“Smart people learn from “failures” and see what is missing from their skill set, adjust, and move forward. Failure is a dress rehearsal for success.”
Dr. Nancy B. Irwin, Psy.D, is a clinical psychologist on staff at Seasons in Malibu, a word-class addiction treatment center in Malibu, California. She is an expert in trauma, which is behind 95% of addictions. In addition to CBT, REBT, and psychodynamic psychotherapy approaches, she is trained in EMDR, Emotion Free Therapy, therapeutic hypnosis, and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NPL) — and is able to tailor each client’s personal treatment with this wide range of skills and training. Dr. Irwin is a frequent media guest on a variety of psychological issues — including addictions and trauma — having appeared on Anderson Cooper, The Doctors, Megyn Kelly, and more. She is also the author of YOU-TURN: Changing Direction in Midlife and co-author of Breaking Through: Stories of Hope and Recovery.
Thanks so much for doing this! What is your backstory?
I am originally from Atlanta, Georgia, where I was trained as an opera singer. My voice was not flawless enough for the “Big Time” and I did not want to teach, but I discovered I had other gifts to offer on stage: comedy. I moved to N.Y.C. and was a professional stand-up comedian for over 9 years. I traveled all over the country and had a couple tours of U.S. military bases in Korea. Then I moved to Los Angeles in 1994 when I heard Hollywood needed more blondes.
Tell us a bit about how you went from stand-up comedy to mental health?
Oh, the road from comedy to mental health is very short indeed. I did well as a stand-up comedian and had a modicum of success but found that I was bored a lot, seeing as you only work about 30 minutes a day as a comedian. I began volunteering in my community at a shelter for sexually abused teens. I absolutely fell in love with it; this epiphany awoke the healer in me and prompted me to return to school and earn my doctorate in psychology, concentrating in trauma and sexual abuse recovery. As a clinical psychologist, I treat the trauma behind addictions.
Who was someone that made a big impact in your professional career and why?
Dr. Lois Lee, the founder and director of Children of the Night, a shelter for sexually trafficked teens. It was through my volunteer work with this amazing organization that I had an epiphany and left entertainment for psychology. She is truly making the world a better place.
What are some of the reasons people become addicts and how does one begin to treat them?
No one chooses to be an addict. Most start using to fit in, look cool, or escape painful feelings. We begin to treat when the person is ready to do their part of therapy. We look at their history, reasons, triggers, and most importantly, work on resolving the trauma underpinning their unhealthy coping skills and creating healthy ones.
Does our current society promote more unhealthy addictions than previous years?
Yes and no. No, in that we have an increasing awareness of addictions and a plethora of treatment options. Yes, in that with more and more sophisticated electronics, there is an ever-expanding menu of choices for online addictions (gaming, shopping, dating, gambling, etc.). I would not say we “promote” more addictions, but there is certainly more availability when it comes to different ways to escape.
What are some simple things people can do to take back more control over their lives and direct them in a positive direction?
Make a list of all the realistic changes you’d like to make (e.g., lose 25 lbs., stop smoking, get a better job) and then write down action steps to attain them. Garner positive support from friends and family and perhaps work with someone (therapist, accountability partner, etc.) so you are held accountable for each baby step. Change is a dynamic process; failure is part of it. Smart people learn from “failures” and see what is missing from their skill set, adjust, and move forward. Failure is a dress rehearsal for success. Every successful person has a litany of failures in their past. Ask them to share their path with you; you might be surprised what you learn.
What are some of the ways we can practice self-care so as not to develop unhealthy habits?
Simply, realizing that you ALWAYS have a choice. When it comes to addictions, you can choose 2–5 minutes of pleasure, quickly followed by shame, guilt, and remorse, or you can choose health. Know that there may be some temporary frustration, anxiety, and physical pain, but it is finite pain.
What are you most proud of?
Making a U-turn in life when I was not fulfilled. I was 44 when I chose to leave entertainment and become a psychologist. I went on to write YOU-TURN: CHANGING DIRECTION IN MIDLIFE to inspire others to make healthy transitions in life. If I can do it, anyone can.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would suggest every citizen volunteer at least one hour per month in their community. Imagine the positive changes that could occur if 2,973,766,920 hours per year were invested into the environment, animal rescues, food services for the disabled or homeless, mentoring, tutoring, coaching, reading to the blind, entertaining the ill or elderly…and more?
How can people follow you and learn more about the work you do?
Here are links to my personal website and social media accounts:
About the author: Jacob Rupp is a coach, author, speaker, podcaster, and rabbi. He is the founder of Lift Your Legacy, a community that helps people live a more authentic life. He has a regular, syndicated column that appears in ThriveGlobal and Authority magazine. To learn more about him or to listen to the Lift Your Legacy podcast, search iTunes or visit his site: liftyourlegacy.live