What Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has to do to succeed in rehab

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford leave his home early Thursday May 1, 2014.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford leave his home early Thursday May 1, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

This week, Rob Ford supposedly undertook the first step to making an important change in himself and his life: admitting that he has a problem. A key factor in whether he will follow through on the subsequent steps is the motive for his admission. Most people would assume the catalyst for his decision to seek help was the revelation of new videos showing Ford in some of his more shameful moments.

However, the real question is what about those videos or their fallout led Ford to realize he has a genuine problem?

  • Was this the first time he truly saw how ugly he could get while intoxicated?
  • Was the embarrassment too much for him?
  • Did he feel remorse for his wife or anyone else he may have offended during his drunken rants?
  • Was he mortified at what his children would think of him?
  • Did these latest incidents prove to him that, no matter where he is, his true thoughts and feelings are going to be captured and displayed for the world to see?
  • Was he worried that his disgraceful comments would turn off even his staunchest supporters and thus cost him the upcoming mayoral election?

Many more such questions can and have been asked throughout the media and amongst the population these past few days. Not having had a chance to assess Mayor Ford myself, I can only speculate along with everyone else as to his true motives for entering rehab. As a psychologist who has worked with many people in the same situation as Ford, I expect that even he does not know the real reason he now claims to want help for his addictions—no matter what he may tell himself or others.

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Most people struggling with an addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling or anything else that is ruining their lives will take that first step to improvement many times before finally making it to the point that they finally have control over their demons. They usually falter within the first month or two in the beginning of their efforts but are still prone to relapses even a few years later. That is why certain models of recovery refer to people as addicts even if they have not engaged in their self-destructive behaviour for decades; it is a lifelong process—one that must begin for the right reasons and with a realistic mindset.

No one should be labeled as overly pessimistic or cynical if they believe that Ford’s true motive for entering rehab at this point is to rehabilitate his image prior to the impending mayoral election. Based on my own professional experiences with people who have experienced that key moment of sincere insight when they have finally attained the proper perspective to challenge their addiction, Ford has not arrived at the same state of mind. He may feel humbled by his addiction at this point but I did not get the same sense as when I witness someone truly come to terms with the fact that their problem is stronger than they are. (Of course, I see such individuals in a much different context from Ford’s public declaration.)

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READ MORE: Rob Ford to step aside, seek help for substance abuse

In order for Ford to succeed, he must maintain the realization that his struggle with substance abuse and the damage it is causing really is as bad as he thought it was in that moment he decided he needed to change. Many people get to that point and then, when they feel a little less stressed, anxious, distressed or hopeless, they start to think about their problem in a different light and fall back into their old maladaptive belief system. In addition to forgetting or downplaying how bad things really are, people in Ford’s situation are susceptible to fooling themselves that they:

  • Can manage their addiction on their own
  • Can engage in their self-destructive behaviour in a more moderate and thus less problematic manner
  • Do not need to take more extreme measures in order to prevent themselves from further harming their own lives and those of the people closest to them.

READ MORE: Politicians call on Rob Ford to resign after newest tape

Another critical belief that addicts must adopt—and this is particularly relevant to Ford—is that there are no more second or last chances. To paraphrase the mantra of many successfully recovered alcoholics, Ford needs to fully believe that, even though he may have one more drug or alcohol binge in him, he does not have another recovery in him.

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By the same token, “slips” are extremely common throughout the process of recovery. Ford needs to be surrounded by people who will hold him to account but who will also show compassion and help him not be overwhelmed by shame; this will increase his chances of being able to work through any such setbacks and continue to progress toward a much more adaptive life.

Extremely rare is the person who can stay on the preceding arduous path while in the public spotlight and trying to manage very stressful responsibilities. If Ford insists on returning to office and running for mayor over the next few months, such a decision will provide some insights into his real motivation for seeking help at this time.

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