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Life of Purpose: Existentialism and Education in Youth Addiction Treatment

Life of Purpose: Existentialism and Education in Youth Addiction Treatment

Chemical Dependency is the ultimate expression of existential vacuum; a state of habitual unconsciousness to the exclusion of all meaningful activity and relationships. In existential terms, it is necessary to discover some greater sense of purpose in order for the dissolution of such a painful state of emptiness to occur. The great existential theorist, Victor Frankl stated “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with any ‘how’.” In this case, the ‘why’ is the meaningfulness that the recovering person ascribes to their sobriety. However, many young clients arrive in treatment confused, fragmented, resistant or unwilling.

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with any ‘how’.”

— VIctor Frankl

Traditional chemical dependency treatment models tend to focus on the ‘how’ of recovery, placing emphasis on skills building and didactic instruction in such areas as relapse prevention. Insight driven process is usually directed toward the identification of one’s consequences, while recovery is viewed as the process by which one avoids incurring new consequences. While these clinical elements often contribute to successful treatment outcomes, in existential terms, they are incomplete. An exclusive focus on behavioral cause and effect undermines the individual’s ‘will to purpose’ and fails to consider the values driven self-determination that is the client’s motivation to change. There is perhaps too much emphasis on moving away from a past filled with regret, and not enough emphasis on moving toward a future filled with limitless possibility.    

Adolescent and young adult substance misusers, with shorter substance misuse histories, tend to be less fearful of consequences than their elder counterparts. Very often this population views the prospect of an abstinence based recovery as more painful than life during substance misuse. The existential approach to this dilemma focuses on matters of values clarification and identity development in order to assist the client in discovering what in fact is meaningful to them. This is an exploration of the ‘why’ of recovery, where the client is able to formulate a vision of realistic possibilities that may unfold as a result of sobriety, leading to a more self-determinant perspective of the recovery process.  

The additional coupling of education and treatment helps to bring about a tangible sense of forward movement toward established goals, as grades and credits are measurable. The simple act of being able to self-identify as a student may represent a significant paradigm shift for an individual who had previously identified with less encouraging labels such as ‘drop out’ or ‘failure.’ The developmental goal of adolescence and young adulthood is identity development and individuation from one’s family of origin. Education, when coupled with recovery helps to bolster one’s sense of self-efficacy. The client, through repeated successes can begin to develop a cognitive schema of an idealized adult self that is sober, independent and moving toward success.



Eric Bricker LMHC CAP
Clinical Director

Life of Purpose Treatment
3848 FAU Boulevard, Suite 100
Boca Raton, FL 33431
Admissions: 1.888.PURPOSE

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