Having studied Psychosocial Sciences and Psychology, my first experience of working in the field was as an Assistant Psychologist at a NHS substance misuse service in North West London.
I was lucky enough to be supervised by the Vice Chair of the Faculty of Addictions at the British Psychological Society. During the full-time placement, I learned an enormous amount about how drug addiction is assessed and treated in the UK.
Learning how best to support clients with entrenched addictive behaviours was fascinating to me. I went on to work as a frontline substance misuse practitioner, and eventually became a Criminal Justice Lead in East London.
During this time, I was trained in the core approaches used in addiction treatment such as Motivational Interviewing, Node-link Mapping, Relapse Management, Groupwork Facilitation, Risk Management, Harm Reduction, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Recovery Coaching and Strengths-based Assessment.
When it came to drugs, my early therapeutic work had always involved helping people to stop taking them altogether. The clients I was used to working with were often extremely physically dependent, to a degree that had become life-threatening. As such, the vast majority of my professional targets were abstinence-focused.
In 2012, I was headhunted by Vital Signs, a consultancy that advised organisations like NHS, Addaction and Turning Point on best practice in the treatment of addictions.
Being a consultant meant that I could effect change at a strategic level and feed back what I knew wasn’t working ‘on the ground’. I learned about commissioning, policy, clinical governance and the political landscape of drug treatment in the UK.
A big part of my role involved delivering training to staff teams on the evidence-based approaches that they could use with their clients who were most resistant to change.
Delegates would often ask me if they could use the motivational training exercises on themselves, as well as with their clients. This was because they realised that the tools could also be used to address habits like procrastination and smoking.
The Ultimate Test
I already knew that the tools and resources would be helpful to the staff in their personal lives. I knew this because, after a lifelong battle with my weight, I had used them to lose 8 stone – and keep it off.
To aid my own recovery (and stay up-to-date with what was working), I’d often attend support groups in London. This included abstinence-based 12-step ones, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
It wasn’t until I attended an Overeaters Anonymous meeting in 2015 that I started questioning whether moderation could be achieved by combining aspects of different approaches that were traditionally used for total abstinence. I wondered whether some people could learn a way to manage substances like alcohol when they became problematic (as opposed to never touching them again).
After all, those who’d achieved recovery in Overeaters Anonymous could never be ‘sober’ from food. Instead, they’d identified their own triggers and committed to a bespoke, non-negotiable lifelong plan that worked for them. All the while they had to accept that their substance of abuse would be everywhere – for the rest of their lives.
After a few more of these realisations, I decided to combine everything I’d learned from clients, staff, support groups, evidence-base and personal experience. I created a jargon-free, judgement-free framework that focused on simultaneously increasing self-esteem, self-belief and self-awareness.
Whilst still working as a consultant, I started pitching my approach to a more mainstream, ‘personal development’ audience. In January 2016 I delivered a sold-out workshop at The School of Life, entitled ‘Making Changes that Last’ and I was invited back twice more.
Based on feedback, I continually tweaked the tools until they were applicable to a diverse range of individuals and behaviours in different settings. All the while, I was also trying them out on myself.
In the summer of 2016 I was contacted by Marisa Bate, a Senior Editor at The Pool who had heard about my workshops. She explained that she wasn’t happy with her drinking behaviours, but that she didn’t want to give up alcohol altogether. She’d tried some support groups but they’d felt too ‘severe’ for her needs.
We agreed to meet weekly in a coffee shop for casual, 1-hour discussions about her relationship with alcohol. She would then write a series of articles about her experience in The Pool.
The day that Marisa’s final article was published I was inundated with requests for one-to-one sessions. In response, I set up a private practice.