A useful wellness inventory -- HALTS

01 Jan 2015 16:21
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This post is a response to inquiries for more info about HALTS (mentioned in the Health and Safety outline posted here last week).


HALTS is an acronym for a wellness inventory: are you too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or taking yourself too Seriously?

I learned about HALT early in Narcotics Anonymous recovery. It originated a long time ago (guessing 1940s-1950s) through Alcoholics Anonymous members crowdsourcing ways their relapses could have been prevented. 12-steppers love acronyms, slogans, and self-inventories they can use for journaling, and HALT is all three. Not to mention, it is a serious lifesaver that I've used for communicating when I'm not well when or I'm supporting someone who is not well. It beats the hell out of "are you ok," "how are you," and other BS platitudes!

In NA New Orleans, Houston, Birmingham, Mobile, Charlotte, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, St Louis, etc. I always heard HALT, but in Chicago there was this one female old-timer who insisted that NA World Services had endorsed HALTS at some literature convention in the foggy past. No reference, but I fell in love: the S fills such an important gap!!!


Prolonged lack of sleep as the primary cause of psychosis I learned from the Freedom Center in Western Mass. Will Hall maintains that it's true, as does my friend Lee Hurter and and other key current and former members.

Dr Mike Smith, who developed the 5-needle NADA ear acupuncture protocol, actually unofficially endorsed the way in which the Freedom Center broke protocol. NADA is supposed to only be done in a group setting, but FC NADA techs would do housecalls when a member couldn't sleep for an extended span, especially during psych med withdrawal against medical advice. A sleepless crazy person fell asleep every time and woke up sane. Promoting sleep helped a lot of people stay out of the hospital.

Nursing orients many procedures towards promoting sleep. The primacy of "tired" makes sense from professional perspectives and recovery perspectives.

HALTS and suicidality

The Western Mass RLC where I used to work has a suicidality policy that prohibits non-consensual calling of police. From their alternatives to suicide support groups and other sources, they're convinced that it is very rare for someone to actually want to die. Instead, people kill themselves because they are unable to meet needs that often include sleep and human connection.

When someone discloses suicidal ideation, RLC workers don't ask about a plan and means, but instead inventory why the person wants to die, what needs they are despairing can't be met in any other way, and then strategize how to meet those needs. The plan sometimes includes inpatient or outpatient psych treatment, or addiction recovery support.

Using HALTS in prevention and aftercare

In high-stress situations, I'll work with trainees to think through what excess or deficiency of each of the inventory items feels like. For instance, "lonely for others" is what we normally think of — an unmet need for empathy and human connection — but what about "lonely for self" — an inability to get any personal space for way too long? It is often productive to extend HALTS in this way. At street protests, I suggest that "too cold" sometimes belongs on the list — and hypothermia masquerades as tiredness.

HALT (hadn't learned the S yet) was at the forefront of my mind when I was catching people coming out of Zuccotti Park during the raid of Occupy Wall Street. Because people's food, sleeping area/home, social network, etc had just gone in a way that tends to make one chokingly angry. I focused on when they last ate and how they would get their next meal, where they were going to sleep that night, who they could get in touch with, how to find their jailed friends, and healthy venting of anger.

You can imagine how HALTS might be a good part of domestic violence/sexual assault aftercare options counseling and safety planning. Someone could even organize a personalized wellness plan around hunger-satiation, anger-feeling, lonely-response, tired-abatement, and too serious-intervention strategies.

I think HALTS is wonderfully robust and I love it very much. Let me know if you find it useful.

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