The Lion King

Acceptance Commitment Therapy and Addiction

Joseph Troncale M.D.

I always loved The Lion King: the music, the story, the happy ending. It dawned on me the other day that it is a great allegory for addiction and acceptance commitment therapy. If you have ever seen the book The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris, the book is a great introduction to Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT.)  In a nutshell,  ACT is all about teaching people to accept their feelings rather than run away from them. By accepting whatever you feel rather than escaping the feeling, it allows you to stay in the moment and move toward your values rather than internalize the feeling as suffering or needing to escape.

To The Lion King: Here we have little Simba having been traumatized by the evil Uncle Scar and being fed the lie that Simba was responsible for his father’s death. Simba internalizes the shame and guilt and runs away from family and his legacy believing that he has ruined everything for everybody. So Simba meets up with the warthog and the meercat, Poomba and Tamir. The philosophy of “hakuna mutada” (No worries) takes the trio on adventures which, while taking Simba away from his past and his feelings, really are not working for him. He recognizes that his destiny is being thwarted by his denial and cut-off from the pride of lions he should be leading. The wise shaman, Rafiki, literally knocks some sense into Simba and gets him out of the past and helps him to deal with his present circumstances. Rafili’s “therapy” gets Simba on the road to his successful destiny and to redemption.

This is the outline of all recovery. Every addict internalizes shame and guilt, represses it, and then acts to keep it repressed. This moves one toward suffering. Every time uncomfortable feelings surface, the move is made to anesthetize the uncomfortable feelings.  If through therapy, AA, life experiences or a kind word, the addicted person comes to a place of self-validation and acceptance of their feelings, sobriety and a full life.

Let me know what you think.

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