Therapy is a process for problem solving. When life becomes difficult, many people find relief in talking their problems over with a professional person who has no bias about the outcome of the situation. This means that the person (or therapist) can remain detached and see all aspects of the situation. They do not care which way the decision goes for the client.
Most of the time, family and friends have a certain outcome they want for the addict in their life. This makes it difficult to talk with them about the situation. A therapist can guide the client toward their best and happiest outcomes without giving advice or input. The therapist listens and remains apart from the outcomes, most often giving feedback and reminding the client of what they have said.
Most people, not just addicts, go to therapy because they have patterns of behavior that are unhealthy or upsetting. This happens most often in relationships, whether they are with a spouse, parents, children or at work. Clients often have become confused about how to proceed when all their solutions to these problems are not enough to resolve issues.
Addiction therapy addresses the patterns of behavior that are consistent with substance use and abuse. Most addicts have a problem with relationships and learning new ways of behaving in relationships. Many have destroyed marriages, family relations with parents, siblings, and their own children. Repairing these relationships can be difficult and confusing.
When addiction takes over an addict’s life, they leave behind healthier behaviors. They begin to lie about many things to cover their addiction. They may steal from people close to them to get their drugs or alcohol. They learn to hide their behavior and their deepest feelings. The drugs or alcohol become their only friend, lover, and partner. This damages the relationships with everyone who cares about the addict. Learning how to grow back into healthy personal relationships is hard work that needs some assistance from time to time.
Issues Addiction Therapy Can Address
Other addicts may have begun to drink and use drugs to get past feelings about a traumatic event or way of life. Some have childhood trauma that they need to learn how to cope with. Others have had military traumas or life events that they do not know how to get past without their addiction. All of these traumatic experiences have likely contributed to addiction, and will need some therapy to work through.
The key component to addiction therapy is the ongoing recovery (abstinence) of the client. If they begin to drink or use drugs, it is not wise for the therapist to continue therapy with that client. The client should be stable in their recovery before attempting to work with a therapist. Most therapists who specialize in addiction therapy will recommend that the addict also remains active in a recovery support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
What to Expect in Addiction Therapy
Addicts can expect to gain a supportive listener in therapy. The therapist is a paid professional who can ask the right questions to assist you in coming to terms with the past, learn to make healthier choices in your present, and teach skills to help the addict navigate relationships that are on rocky ground.
Some therapy will last six to eight sessions, and other therapy will last for ongoing periods of time, depending on the client and the kinds of help they are looking for. Setting this goal with the therapist is an important part of beginning to use therapy. A good therapist will ask the client why they came to therapy and what they are looking for. These are important questions, because most addicts are not clear about what they actually need.
Early in the recovery process, addicts may think that they need to clear up all the issues that have come up in their lives during their addiction. This is not only impossible, but dangerous. Without the guidance of supportive people who understand addiction and recovery, they can become overwhelmed with it all. It is important to understand that therapy will be a slow process, just as recovery will be a slow process. Things did not become broken in one day or one week, and therefore cannot be fixed in one day or one week.
This does not mean that you are signing on for years of therapy. Short periods of therapy are usually enough to work through issues that crop up in recovery. As the tools are used to get through one issue, the client can leave therapy for periods to allow them to work out one issue at a time. If they need more support, or to learn new tools, the addict can go back to therapy again. Very seldom is it necessary or a good idea to go into therapy without setting goals and a time frame.
How Do I Find an Addiction Therapist?
You may have friends in recovery who are working with a therapist. This can be a good referral. Other addicts may have insurance benefits or job-related therapy available and will need to go through those sources to find a therapist within their provider's network. You may find referrals to therapists from the addiction treatment center you attended or a local agency that provides treatment services.
You may not feel comfortable with the first therapist you contact or consult with, and will need to go to more than one before you find the good fit you are looking for. This person is being paid to assist you in your personal life. There is a need for you to feel trust and safety in the relationship. If you do not feel that the therapist you are talking with is a good fit for you, do not go back. Continue your search for the therapist that feels right for you.
A good rule of thumb is to work with a therapist who is the same gender. This means that a male therapist will be the best fit for a man, a woman for a woman, etc. This is not a hard and fast rule, but a good one to heed. Most addicts have issues of a sexual nature during their active addiction and this may be a difficult issue to work through with a therapist who is the opposite gender. Most therapists will see this conflict and refer the client to another therapist.
Not All Therapists Are Appropriate for Recovering Addicts
Addiction therapists have training that prepares them as a specialist in working with addiction and recovery issues. Some work in treatment centers or hospitals. Many are in recovery themselves and have personal, first-hand knowledge of issues surrounding addiction and recovery. Not all therapists are trained in addiction. This is something to look for when selecting the therapist you will work with. Ask for their experience and background in addiction. A good understanding of the particular issues of addiction is an important factor in beginning therapy.