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My day time job is with a Drug Helpline. This is an anonymous phone, chat and online Q/A service for drug and alcohol users and their relatives, friends, families and anyone with questions.

This job gives a lot of opportunity to put wisdom and compassion into practice. In average, I am in contract with about 5000 people every year. All of them in need of help and support one way or the other.

In my personal life, thinking and meditation on the three marks of Dukkha, Non-self and impermanence has helped tremendously. I soemtimes think that "if only the users of our service could think like that, it would be so much easier for them".

Example: Very often relatives of drug users do the exact opposite of whar would be a good strategy, they yell, demand the person to stop and the next moment they give them money for "stuff in the apartment and food". Another classic is this "My partner is the cause of my sepair because he drinks/drugs".

If compassion is the wish for others not to suffer, and I have a very firm conviction about what would be a good way for them to suffer less, how can I best convey this? I can't say "you should meditate on the three marks" and "your partner isn't causing your despair, you are". For one it would ruin the dialogue and also I'm supposed to support the users perspective. I cannot use personal experience because I am a so called "professional".

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    So youre spending around 25 minutes per person? I would think this time constraint would prove the most difficult aspect; how to get through to a total stranger in that short amount of time over the phone – Ryan Dec 13 '15 at 3:01
  • Average, yes. But it varies a lot. Depends on the nature of the call/chat. If it is a simple fact question, about urine samples etc, a few min. When they need a lot of support, up to ninety minutes. Another challenge is that we're not supposed to have repeated contact/develop a therapeutic relation. Of course this is hard to avoid and it's a thin line. But those are the government's "orders" – Mr. Concept Dec 13 '15 at 8:28
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    I am keen to understand the answers below. Although the recommendations are intended to help, shouldn't we be addressing the underlying causes supported by the practices suggested. To give an example, should we not feed the hungry to meet their basic needs before embarking on the practices. So in the context of the question, should we not understand their suffering that has driven them down this path? – Motivated Dec 15 '15 at 7:09
  • @Motivated. Are you referring here to the "path" of drug and alcohol (ab)use or the "path" of unhelpful ways of coping with being "co-dependent"? It seems likely you are talking about drug users here? I think often the psychological patterns and mechanisms are very similar for users and their codependent family and others emotionally involved people. Codependent suffering is very clearly caused by not seeing the effects of one's behavior and not recognizing the real causes of own suffering (eg. blaming the user) – Mr. Concept Dec 15 '15 at 7:26
  • @Mr. Concept - I am referring to both and others. I am unsure to the extent help is provided to understand the choices that led them down a particular path. If these are not being addressed e.g. hunger, I don't see how the path of Dharma will influence them positively. – Motivated Dec 15 '15 at 16:58
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I can't say "..." it would ruin the dialogue and also I'm supposed to support the users perspective.

Some personal counsellors ask questions, along the lines of, "And how do you feel about that?"

Maybe that's similar to Vipasanna's asking people to note their feelings.

Maybe that turns people's attention inward (not "my partner is wrong" but "I'm feeling ignored" or "confused and angry about my inability to make my partner behave the way I want them to") which might be essential to helping them to act, "rationally" or sanely.

Maybe asking 'leading' questions is an acceptable way to steer the conversation. By analogy with a medical doctor they could be 'informed' questions (i.e. informed by your prior knowledge), but still I suppose they ought to be questions (I read a science fiction story once in which a society had a jury system where the jury members were expected to be "biased" but not allowed to be "prejudiced").

Beware that I'm not "a so-called professional", but your professional page (which you linked to) says,

In addition to providing the caller with information about alcohol and drugs, and suggesting appropriate services for treatment of substance abuse, the counsellors practice the «professional conversation». The counsellors’ role is not to judge or moralize, but, by listening and asking the right questions, unveiling the solutions which best suits the caller’s situation.


I have a very firm conviction about what would be a good way for them to suffer less, how can I best convey this?

The quote above says there are "appropriate services for treatment".

Do you agree whether those services exist? And whether they're appropriate? Is it your job to be/supply those services, or is it your job to suggest those services?

Does your meditation on the three marks suggest ways in which those services could be improved or augmented? Is there someone (e.g. your boss and/or counsellor) with whom you can discuss whether to add to the services or solutions which are "suggested as appropriate" by the agency which employs you?

Also if you want to or are able to "use personal experience" in a way that not appropriate for your job, there are vehicles for doing that outside the scope of your employment -- I'm thinking that AA / Al-Anon or NA / Nar-Anon meetings, for example, centre around people recounting their personal experience and insight for the benefit of others.


I sometimes think that "if only the users of our service could think like that, it would be so much easier for them".

That reminds me of (among other things) this scene in a movie, As Good as It Gets, where the girl is wooed by an antihero and cries out, "Why can't I just have a normal boy-friend? Why? Just a regular boy-friend who doesn't go nuts on me?" At that point her mum, who's listening behind the door, pops out and says, "Everybody wants that, dear. It doesn't exist. Oh I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt."

If you want to meet people who've already solved their personal problems then I guess you need a different job (or to meet other people outside the scope of your job).

If you're saying "If only other people had the same views as I have then they wouldn't have a problem", I think you're not the first person to have said that. :-)


how can I best convey this?

Maybe be clearer about what you're trying to convey. Compassion? Your description of a universal solution? An environment in which someone sees their own way out of their problem? An emotional intensity, neither too little (complacency) nor too much (despair)? Professional (legal or psychiatric) help? An independent (e.g. not "co-dependent") perspective on what's right and wrong? A life-line? ...?

