Submitted by Daniel Jordan for the Positive Living Newsletter (May 2017). Read the rest of the newsletter here.

As director of a residential addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment facility, Sunshine Coast Health Center, I am often asked why our program adopted a meaning-centred approach. The meaning-centred model is powerful, not just in how it fully engages clients in therapy, but also how it accommodates multiple disorders and allows therapists to incorporate multiple evidence-based treatment modalities.
Consider our experience at Sunshine Coast when the Canadian military began referring soldiers and veterans with PTSD. At Sunshine Coast, addiction is posited as a response to a life that lacks meaning and purpose. In other words, addicts use drugs and alcohol because, as Narcotics Anonymous likes to say, life has become boring, monotonous, and meaningless. When clinical management at Sunshine Coast considered the most commonly-used approaches to PTSD treatment, such as Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and exposure therapy, we knew from previous experience with manual-based treatment that clients diagnosed with co-morbid trauma/addiction would soon get bored with the repetition and would likely stop attending group sessions and individual appointments.

The solution to integrating our PTSD program with our established addiction program came when clinical management reframed PTSD, like all forms of trauma, as a “threat to meaning.” A threat to meaning is defined as an event experienced by an individual that shakes up how they make sense of life. By reframing PTSD as a threat to meaning, clinicians at Sunshine Coast were then able to integrate the PTSD program with the existing addiction program.

For those interested in understanding the concept of “threat to meaning,” watch this featuring Geoff Thompson, Ph.D., Program Director at Sunshine Coast.

In conclusion, our experience with the meaning-centred approach developed by Paul T. P. Wong, Ph.D., is a testament to its strength as an organizing construct. Whether you are a therapist working in an outpatient or inpatient setting, I encourage you to consider how meaning can contribute to your work with clients!

Daniel Jordan, Director, Sunshine Coast Health Center.