if running a computer program (Eric Berne’s Parent ego state), or else responding exactly as we did when a child (Child ego state, surprisingly enough).


If you ever hear your parents’ sayings coming out of your own mouth, or feeling like a child when in trouble, this may well be what is happening to you.


In both cases, our actions will not be our own until we can move into the Adult ego state to think and act freely as ourselves in the here and now.


Free will may then be available to us in ways that are not obvious at first. We can, however, gain a greater awareness of both challenges and options’, to discover ways of exercising free will to change habits or tackle challenges.


The ‘Discount Matrix’ devised by Ken Mellor and Eric Sigmund, for example, works through the diverse ways that we limit, or ignore various issues, options or situations.


It gives us a chance to identify the areas we discount in (ourselves, others and situations) as well as the type (the physical evidence, the reality that what is happening and our available options).


For example, the most serious problems in this model are those that we are not aware of. ‘How many psychotherapists does it take to change a lightbulb?’ ‘Only one, but the lightbulb must want to change’ as the joke goes, but if we are not even aware that the light is there in the first place, just broken, then we must stay in the dark.


At the other end of the scale, if we know the bulb is broken and we have a spare and a ladder readily to hand and know we have changed it before but doubt our own ability to act this time then that is the last hurdle to overcome before illumination is restored.


This model recognises that we can face multiple challenges when seeking to make a change. It acknowledges that the path to exercising free will is not as simple as the rather more agitated and animated self-help gurus leaping about on stage would have us think.


Our goals are probably further away than a few slogans, poster and motivational podcasts, but they are obtainable if we can identify the issues to overcome, plan and tackle them accordingly.


How does this work in practice? 


  • Is there evidence in your life that something is wrong, even though you can’t see it? What are your friends and family saying, do you have a gut feeling of unease, yet can’t quite put your finger on anything?
  • Ok, so you accept there is something you are unhappy about. Do you understand the cause, how serious it is and the significance of the options available to you?
  • Do you see how you can change what is affecting you, what options are available and how viable they are?
  • Do you accept your ability to react differently, to find solutions and to act on them?


It can be hard to get to grips with these points on our own, quite often another viewpoint, an alternative perspective is needed to help us see differently.


We can feel like we are caught up in a never-ending circle (or worse, a downward spiral). Friends and family may want to help and be ready with plenty of advice on what we should or ought to do, on how to ‘pull ourselves together’ and so on.


Don’t forget, there are trained professionals who are willing to listen and to work with you.



Paul Hurst

Nick Conn / 21st March 2018/ Posted in: Latest News

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    Detoxification (detox) is the medical intervention required for someone who is physically dependent to drugs or alcohol. If required, medical detoxification would be the first step taken in residential rehab. Detox is used to prevent uncomfortable and dangerous (even fatal) withdrawals symptoms resulting in suddenly becoming abstinent from alcohol/certain drugs.

    The goal of a medical detox is to aid in the physical healing required following long term addiction and rid the body of all together of substance whilst providing a cushion for unpleasant symptoms of withdrawals. Detox is not considered the whole treatment for drug/alcohol addiction and it is always recommended that a comprehensive rehabilitation program is used along side to help maintain long term abstinence.

    Medication is often required for alcohol detox. If you are dependent on alcohol and experiencing withdrawal symptoms it is vitally important to seek medical advice prior to stopping. There is a long list of medications used when treating alcohol addiction and the exact medication given to an individual will depend on their needs/medical history. Some of these include;

    • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
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    Librium and Valium are the most commonly used detox medication in the UK. All medication used to help with alcohol detox have been proven to help reduce the effects of withdrawal symptoms.

    There are also a number of drugs recombined by the NHS to help treat alcohol misuse. Some of these include:

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    • Acamprosate (campral)

    Medication is always required for heroin detox. For someone suffering from heroin addiction, the thought of detoxification (detox) can be exceptionally daunting. Withdrawal symptoms from opiates, such as heroin, can be severe and include pain, vomiting, nausea and shaking.

    There are different ways that heroin detox can be carried out, most usually either ‘maintenance therapy’ or ‘full medical detox’.

    Attempting to switch from heroin to a heroin substitute, usually on a controlled prescription, is known as Maintenance therapy. Subsites used are most often methadone or buprenorphine.

    A full medical detox from heroin will always be carried out in a residential rehab setting and will allow the individual to switch form heroin to a substitute and slowly withdraw completing treatment free of all substances. Someone using a heroin substitute can choose to have a full medical detox at any time, however detoxing substances such a methadone can often add to the length of detox required. Drugs most commonly used to fully detox from heroin are, Subutex, Suboxone and Methadone. Much like alcohol, the exact drugs used will be dependent on the individuals needs/medical history.

    Once detoxed from heroin the risk of overdose is much higher following relapse due to tolerance following withdrawal.

    The length of treatment in a residential rehab depends on a number of elements. Some substances require longer periods of detox than others.

    Private paying patients will also often choose a length of stay that suites their therapeutic and financial needs. As a rule, a full treatment program in a rehab is considered to be 28 days (often referred to as a month), however, treatment is offered in several different ways and lengths starting at 7 days.

    Treating alcohol addiction will always require a minimum of 7-10 days, this would be considered the detoxification (detox) faze. The length required for treating drug addiction can vary drastically depending on the substance being used. Detox for Heroin addiction is generally around 14 days minimum, with more time required if substances such a methadone are being used. Treating prescription drug addiction can often take the longest. The time required for treating gambling addiction, eating disorders and sex addiction will be based on the individuals needs.

