An Interview with Addiction Counselor, Dr. Michael Seeley

An Interview with Choice House IOP Clinical Director, Dr. Michael Seeley

Michael Seeley, Psy. D., LPC

Clinical Director of the Intensive Outpatient Program and Addiction Counselor with Choice House

Dr. Michael Seeley recently obtained his doctorate in psychology (Psy. D.) from California Southern University, where he studied addiction from a complex trauma perspective. A licensed professional counselor (LPC), Seeley has more than 25 years of experience treating mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders. He joined Choice House in 2019 as a therapist with the intensive outpatient program and was promoted to IOP clinical director in July 2020.

HOW DID YOU GET TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?

Through coursework I was introduced to the idea that traditional medical models provided the best understanding of the addiction process. That, however, was not my experience. Having no clear family history for addiction I became interested in exploring nontraditional theories of addiction. Through this exploration, I discovered a significant correlation between trauma and addiction in the research. I was determined at that time to discover more.

I have an addiction myself, but I don’t have a family history of substance abuse, which as we know can play a significant role in whether someone develops an addiction in their lifetime.

So I wanted to understand more, and began to look at how often addiction occurred in people who have had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). My initial research produced a fair amount of information and showed a high occurrence [of addiction] in those who had a PTSD diagnosis.

This launched everything.

I don’t want to imply that genetics doesn’t impact the risk of developing an addiction, but I wanted to understand the role trauma plays with relation to substance abuse.

WHAT LED YOU TO FOCUS ON ADDICTION COUNSELING?

I was taking an elective in my undergraduate studies, a course on love, sex, and relationship addictions – simply because it sounded like a cool class.

Ultimately, the course revealed my addiction to me. I started to realize that I have a drug and alcohol problem; my college coursework led me to recovery.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON WAYS THAT ADDICTION STARTS?

In both my studies and experience, every client I’ve worked with had some form of traumatic background. The overwhelming majority of clients don’t meet criteria for PTSD even though they experienced trauma. There’s a notable distinction between complex trauma and PTSD. Trauma sets the stage for addiction.

DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE ONLY SOLUTION TO ADDICTION IS SOBRIETY?

I think for anything long-term, sobriety is the preferred approach. Some schools of thought say that as long as you control drinking, you’re okay, but I really don’t think anything but abstinence makes sense. Complete abstinence is the preferred approach because by and large, people use substances to avoid emotions. If the avoidance coping is alcohol or marijuana, it’s ultimately still avoidance.

DOES SHAME PLAY A ROLE IN ADDICTION?

Oh absolutely, and every type of trauma – whether experienced in childhood or adulthood – is shame producing. Trauma and shame are really closely related.

WAS IT ALWAYS EASY FOR YOU TO RELATE WITH CLIENTS? HOW DID YOU DEVELOP EMPATHY FOR CLIENTS?

Absolutely. Despite the challenges caused by my own addiction, it’s as great of an asset as my education. The firsthand experience and understanding the intricacies [of addiction] from a personal perspective is tremendously valuable. 

WHAT’S SOMETHING YOU WISH PEOPLE KNEW ABOUT ADDICTION?

I wish more people understood and looked past the stigmas individuals face when seeking help for addiction. The general public needs to understand that these people are wounded but capable of healing rather than seeing the addiction as a character defect. 

WHAT IS THE BEST PART ABOUT THE WORK YOU DO?

My favorite thing is group therapy with my clients. It’s such a powerful medium for delivering therapy, and inspiring to see them help each other with direct input in addition to the insight I share. I truly believe in group therapy; it’s by far my favorite treatment method and one that I believe is the most effective.

WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART?

The hardest part of the job is the reality of how often addiction can be fatal. Unfortunately, in my career there are people who simply couldn’t find a sustainable level of recovery that could keep them alive. I’ve had too many clients go back out into the world and overdose, and it’s not something you ever get used to. It’s hard to work so closely with someone for a long time, and then they go back out and relapse, and this time it’s fatal.

Note: Interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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