When is Compassion Simply Not Enough?

When studying the effectiveness of psychotherapy, one of the primary facilitative factors in client growth and progress is the establishment of the “therapeutic alliance”. This alliance, generally speaking, includes an approach that was coined by the most famous humanist psychologist, Carl Rogers, which is called “unconditional positive regard”. In simple terms, this is a perspective and interaction style whereby the therapist accepts and supports a client where they are at in the present moment, regardless of what they might say or do. This approach has been foundational to the evolution of client-centered psychotherapy and has been assimilated into most psychological orientations as a precursor to productive and supportive therapy. While this perspective and approach have clear and demonstrated value, we need to see how we non-clinicians may fall into the trap of believing this is also the best approach to dealing with addicts in recovery. While compassion and empathy are absolutely necessary to establish trust and bonding with another individual, those of us who are not trained to practice psychotherapy may not be able to identify when compassion turns to enabling and when a firmer stance need to be taken.

As there are an infinite number of variations in human beings in general, so is the case in working with those suffering from Substance Use Disorder. While some individuals may have a proclivity to take on addiction head-on and forge a path of autonomy, independence, and growth, this is not the case for everyone. Some individuals in recovery need to be encourages, and at times strongly, in order to start gaining momentum in a positive direction. While every recovering addict needs to receive compassion and empathy at a certain point, or at many points, throughout there journey into sobriety, for some individuals, unquestioning compassion can lead them to a stance of complacency and can even provide room to make excuses for why they are not engaging in the work they ought to be doing. Typically, these individuals carry within them a tendency to view themselves as victims, and while a great number of people are certainly victims of familial abuse, socioeconomic injustice, and intersectional ignorance, the perpetuation and allowance of the association with this “victim identity” will ultimately not serve the individual in the long run, regardless of the positive and empathic motivations. As people who are concerned with helping to alleviate the suffering associated with addiction, we need to learn to empower those who are suffering in order to facilitate a belief in the suffering addict that they can beat this disease; at times, we need to be able to take a firm stance in the promotion of empowerment over perpetual victimhood.


Tree House Recovery of Orange County, California is a premier men’s addiction treatment facility that uses eight different modalities to help our men become the best versions of themselves they can be. We teach our men that every day of their journey is something to celebrate, and that recovery isn’t a sprint– it’s a marathon. To get started with Tree House Recovery, call us today at (855) 202-2138.

Share This Post
















Receive post updates. Your information is secure, and you can easily opt-out anytime.