The Brooklyn Program: Emotional and Spiritual Tools for Recovery

The Brooklyn Program is a system of personal growth that has been used since 1997 by the United States Probation Department in Brooklyn, NY to treat substance abusers under Federal criminal justice supervision. The program developed over a period of more than ten years of research into Jungian patterns, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, addictions studies and personal experience with addictions. More recently it has integrated the latest insights into the neurophysiology of learning and addiction. It is founded on the presupposition that people are, for the most part, well-functioning organisms and that an essential element of overcoming addiction is the realization that we all have inner resources that can meet our present and future needs.

An important conceptual foundation of the Program is that humans are systems. We are integrated wholes who grow and develop in an orderly, systematic fashion. The elements of systems theory were first worked out by the biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy and have since been expressed in many other fields. Here we apply systems presuppositions to the field of addictions. Most importantly, we predict that the systems property of wholeness, the emergent property of the proper interaction of all of the subsystems, can be manipulated by positive learning strategies. For our purposes, this means that people can be taught positive skills that will interact with each other in such a manner that their whole way of experiencing life can be transformed. It is through this transformation of experience that we allow the individual to move beyond addictive patterns.

This is an indirect approach. Most of today's standard answers to substance use disorders take a direct, head-on, allopathic stance. That position assumes addiction exists as a thing in and of itself and that by dealing with the issue, the urge, the triggers, the substance or chemical itself, we can solve the problem. By contrast, our approach holds that addiction is an expression of systemic wholeness that answers very specific behavioral and emotional needs. It represents in each person a specific need for integration and balance for which no other answer is currently available. The addiction, as a single phenomenon, does not exist, except as a behavioral context.

In this Program we seek to redefine the root structures of experience in such a way that new options are not only available, but desirable.

There are certain affinities between this approach and the older, psychodynamic disease model in which addiction was viewed as a symptom of some other, more fundamental deficit or disease. In that model, elimination of the symptom -- addiction -- would necessarily result in symptom substitution. It would follow from this perspective that the root problem must seek new expression in another object or behavior. By contrast, we see addiction not as a symptom but as the best possible answer, given the resources available, for the problems at hand. Here, the re-emergence of symptoms speaks less of underlying pathology than it does of the need for a more fundamental restructuring of the available resources. By this definition, addicts are not broken, they have simply learned the wrong answers to the questions of life.

Our task becomes this: making proper answers available, making them more intuitive and more powerfully motivating than the focus of the addictive behavior.

This perspective is being born out more and more by current neurophysiological studies of addiction and motivation. These studies are linking addiction to the same patterns of learning and motivation that drive more "normal" means of behaving. Substance use disorders are distinguished only by the fact that they are chemically enhanced.

There are three elements of treatment that seem to reappear with great consistency throughout the literature. These are Self-Efficacy, Futurity and Self-Esteem.

Self-Efficacy, originally defined by Albert Bandura (1997), describes the individual's ability to experience a degree of control about themselves and their environment. Addicts have experienced considerable and increasing control deficits in their lives. By definition, addiction entails a narrowing of focus and loss of control to the addictive behavior.

Efficacy, as the re-awakening of choice, is a crucial goal for the Brooklyn program. By providing a series of experiences designed to compete with drug-induced states for incentive salience in daily life, we build powerful experiences of self-efficacy.

By restoring a sense of control, choice and mastery, this Program seeks to open options for new behaviors that are not focused in addictive patterns.

Futurity is held out by Prochaska, Norcross and Décolleté (1994) as a crucial predictor of treatment success. They point to the necessary shift from focusing on the loss suffered by giving up addictive behaviors to the perception of all that can be gained by moving on to a better future as the telltale sign of passing from pre-contemplation to contemplation. This future focus is a central part of the Program. We spend some time working on futures that are accessible, motivating and self-validating. In order to do this, we attempt to build a sense of personal identity that is associated with a calling or life-direction. This idea, closely related to C. G. Jung's idea of individuation and Abraham Maslow's self-actualization, presumes that every individual has a call or direction, a conscious or unconscious image of a personal developmental goal that can make life simultaneously challenging, exciting and positively addictive. It is in the flow of this living stream that addictions are relativized into misadventures.

Like adolescent posturings, once cherished but now discarded, as life energy finds its appropriate focus, addictive behaviors may be cast aside.

Self-esteem has been for many drug treatment professionals the elusive universal remedy for all manner of problems. Here, self-esteem flows out of a developing sense of self-efficacy and the more intimate sense of self that develops from the realization of the Call, or personal direction. We have, in the past, misunderstood self-esteem as flowing from power, position, possessions or other more-or-less concrete entities. Here we understand that Self-Esteem flows from a true knowledge of the self. It is in finding the essential core of Self and living harmoniously with that core calling that the Self receives the esteem it so vitally requires.

