Recovery from an eating disorder, addiction, or other mental health challenge is an incredible undertaking that requires courage and stamina. The individual has to make choices towards recovery in the presence of distress and discomfort. We cannot expect every day to go perfectly and must understand that there will be moments of doubt, mistakes, or simple slips in staying the course. In fact, those moments can provide very useful information about triggers, places of pain, and areas of focus. Still, recovering persons, support persons, and providers may understandably worry about these instances as a sign of an impending relapse.
Below is a Stoplight Plan that can be useful in recovery, especially when working with support persons and clinician team members to determine more support is needed. It is particularly important to assess progress overall, not moment by moment or even day to day. Progress assessed over a week’s time is recommended, so that one can focus on the successes and achievements as well as the areas of struggle. Furthermore, it is important to have a plan of action in writing and shared with others, one that clearly defines goals and progress measurements (i.e. Bonnie will attend two support meetings this week.).
When a recovering individual is on a green light, it means that, over the last week, they have maintained or made progress in recovery as measured by their treatment plan, nutritional plan, behavioral contract, and/or another goal. We are looking for progress rather than perfection. We are also focused on the ability to quickly recover from any moments or behavior choices that take one away from recovery.
It is advised that support persons and clinicians emphasize strengths, successes, and behaviors that are working rather than focus solely on problem areas. Reinforcing positive actions will help individuals feel competent and confident in recovery, and they will be more likely to choose these behaviors in the future.
A recovering individual on yellow is someone who is struggling and needs support and care to get back on track. Overall, progress is going in the wrong direction, and the recovering person, support persons, and clinicians are concerned.
At the yellow stage, it is recommended that a discussion among all support persons and clinicians is had to circle the wagons of support and help the individual reset and focus on goals. A clinician may call a “huddle” or start a written communication (with appropriate consents in place). The recovering individual has one to two weeks to demonstrate that they can get moving in the right direction. This time is a great opportunity to assess adding in some additional supports like online groups, family time, or an extra session with a clinician.
A red light means that the recovering person has not had success with getting back on track and it is time to discuss more intensive treatment options. This discussion is meant to be a motivator, not a threat.
A fear that many recovering persons have is that their clinicians and support persons will give up on them and tell them that can’t help them anymore. And, while it is true that there are times when the individual’s behavior requires support beyond what a clinician or support person can offer, it is also crucial to give the message that you believe that they can do it with added support. As long as the person is medically and psychiatrically stable, the clinicians and support persons can elect to give it another week for the individual to move back into recovery before referral to more intensive care.
The use of the Stoplight Plan can greatly reduce anxiety and worry about what to do when challenges arise during recovery. It also outlines how to give an individual both space and support as they undertake this difficult journey. Please feel free to share this plan with others.
Never give up hope!
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