    Rehab programs can be as long as an individual requires but primary treatment is normally caped at 12 weeks, with the offering for further secondary and tertiary treatment thereafter.

    *based on average rehab stays, everyone will vary dependant on needs and medical requirement/history.

    There is no need for your employer to know that you are seeking help for trauma and addiction unless you choose to involve them with the process. All employers should have a policy that explains what you do if you cannot come to work due to illness – illness to include treating alcohol addiction/treating drug addiction.

    If your work absence extends over 7 days your employer is likely to require an official statement of fitness to work which would be obtained from your GP. This would need to supply evidence of your illness as well as any adjustments required for returning to work, fazed return or reduced hours, but does not need to specify in detail the reason why you have been absent.

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    Any time longer than 7 days it is likely an employer will require a note from the individuals GP certifying their sickness and a fit note on return. Most companies have a clearly outlined policy on sickness and receiving sick pay so the exact requirement can vary. A rehab will always be willing to advise on time off work.

    How much does rehab cost is a very frequently asked question. The cost of treatment can range from £1,000 per week upwards depending on the place, with luxury rehab being the most expensive.

    There are free options available on the NHS but the waitlist of those looking for free treatment is longer than that for privately paying patients. Some private health insurance policies will cover treatment in some rehabs around the country.

    Choosing the right rehab centre will often be based on priced but it is important to follow guidance on the most suitable treatment centre for an individual’s needs which our expert team of advisers are on hand to offer.

    There are certainly pro’s for both treatment near by and traveling for treatment with one of the most asked question being should I get rehab near me? There are rehabs all over the UK and around the world that all offer expert programs, let’s look at how to choose a rehab.

    Local treatment

    Being close to home gives certainly has benefits. Visitors are normally permitted in rehab following the first 7 days stay, therefore if an individual is in treatment for a length of time longer than that being local will make it easier for loved ones to visit.

    Most rehab centres will also provide a full aftercare plan for someone following treatment, this will include ongoing aftercare in the specific treatment centre. Living close by can make it easy to take full advantage of ongoing aftercare. There can also often be the option for ongoing care with an individual therapist, again being close by will allow that treatment to be carried out face to face.

    Some individuals wish to be local but are willing to look broader, for instance the greater city of residence (London, Manchester, Liverpool, etc)

    Treatment Away

    Getting treatment away from home can be very appealing to some. Being out of the local area makes it a lot harder to just walk out of treatment as resources locally are unknown. Some also take comfort in knowing that they are not near home and focus more on treatment.

    As the price for treatment can vary so much from one residential treatment centre to another, private paying patients often would rather travel to keep the cost down. Those using private health insurance may also have to travel to find a treatment centre covered in their policy.

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    There is no right or wrong when choosing where to go to residential rehab, but our expert advisors are always on hand to help provide information on all possible options.

    Whilst millions of people in the UK have taken recreational drugs (amphetamine, cannabis, cocaine, crack, crystal meth, GHB, heron, ketamine, methadone, and prescription drugs) and drank alcohol not all become ‘addicted’. Most recent reports show that 279,793 individuals were in contact with drug and alcohol misuse services in the last year with over half of that being from opiate addiction and a quarter for alcohol.

    There are several risk factors invoiced in addiction and those using drugs and alcohol socially, simply take the risk. These risks are as follows;

    Tolerance – basically, if a substance is used repeatedly an individual’s tolerance to it will build. This will result in more of the same substance being required to get the same effect. In the long run this can easily lead to addiction and physical dependencies.

    Environmental risks – these can include influences such a peer pressure and stress as well as physical or mental abuse of an individual (particularly as a child). Overall, those who live with frequent pressures and stress are more likely to reach for a substance to cope and are therefore at higher risk of becoming addicted.

    Drug type – it is very well known that certain drugs are simply more addictive than others. Using substances such as heroin increases the risk of becoming addicted for need to ‘chase’ a high as well as physical dependency.

    Drug administration – how a drug is administered can affect its addictive qualities. A drug injected rather than smoked or snorted will release a quicker and more intense high thus making it psychologically (and in many cases physically) more addictive.

    Biological factors – it is now widely reported that being an addict is not only psychological but also biological. This includes your genetic makeup, mental health, sex and age. It is also reported to be 8 times more likely for the child of an addict to become an addict themselves.

    Its believed that addiction is approximately half genetics and therefore some are 50% more likely to become addicted than others.

    How do you help a loved one trapped in addiction?

    The first step is to help and encourage the individual to become willing to accept help. They do not need to be shouting this off the rooftops, but they do need to be willing to go into treatment. There are ways to help someone become willing to get treatment for alcohol or treatment for drugs.

    Set boundaries – set boundaries and stick to them. Once you have laid them out follow through with whatever consequences you have set however hard it is.

    Stop finances – if you are financially supporting someone stopping these finances can be the quickest way for the addict needing to ask for help. With no money to acquire a substance an addict’s options become very limited.

    Intervention – getting together with other family members/friends/colleagues and staging an intervention is often very successful in the fist stage of acceptance and gaining an admission to residential rehab.

    You can’t make them quit, this can lead to dangerous withdrawal. Boundaries are very important in helping someone become willing to get help. Unfortunately you cannot do someone’s recovery for them and without self-motivation it is very hard to make it work.

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