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The Magic Cure for Alcoholism: Empathy

A great privilege of running this blog is to share some of the work of practitioners who have inspired me but whose work is not often as well known as it should be. One such person is Dr Morris Chafetz.

When working with treatment resistant clients, I always stress the importance of "Empathy Over Technique." This simple but important maxim has been supported by many recent breakthroughs in research. However, it is not a recent finding. One of the early visionaries of this was Dr. Morris E. Chafetz. As a psychiatrist working in the 1950s, he was assigned somewhat reluctantly, to working with treatment resistant alcoholic patients. Many of these individuals were considered, "skid-row." "down and outs" or "lost causes" by the professionals in health and social care. These were the most difficult patients who presented with complex needs and no motivation for change.

However, Chaftez, against the culture of practice and acceptable wisdom of his time, began to notice something about these heart sink patients. Most of their resistance to change came from the behavior of those around them. He followed through this insight with research. Adopting random patient allocation to different types of treatment verses treatment as usual, he was one of the first to demonstrate the central importance of empathy. The impact of of developing empathetic responses to these patients was both dramatic and transformative. To read a review of these early experiments, when showed even the practitioners voice could make a difference to outcome, click here. To read an obituary of Chaftez who died in 2011, summarizing his life work, click here.

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