  • This is very interesting and helpful. About referrals to help services for families /relatives they do exist, but are few and far between, especially in the northern part of the country. My job is to give some initial guidance and then refer them when possible. Very often relatives and partners are very reluctant,they want the person to stop using, not talk about themselves. Thanks for many good ideas and advice – Mr. Concept Dec 13 '15 at 8:47
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Bringing up anything specifically Buddhism-related would probably be inappropriate, but I suppose you could try and teach them along the lines of the Noble Eightfold Path (just don't call it so):

  1. First, they need to establish the right ground: that the problem is fixable, not unfixable. That they can make it worse, or they can make it better. If they repeatedly try to make it better for a long enough time, it will get better.
  2. Once they are in the right frame of reference, they should make a commitment to only acting with that goal in mind, not reacting emotionally. Every time there is a problem, they should do something that will make things better, not worse. This should be their mantra: act purposefully, try to quickly calculate the basic results of your action before you act.
  3. Specifically, in terms of what they say, they should not speak from emotion, because when they speak from emotion, they don't think clearly and can only make it worse. Everything they say should be constructive, meaning it should not just criticize but offer some positive next steps that will improve things.
  4. Same with anything else they do: going somewhere, buying something, etc. Especially if their action is motivated by the emotion of being upset/frustrated - they should force themselves to sit on their hands, or distract themselves with something, or express the negative emotion into singing or drawing or dancing or yelling in the closet - just don't do something that will make things worse.
  5. If they have some daily routines or life cycles or people influences that keep on feeding the negative patterns - then they should change the circumstances, move somewhere, get rid of those friends, stop watching those particular movies or listening to that music - in short whatever in their lifestyle is part of the nutrient for the pathological patterns should be removed.
  6. So, in summary, they should get in the habit of watching their mind for destructive intentions and replace them with constructive intentions. They can't act positively if their mind is negative - so they should get in the habit of only thinking useful thoughts, and stopping useless/negative thoughts.
  7. First, they will forget this and get carried away by the emotions - but they should keep repeating to themselves, every day, for a long long time until it gets better: "only do what will help, don't do what will make it worse" - and then with time it will become second nature.
  8. Eventually, (once they get used to NOT acting negatively) it becomes an exercise in always being in good mood. Your entire life becomes a game of accumulating good mood. The more good mood you have, the more opportunities you will see for getting even better mood, through healthy and creative means. And when you are in good mood, it becomes contagious and people around you get caught in your good mood too - and then you can help them by teaching this same principle.

Something along these lines should help both the relatives and the drug abusers themselves. The idea is to show them the rational way to go in the right direction, imbue faith in this rational way, give some specific details, and show the glimpse of the end result. It may seem simplistic and kinda too obvious to be useful, but this idea of only doing what helps at all levels (speaking, acting, lifestyle, thinking, mood) is for some reason very difficult to internalize. Once they have internalized it, they can figure out the details as they go, and it's just a matter of time until it gets better.

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This job gives a lot of opportunity to put wisdom and compassion into practice. In average, I am in contract with about 5000 people every year. All of them in need of help and support one way or the other.

You are very lucky. Being rightly motivated this can be a great opportunity to help others as well as make merit for your self.

In my personal life, thinking and meditation on the three marks of Dukkha, Non-self and impermanence has helped tremendously. I soemtimes think that "if only the users of our service could think like that, it would be so much easier for them".

The main objective of insight is to see things as there are (Yathā Bhūta ñāna Dassana) hence develop revulsion (Nibbida). This can happen in many ways though realising the three marks of existence and developing understating of the Dependent Origination process. Both are necessary as per some teachers.

Example: Very often relatives of drug users do the exact opposite of whar would be a good strategy, they yell, demand the person to stop and the next moment they give them money for "stuff in the apartment and food". Another classic is this "My partner is the cause of my sepair because he drinks/drugs".

As you say people do find causes to blame for their despair on outside sources. Understanding or rationalising this at a logical level does help a bit but this understanding can also change hence you have to realise it through meditation pratice. Firstly you have to talk some sense and then get them to pratice. Also ego and emotions which we all have defies all logic hence do not try to be too logical and persuasive. Just let them understand though their pratice but know enough sense to entice them to give a fair trial to meditation.

Also there are some research how Vipassana helps in addiction recovery and mental health. Goto Vipassana Research Institute research index here and then look under the titles "Drug Addiction" and "Psychiatry and Health" which might also help you in your line of work.

If compassion is the wish for others not to suffer, and I have a very firm conviction about what would be a good way for them to suffer less, how can I best convey this? I can't say "you should meditate on the three marks" and "your partner isn't causing your despair, you are". For one it would ruin the dialogue and also I'm supposed to support the users perspective. I cannot use personal experience because I am a so called "professional".

Sometimes the users may not be in the best mental frame to receive the Dhamma. In this case the best is give them time to adjust and have a more balanced mind. Once they are in a conducive state of mind then perhaps you can point out there is a techniques like so and so which might also help in your problems.

When in distress people loose in touch will reality, i.e, misidentification of what is experienced - ignorance in short. When ignorance dominates you will never see anything clearly as you have to cut through all this. You have to wait for it to settle a bit through dialog and counselling. If a person thinks too much or worries then there is a chance that this is aggravated by perversions or distortions of perceptions1.

Also you might be able to share some testimonials on the benefit of vipassana with these people to inspire them. There are some on youtube: Youtube Content on Vipassana Meditation Experience.

1 More on perversions or distortions of perceptions see: Vipallasa Sutta

  • Pardon my correction friend, but where you wrote Revolution I believe you meant to write Revulsion. Thank you for sharing your insight – sova Dec 12 '15 at 18:28
  • @sova well spotted! Thanks for point this out. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Dec 13 '15 at 2:36

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