Interview with the Psychotherapist from VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew

Sherry Gaba is best known from her role as the psychotherapist on VH1’s hit-show Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. Having earned her Masters of Social Work from the University of Southern California and with over thirteen years of experience as a clinician, she recently authored The Law of Sobriety as a “guide to life.”

I asked Gaba for her take on addiction in America and her approach to addiction recovery. We also discussed Janice Dickinson’s full-blown panic attack that aired on Celebrity Rehab.

SL: How do you define addiction? How prevalent is addiction in America? What makes one prone to addiction?

SG: Addiction is when one’s life has become un-manageable and out of control due to their addiction. When one begins to have grave consequences from using such as losing one’s family, children, home, job, finances, health, relationships and any connection to one’s spirituality. Addiction in America as I see it is growing rapidly especially with teens, young adults, and women in their forties and fifties. Prescription Drugs addiction is on the rise and opiate addiction is what I see a lot in psychotherapy and recovery coaching practice, as well as on Celebrity Rehab. Women in the forties and other ages, as well, are also getting addicted to meth and pain medications more than I have ever seen. Because of the state of the economy, many people are using drugs and alcohol to self medicate. One is prone to an addiction if they have the genetic predisposition or have had multiple losses in life, in addition to early childhood trauma, neglect, or abandonment.

SL: What options are available for addicts? How does psychiatric and psychological therapy interface in addiction recovery? Are there options beyond conventional 12-step programs?

SG: There is in patient treatment (rehab), outpatient treatment, individual psychotherapy, group psychotherapy, recovery coaching, 12 step programs such as AA and Alanon for families of those addicted. There are also psychiatrists that can help with med management and possibly helping patients get off opiates with alternative treatments such as suboxone. An issue I have with psychiatrists and other mental health providers that don’t understand addiction don’t ask the right questions to assess if there is an addiction. It is important to see someone who understands addiction such as an addictionologist when they seek psychiatric support and a therapist that knows addiction and perhaps, has been in recovery her or himself. Yes, there are options to the 12 step program; however, the 12 step program is the treatment of choice and the best way to start. However, I find many clients won’t go and I refuse to turn them away and that is why I wrote The Law of Sobriety which has seven action steps clients can use to work thru their addictions. It takes the Law of Attraction and applies it to addictions similar to the movie The Secret but uses the principles of the LOA to help someone recovery from their addictions. It also helps clients find their purpose and what gives their life meaning, which I believe is imperative to stay sober.

The Law of Sobriety is simply seven steps that an addict or alcoholic can go through to help them achieve sobriety and need not be in any order. They include finding one’s life purpose, living a life of value, living a life of authenticity, learning to live in appreciation, compassion, and forgiveness, living a life of right action, living with awareness and mindfulness, and learning to let go of resistance and attachments.

SL: Having worked with many celebrities, is addiction different when it afflicts public figures?

SG: Yes and No. Addictions come in all shapes and sizes, rich, poor, all ethnicities, young, old, religious, not religious, etc. However, celebrities often have “yes” people that cater and enable their addictions. It is much easier for celebrities to get access to drugs by those who benefit from their use i.e. friends, family, managers, agents, etc. There are sometime no boundaries in these families because the parents become more like the children and the celebrities if they are young, i.e. Lindsay Lohan, Brittany Spears become parentified, supporting their families financially. The other issue is celebrities are under so much scrutiny when they fail. There is little out their to show an addict when they are clean and sober, but rather when they are in the grips of their disease. That is why Celebrity Rehab is so valuable because it shows what truly goes on in their disease and what happens as they begin the recovery process.

SL: The VH1 TV series Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew has provided the public with a glimpse into residential drug and alcohol rehab. Other series have spun off this idea. Aside from the entertainment value, what do you hope viewers gain from these programs?

SG: To show the pain of addiction, how it effects the clients, who it hurts besides the clients, the healing process, and what goes in rehab. Although, Celeb Rehab has drama in it because it is television, it still portrays a glimpse of rehab which some people viewing the program don’t know about. It might even inspire someone to get help. The clients on Celeb Rehab do the show because they want to get well and got off drugs and alcohol; they make the choice; no one forces them to be on television. I get so tired of people calling it exploitive. It is only exploitive if someone is asked to do something they don’t want to do; that is not the case here. I do wish they would show all the behind the scenes work that goes on including my role as psychotherapist and at times recovery and life coach for the clients.

SL: Your counseling session with Janice Dickinson on Celebrity Rehab is well popularized and the segment is available below. Can you dissect this encounter for us?

SG: Janice has tremendous trauma from her childhood. She was neglected and abused by her father. She witnessed her sibling get abused, as well. She also was getting off benzodiazepines which are a very difficult detox. Janice had a full blown panic attack during and after our session. We started to work on trauma and discuss the other clients and how they reminded her of being verbally abused which put her in a very dissociative state because the pain was too difficult to tolerate. More importantly, however, was how difficult her detox was and how that made her very vulnerable.

SL: Thanks for sharing your expertise with our readers at Brain Blogger.

Shaheen E Lakhan, MD, PhD, MEd, MS, FAAN

Shaheen E Lakhan, MD, PhD, MEd, MS, FAAN, is a board-certified neurologist and pain specialist, medical educator, and scientist. He is the executive director of the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation (GNIF). He is a published scholar in biomarkers, biotechnology, education technology, and neurology. He serves on the editorial board of several scholarly publications and has been honored by the U.S. President and Congress.
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