“I am an addict.”
With those four revelatory words, so begins Dr. Kevin Alderson’s 722-page, national book award-winning “magnum opus,” Addictions Counseling Today: Substances and Addictive Behaviors.
“I don’t think that’s ever been written in a textbook before, nor do I believe that most authors of textbooks on addictions have ever been addicted themselves – or at least admitted it in their writing,” Alderson, who struggled earlier with cannabis dependence, said of his first-person approach to tackling the taboo topic in Addictions Counseling Today.
“It’s the story not just of me, because I’m not in the book much at all, but in every chapter of the book I found my own experience to bring to the fore. I’ve known an addict of every kind that I write about, so I started with a personal reflection on my own thoughts of that addiction before I started writing it, or even researching it, for that matter.”
That “refreshing” new approach to an addictions text is one that’s earned Alderson not only rave reviews for its currency, inclusivity, thoroughness, but also recently won him the prestigious Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA) Counselling Book Award.
Awarded just once every two years, the award recognizes book publications that make a “valuable contribution to the advancement of counselling in Canada.”
“To say I was excited when I heard the news would be an understatement,” Alderson said of learning that he’d won the CCPA Counselling Book Award for his tenth published book – a project that took him a year and a half to complete, working seven days a week alongside his husband/researcher, Gerry Beriault.
“It’s what I call my magnum opus…an artist’s finest work. And writing is an art, even when it’s a textbook.”
Before tackling Addictions Counseling Today for SAGE Publishing, Alderson was perhaps best known for his work exploring LGBTQ psychology at the University of Calgary, where he’s a Professor Emeritus of Counselling Psychology.
“My main specialty as a professor was LGBTQ issues. I became a full professor based on my reputation in that area, so addictions was really a total switch for me,” said Alderson, whose previous books included Counseling LGBTI Clients, Beyond Coming Out: Experiences of Positive Gay Identity, Same-Sex Marriage, and Breaking Out II: The Complete Guide to Building a Positive GLBT Identity, among others.
“One doesn’t usually write a textbook when it’s not in your area of expertise, but it became my area…and addiction truly is a global issue that’s rising; it’s becoming worse, not better.”
Described as both “enlightening” and “practical,” Alderson’s Addictions Counseling Todaytextbook includes chapters spanning a range of addictions from alcohol, opioids, cannabis, food, and nicotine, to behavioural addictions, including sex, Internet, exercise, gaming, social media, and gambling.
For those readers wanting to gain a deeper understanding of those with addiction, the book also includes various theories and models of addiction – including a unique chapter on the neuroscience of addiction.
“Then, in the final chapter, I bring it together and say, ‘If you look around your own world, you may find you can relate to every one of these addictions, because they’re all there before us and all around us,’” Alderson said, citing some researchers who estimate nearly half the world’s population is addicted to something.
“If that’s true, most of us should know addicts who fit into one or more category, and that also means every family has been affected. It’s a pandemic disaster…and the biggest questions as a psychologist are: Why? What can be do about it? How can we prevent it? And how can we treat it? And every question is a complex one with no straightforward or simple solutions.”
With that in mind, Alderson said his approach to writing Addictions Counseling Today leaned towards a qualitative methodology, in order to “bring you, the reader, into the experience.”
“I think there’s a reason why I won this national book award, and that’s because this is unlike any other textbook you’ll ever read,” he explained, noting that he wrote the user-friendly text to be used as a manual by counsellors who work with addictions.
“If, for example, they end up having a food addict for the very first time in their practice, they could read that chapter in my book and know how to diagnose it, how to treat it, and what’s in the research that we know and what we don’t know. And that’s pretty good for a two-hour-or-less read.”
Calling counselling and psychotherapy “the most noble profession there is,” Alderson said his other goal in writing Addictions Counseling Today was to demonstrate to its readers that those who practice it are real people themselves – flaws and all.
“I think this textbook was a way of showing people who read it that counsellors and psychotherapists are real people and we’re not here to judge you. How can I judge anyone when I’ve gone through most of what they’re coming to see me with?” said Alderson, who’s been a counselor for 40 years and a registered psychologist since 1986.
“Ours is the only profession where you actually get into the deepest psyche of another human being…We take you to the source, to the heart of the matter, and get into what makes you tick, so that you can begin to change and ultimately become a better person – and that’s a process that’s an absolute honour to be a part of.”