Is Moral Reconation Therapy a viable treatment option for substance abusers?

I led a workshop about the Substance & Process Abuse Consciousness. I’m not certain about whether the thirty or so attendees liked the workshop, but I do know that one attendee didn’t like that I “demonized” a therapeutic modality called, Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT). Now, I don’t like MRT. The core reason is that among its goals is to create a higher order of moral functioning among substance abusers, especially.

One of the modules is intended to help the client choose right behaviors over wrong behaviors. The rationale (and modality) is based upon Kohlberg’s stages of moral development (please google: Kohlber’g Stages f Moral Development if you want to know what they are).

My contact with MRT has largely been through drug court in Northern New Mexico. All drug court participants must complete the sixteen (16) week program, while also attending 12-step programs. Now, perhaps more criminal behaviors may require some learning about how to be a good citizen, but a substance abuser? I take exception to the fact that ANY clinician would reduce substance abuse to a “right” or “wrong” framework.

I don’t advocate people abusing substances; however, I also don’t judge them when they do. Substance abuse (and Addiction), in and of itself, has little to do with morality and everything to do with the unhealthiness of the behaviors. Placing substance abuse, to me, further persists the idea that substance abuse is something about which a person should be ashamed. THEY SHOUDN’T.

My dream in life is to shout from every mountaintop that substance abuse and, ultimately, Addiction, is rooted in anxiety and shame and is persisted through the mechanism of compulsion. I would not refer any client of mine to a clinician who doesn’t first see the client neutrally. Since MRT is rooted in the idea of moral reasoning, it’s not neutral.

Now, if a client has a non-violent criminal profile and he or she happens to also be a substance abuser, then fine: Perhaps moral reasoning is an admirable goal. I mean, we should all seek to be good citizens. I just know myself and I know that I’m in no way qualified to be a judge of what is morally sound for anyone else and I do not think I can teach anybody what’s “right” for them. I can only provide tools that can help them achieve a vision that they create.

But, really, I do not and will not support a modality that tries to “wrongify” substance abuse. If substance (and process) abuse was easy to place into “right” and “wrong” buckets, then why the hell do I spend do much time thinking about it? Man, I should have known all along that abusing substances is wrong and that those who do are bad.

Maybe I should seek MRT because clearly, I don’t know enough about “right” and “wrong” and that modality, it would appear, can teach me.

For those in the criminal justice system that have been helped by MRT: I’m happy for you. Plus, if clinicians believe it and do know its efficacy, then I think it’s viable. But, I don’t like the idea for those who abuse substances. So there.



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