woman getting individual counseling

5 Things to Look for in a Recovery Therapist


Sober Recovery Expert Author

woman getting individual counseling

Finding a good recovery therapist is a lot like dating: you may have to go through a few until you find “Mr. or Mrs. Right.” And like any relationship, it’s easier if you know what you want. With so many recovery therapists “in the sea,” here are five important things you should be looking for.

1. The Right Credentials

Recovery therapists include psychologists, clinical social workers, psychiatrists, and marriage and family counselors. Your chosen therapist should be a specialist in drug and alcohol abuse and have certification to prove it. Psychiatrists also rely on medication as part of their recovery technique. But this might not suit those afraid of becoming medication dependent. However, no real differences have been found in the success rate of these therapists.

Like any relationship, it’s easier if you know what you want. Here are 5 important things you should be looking for.

Who you should be steering clear of are those with little or no formal training, such as certain counselors. A 1995 survey of readers of Consumer Reports found that while other therapists were rated as having a relatively equal level of effectiveness, marriage counselors were rated low in terms of their success. So don’t feel bad for checking their licenses. In fact, psychologists need to be licensed before they can take on the title of “psychologist.” Clinical social workers have the letter “L” in front of their qualifications, as in LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker). This may not be mandatory in all states, so if you’re unsure just ask. If all you get is a vague answer, well, that’s a bad sign.

2. More Than a Decade of Experience

It’s no surprise that the more experience recovery therapists have, the more successful they are in what they do. Avoid being the experimental project of a novice therapist and look for a practitioner with at least 10 years of experience. However, to scope out your veteran therapist, you should still ask questions like:

  • How many clients have you seen?
  • How many faced similar challenges to mine?
  • What has your success rate been?

You want evidence of a variety of approaches used and periodic skill upgrades in line with new challenges. If the therapist is dogmatic and applies a one-size-fits-all approach, you won’t get much in return.

3. A History of Addiction

A therapist who’s a former addict may prove a source of inspiration. To assess whether or not this will aid your recovery, you should ask:

  • How far gone were you before your recovery started?
  • What caused the addiction?
  • How did you clean yourself up?

The answers should be spontaneous and heartfelt. If you feel like you’re trying to get water from a rock, think again. Also, check that the recovery method used resonates with you. If it was purely religion-oriented, for example, and you are not religious yourself, you’ll struggle through it. But don’t confine yourself to the therapist-cum-former addict either if everything else hits the mark. Many therapists without this background can do a fine job as well.

4. An Action Plan

An effective therapist outlines an action plan from the details of your evaluation form. If it’s decided that you will need 18 treatment sessions, for instance, your therapist should spell out the treatment goals and a step-by-step plan of how they’ll be achieved. Without such a plan, it will be difficult to monitor your progress. Your therapist should also make notes during each session for effective monitoring. You’re not the only client in the book so he or she can’t possibly remember every important detail of your session. A good therapist should also have a backup plan to ensure your transition to life after therapy is a smooth one. This will help you to avoid a relapse.

5. Feeling of Safety

The most important thing in any recovery plan is trust. So even if the therapist scores A+ for everything else but you don’t feel comfortable with him or her, you don’t have a winning solution. A therapist who inspires trust will value your opinion and will have a caring and compassionate nature. The therapist will draw you out gently and help articulate problems you can’t put a finger on yourself. You’ll be happy to spill your guts to someone like that.

Addiction recovery is a long and rocky journey. You need to be patient and cooperative in order for your therapist to do a great job. If therapy becomes too easy or ineffectual though, feel free to talk about changing it up. If your therapist is unwilling, you should start heading towards the door. A practical tip is to go for a therapist who’s near your home and affordable. You don’t want to pile financial woes onto your existing recovery woes.

With all of these pointers in mind, you have all the tools to find your recovery therapist in no time—and know that he or she is a keeper.

If you or someone you know is seeking therapy for addiction, please visit our directory of counseling and therapy centers or call 800-772-8219 to start the path to recovery today.

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