LOCAL psychotherapist Phil Gatt is pioneering a ground-breaking new therapy program to treat stress, chronic pain and addiction in WA.
An evidence-based mental training program developed by American professor Eric Garland, Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) has undergone more than 12 clinical trials and received $40m (USD) in federal research grants.
Mr Gatt will be the first practitioner to use the MORE treatment in WA, holding workshops around Greater Fremantle.
So what makes it different from the myriad of other treatment programs available?
“MORE has been shown to be twice as effective as standard therapy for treating addiction and chronic pain,” Mr Gatt says.
“The eight week group program unites complementary aspects of mindfulness training, ‘third wave’ cognitive-behavioural therapy, and principles from positive psychology into an integrative therapeutic approach.
“Prof Garland developed MORE by translating fundamental discoveries from neuroscience into therapeutic strategies that reduce addictive behaviour, emotional distress, and pain, while simultaneously increasing healthy pleasure, meaning in life, and self-transcendence.
“As far as he is aware the MORE program has never been delivered in Australia and I am the first to be trained in the west. Hopefully many more West Australian clinicians can do his programme.”
Since 2011, Mr Gatt has worked with leading not-for-profits treating hundreds of adults and young people dependent upon nicotine, alcohol, other drugs and with behavioural dependencies.
He’s also worked with their ‘significant others’ – mums, dads, caregivers, brothers, sisters and children – explaining how best to support their loved ones.
“My experiences have taught me that the underlying drivers of dependency are often acknowledged but rarely treated in community healthcare settings,” Mr Gatt says.
“I am talking here about trauma and other effects of adverse childhood experiences on people. Dependency on substances and behaviours is multi-faceted and occurs over many years.”
Mr Gatt says MORE involves teaching recovering addicts how to “savour” the natural highs in life again; a crucial element missing from other treatment programs, which can lead to relapse.
“Use of substances, stress and pain dysregulate the natural reward circuitry in the brain but thanks to neuro-plasticity and this program we are able to restore these functions,” Mr Gatt says.
“I did one of the meditation exercises with this person around scenes from nature that he wanted to focus on. On completion I asked him to open his eyes and as he did so he burst out laughing. I asked him to share what he was experiencing and he said he had not felt as good as this naturally for as long as he could remember. With some embarrassment he shared that he actually felt ‘high’.”
Mr Gatt says MORE was also effective in treating one of his patients who had chronic shoulder pain: “On guiding him through a meditation, he self-reported that the pain reduced in intensity from a 7 out of 10 to a 1 out of 10.”
Originally from Barry, a port in south Wales, Mr Gatt immigrated to WA in 1987, before settling in Greater Fremantle in 2000. He currently lives in Coolbellup.
After years of working for not-for-profits – treating people with dependency issues in rehab, prisons and the community – Mr Gatt recently opened a private practice and became a trainer for the WA Association for Mental Health.
“First and foremost the two most important aspects for change are this: the therapeutic relationship between client and therapist and the client’s motivation for change,” he says.
Mr Gatt is planning to hold a MORE workshop in Hilton in early 2023 and is in talks with Beacon Yoga Centre, Notre Dame University and WA not-for-profits about offering the treatment program. For more info see philgatt.com.au