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Meet Dr. A. Tom Horvath of Practical Recovery Psychology Group in La Jolla

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. A. Tom Horvath.

Dr. Horvath, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I opened a clinical psychology practice in San Diego in 1984. Many of my early clients had substance problems, but they had come to see me for other reasons, such as relationship problems, work stress, difficulty relaxing, etc. They were aware of their substance problems, but were unwilling to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or anything similar. AA was and is the dominant approach, but they wanted something different. I began learning how to help them using a self-empowering approach. In AA participants accept that they are powerless, for life, over alcohol. Instead, I help individuals become more self-controlled and self-reliant. Some then choose to abstain, and some successfully moderate.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The primary struggle has been to gain acceptance in the addiction treatment community that a self-empowering approach is legitimate.

I’m not suggesting that it is better (or worse) than the powerlessness approach in general, but it is better for some individuals. Everyone seeking to resolve a problematic addictive behavior should be told that these two approaches, and others, are available.

Please tell us about Practical Recovery Psychology Group.
Starting in the late 1990s, we began to grow as a company. At present there are three full-time psychologists, admin staff, and over a handful of part-time staff, including Marriage Family Therapists, an alcohol and drug counselor, a hypnotherapist, and several holistic healing practitioners. We also work closely with affiliated professionals such as recovery coaches, acupuncture centers, and detox facilities. In our office clients attend individual, family and group sessions. We create individualized, realistic plans (“practical recovery”) for how they can change. Their plans for change involve working with us, as well as projects on their own outside the office.

I’m proudest of how every plan for change is unique to that client. In most treatment facilities the goal is to fit the client into a “program.”

At Practical Recovery, we create a plan for that unique individual, a plan that specifically addresses that individual’s goals, values and situation.

Also, for some clients, we use a treatment team approach. Now almost 20 years old, this kind of treatment team appears to be unique in the US. We get clients from around the world. The treatment team is often less expensive, and always more therapeutically intensive, than “going off to rehab.” The client typically has 3 or 4 individual (or family) sessions per day, with different professionals, for one or more weeks. Up to 10 professionals may be involved on the team. In rehab (residential treatment) the client might have one individual session per week, at most one per day. Because of our intensity the client can make rapid progress. In rehab much of the cost covers facility and household staff, and group treatment is the primary modality. Rehab is a good option for some, but the clients who seek us out are looking for a more sophisticated and personalized approach.

What are your plans for the future? What are you looking forward to or planning for – any big changes?
We will continue to grow as the public realizes there is more than one approach to resolving problematic addictive behavior. We also devote significant effort to promoting SMART Recovery in San Diego. SMART uses the same self-empowering approach, in a way that is suitable for use in a mutual help group. These groups are free. By promoting SMART, we are helping to make the self-empowering approach more widely available:


  • Initial (evaluation and planning) session: $200 (approx. 50 minutes long). This session can be arranged by calling the intake line at 800-977-6110. Follow-up sessions: typically $200, but exact rate depends on the specific provider.

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