As a treatment program provided to offenders with substance abuse issues in a criminal justice context, the drug treatment element is often unspoken. However, it must be understood that every person in the group has been sent there expressly for drug treatment. They are questioned about their drug treatment by their probation officers and, at the end, each participant receives a certificate of completion from the drug treatment Program. This approach has several benefits. First, it eliminates much of the resistance that is found in more traditional confrontative programs. The participant knows that it is about drug treatment but the issue is rarely made explicit. Second, because the exercises are empowering, enjoyable and inherently self-reinforcing, they provide an internally validated reference that tells the individual that they are changing, that they have choices, that they have value. All of the preachments, lectures and pep rallies in the world will never be able to compete with the sense of self-validating empowerment that comes from the direct, intuitive reality of personal experience. Third, rather than being forced or coerced into exercises aimed directly at the addictive problem and responding with resistance or their own lack of treatment readiness, exercises are shown to be of value to them as people. Each participant gains first-hand experience of their own flexibility and capacity to control their inner environment. As a result, just as addictive behaviors generalize into non-addictive contexts, so our behaviors must generalize into the addictive circumstances. Finally, Among the less obvious advantages of the program is its provision of observable success criteria. Each exercise provides specific behavioral criteria for evaluating progress through the program.

Applications of the program. The Brooklyn program began life as a novel approach to substance abuse services. It is, however, important to realize that all of its roots and presuppositions are related not so much to drugs as they are to the principles of human growth as understood by Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow and the founders of Neuro-Linguistic Programming. The Brooklyn Program aims to enhance and restore optimal human functioning. It works for drugs because addictions are part of the normal range of human behavior as it manifests in abnormal contexts. The entire program consists in the teaching and exploration of a set of cognitive and spiritual skills that are of universal relevance. As a result, the program has applications that range far beyond substance abuse.

Insofar as it begins with certain assumptions about human growth and development it should first be seen as a set of tools for personal growth that need no pathological context in which to function. One of the consequences of operating the program within the precincts of the US Courts has been the need to treat fairly large numbers of persons who have no specific pathology other than finding themselves in the hands of the Courts for illegal behaviors. For these persons, the Brooklyn Program has provided a very specific context for personal growth in which the de-emphasis of drugs and substance abuse (after the first session) was a welcome reprieve from the unhappy possibility of weeks of unwanted and unneeded substance abuse lectures. For these participants as for those with substance use problems, the main result of their participation was the awakening of a deep sense of self, optimization of choice, patterns of life freed from much of the baggage that we all have learned to carry around, and a new sense of personal direction and worth. For most participants, the course becomes a radical awakening to the very best of what it means to be me.

The spiritual dimension is, on one hand, one of the more subtle attributes of the program; on the other, it is the most dramatic. The program is not overtly spiritual. It does not promise either salvation or enlightenment. It does, however, center the participant in the kind of place that is the sine qua non of advanced spiritual discipline. This link is easily followed through the works of Jung and Maslow and reveals itself as affective states are enhanced to archetypal intensity so as to instantiate what Maslow called peak experiences. The end result is the constellation of a deep sense of Self that helps to generate new capacities to choose and to move through the world consciously, in a proactive manner. There are major affinities with classical Buddhism, the Gurdjieff work and other spiritual enterprises. Most importantly, the program brings the participant to a place where they have a real sense of their own place in the universe. This is awakened first through the constellation of a deep sense of Self and enhanced by integrating past experiences and future outcomes into the individual experience of a call or life direction.

Because the program has no hidden agenda for conversion to any religious perspective, and because it provides this depth of experience as simple exercises in Western Psychology, the program has been experienced as enhancing and supporting almost every kind of spiritual endeavor. Christians, Jews and Muslims report a greater centeredness in prayer and deeper sense of the import of their traditions. Taoists and Buddhists have found it awakening their own experiences of meditation and centering. For persons committed to a 12 step discipline, the deep sense of Self created in the program becomes an effective operationalization of a higher power; especially where none other exists. For persons without a specific tradition, it provides a quiet centered place from which to reflect objectively on life. In the most secular sense it is the instantiation of Gendlin's Focusing. On a broader plain it is fully compatible with D'Aquili and Newberg's aesthetic - spiritual continuum.

In regard to pathology, emotional control and personal stability are natural fruits of the program. Because we provide tools for actively choosing how to feel in order to meet the needs of various situations, the program provides proven results for anger management. As one might guess, in a criminal justice population, there are ample numbers of violent and angry offenders. One of the more consistent reports that we receive from participants and their probation officers is that they have calmed down and are making better choices. The program is presently being used in a pilot study in upstate New York with a group of men who have been mandated to receive treatment because of domestic violence complaints.

Attention Deficits are often ameliorated in the process of the group. By using techniques similar to Mindfulness meditation that result in focused, highly pleasurable states of mind and body, participants learn to focus their attention inwardly in a consistent manner. With the use of anchors, this capacity to focus can be transferred to any context.

There are no panaceas. The Brooklyn Program is not a cure all. It does, however, provide psychological tools that are consistent with optimal patterns of human growth and development. In those cases where psychological problems are without significant organic base, the Brooklyn Program can often awaken resources from the participant's behavioral repertoire to meet the need. For persons already embarked in a productive life, it provides clear guidance for the path ahead and tools for assistance along the way.

The program is fully manualized. Reviews of the program are available among the author's publications.

The complete manual is available from the author.

Detailed descriptions of the exercises, information on implementing the program at your site, training your staff to use the Program, or its techniques are available by contacting the author.

For further information contact the author at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.