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Using a 'social atom' on the road to recovery

March 21, 2013
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Whom or what are you carrying with you in your life today?

Who has had an impact (either positive or negative)?

Where is your disease stemming from?

Where will your recovery come from?


These are the types of questions that can be answered by a Social Atom. Michael Murphy, MFA, MSW, LCSW, described this assessment tool in a recent Addiction Professional webinar titled “Using the Social Atom to Treat Addicts and Assess Their Potential for Recovery.”

The tool is almost entirely subjective and gathers information about a person’s life. It is basically a map that uses shapes of various sizes to show the impact of each entity on a person’s life.

For example, circles represent women and squares represent men. So, the person creating the social atom would draw the appropriate shape for his/her gender on a piece of paper, and then place other circles and squares around his or her shape to show their influences.  Triangles represent anything non-human, including religion, occupation, pets, neighborhood, house, etc.  Clients are invited to alter the size and proximity of each shape to represent significant relationships.

 Because some people or places that may have made an impact on your life may no longer be around, these deceased entities are represented by dotted lines around the symbol.

Below is an example of someone’s social atom:



Shannon Brys

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