Data Type: Journal Article

Are you truly a recovering dope fiend? Local interpretive practices at a therapeutic community drug treatment program

Paik, L. (2006). Are you truly a recovering dope fiend? Local interpretive practices at a therapeutic community drug treatment program. Symbolic Interaction, 29(2), 213-234.

This article explores how contemporary treatment programs try to solve drug addiction issues, and it concludes that it is almost impossible to tell whether someone has engaged in the construction of a “new self” (i.e. a non-drug-addicted identity) during treatment. Specifically the author asks, “under what circumstances do program members call into doubt a client’s efforts to create an institutional self [i.e. an identity that falls in line with the treatment program’s goals], and how do they express this skepticism?” (214).

The results of this article come from ethnographic fieldwork at a residential adult drug treatment facility that spanned five months. The article focused on the staff members of an adult substance abusers program (Project Arise, which attempts to rehabilitate “hard core,” criminal addicts, who evaluated the residents’ progress in self-construction processes. The author would observe groups in the program for three to five hours roughly two to three times a week during the five-month period. Data was collected and analyzed using grounded theory, and resulted in “thick descriptions” of the groups observed. The case studies used in the article were most representative of two types of emotional displays (anger and anxiety) within the resident groups. Paik ultimately suggests that staff and clients interpret emotions and the surrounding community to determine whether clients actually construct the “institutional self” that is a “recovering dope fiend.” The author focuses on the interpretation of the emotional displays of clients (e.g. whether she or he can manage anger or anxiety) as an indicator of whether he or she is actually engaging in “positive” self-construction.

This article is relevant to research on psychotherapy because it examines the responses of clients to a treatment plan. It shows that even in treatment plans with fairly clear goals (e.g. getting someone to construct a self that allows him or her to stop abusing substances) it can be somewhat difficult to discern whether a treatment is working. This is largely because indicators of success can be misinterpreted by individuals such as those running Project Arise. This may have important implications for other therapeutic processes in which client reactions are difficult to interpret.

Categories: Qualitative Methods, Social Construction, Sociology of Mental Health and Illness, Symbolic Interaction
Publication Date: 2006