Do’s and Don’ts in Psychotherapy for People Who Have Addictions

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Choosing a therapist or a rehabilitation center to help you move past an addiction is an important part of the recovery process. Going into psychotherapy can help you to learn new skills, change your emotional responses and behaviors, and make the right choices for the future so that you can stay clean or sober.

However, there are right and wrong ways to approach therapy, and if you are going into any form of psychotherapy such as CBT, you should approach it in a way that will allow you to get the most out of it. These do’s and don’ts of psychotherapy for people who have addictions will hopefully put you on the right track.

Don’t Choose a Therapist Who Seeks to Treat the Addiction and Not the Person

While many therapists approach each person as a multi-faceted individual, others do not. It can be too easy to approach addicts’ as nothing more than that. Some therapists will attempt to approach your substance use disorder as the problem, rather than the result of a problem, and any treatment you receive will suffer as a result. The idea that addiction is a disorder or a disease can be a valuable one, but in psychotherapy, it undermines the ability of the therapist to treat the causes of that disease rather than the disease itself.

Do Choose a Therapist Who Approaches You as a Human Being

Substance use disorders are caused by complex reasons, which can change based on the individual. For example, stress is the most common cause of addiction. Many people use to escape from stress, boredom, pain, anxiety, or trauma. And, nearly 40% of all addicts suffer from a co-morbid disorder such as depression, anxiety, or trauma. Your therapist should recognize this and work to identify the complex reasoning behind your addiction, so they can help you to treat the cause and not the symptoms.

Don’t Expect It To Be Easy

Most of us hope that seeking out treatment means that someone will come along and hand us instant freedom from addiction. Unfortunately, this is never the case. Addiction therapy can help you to recognize the problems behind addiction, triggers, and comorbid disorders, but it cannot cure your substance use disorder. There is no easy way out and no fast cure to addiction.

Do Expect and Plan to Work Hard for Your Sobriety

Plan to work hard for your sobriety, to learn as much as you can, and to spend time with your therapist. Therapy is often painful, emotional, and difficult, because you will have to face important truths about yourself, your life, and sometimes your family. You must commit to putting in the time and the hard work to make yourself better. Your therapist should be able to help you build the tools you need to stay clean or sober, but you will have to learn them and use them as needed. For example, a good therapist will help you to explore your emotions and problems preceding substance use, so that you can identify the causes and triggers for using. This can help you to move forward, because you can learn to combat the behavior that leads to using, so you can make changes.


Don’t Be Ashamed of Addictive Behavior

While it’s easy to be ashamed of cravings and triggers that lead you towards substance use, choosing to be ashamed to hide them from your therapist, or to be self critical are not solutions. Similarly, your therapist should not blame you, criticize you, or attempt to suppress your addictive behavior.

Do Work Hard to Control It 

While you shouldn’t feel ashamed of cravings or thoughts about drugs or alcohol, you should work hard to fight cravings. Addictive thoughts and cravings are an opportunity to discuss what you are feeling or what triggered the thought with your therapist, so that you can both reach a deeper understanding of your problems, the causes behind your addiction, and the steps you can take to stay clean.

Don’t Schedule Your Progress

While it can be tempting to put yourself on a schedule -12 weeks of therapy and you’re done – this can be a mistake. Everyone moves forward and progresses at their own pace, and you may need more time. Even quality therapists will sometimes attempt to force patients through according to a schedule and this can be detrimental to your eventual success.

Do Tailor Your Therapy to Your Progress

It is important to step back and recognize when you still need help, when you aren’t ready to complete a program, or when you need more therapy. The most meaningful results of therapy cannot be judged by time but rather by your thoughts, behavior, and more importantly, your approach to your substance. Most of the things that you need to aim for in successful addiction therapy cannot be measured by time, and are difficult to measure by anything else. Your therapist should be able to recognize that, personalize your therapy, extend it if necessary, and make adaptations to ensure your success.

Don’t See Your Therapist as a Friend

Your therapist is not there to make you happy, tell you nice things, or make you feel good about yourself. They are there to force you to do difficult things, to drag you through painful memories and emotions, and to help you to approach the darkest side of yourself. While many therapists will attempt to emotionally bond with you to make therapy easier, they are not your friend. This is especially crucial when your therapist has a shared history of drug use, because it can make them seem much more like a peer or a friend.

Do Treat Your Therapist as a Mentor

You are paying your therapist so that you can learn from them. Treat your therapist like a mentor, treat them with respect, and remember that no matter what they say, it is in your best interest. Maintaining a relationship where you understand that your therapist is working in your best interest, but will not always be nice to you, will allow you to make decisions and work for things even when they are more difficult.

Don’t Be Defensive

Therapy often involves being told that we are wrong, that we behave in ways that are problematic, or being forced to recognize ugly sides of ourselves. While it is natural that you would be defensive in these instances, defensive behavior prohibits you from moving forward.

Do Recognize That You Have Problems

Therapy is often about recongizing that you have problems, taking steps to learn how to correct them, and working with your therapist to create a new behavior to replace the old one. By accepting that criticisms are constructive and not intended to be hurtful, you can take them and use them to move yourself in a direction that will allow you to heal from substance abuse and the initial causes of your addiction.

Don’t Take Results for Granted

While working with a therapist can help you to make dramatic changes to your life, emotional and mental state, you can’t take those changes for granted. A solution now will help you, but it’s important to monitor your status, maintain skills you have learned, and recognize when you are backsliding.

Do Follow Up

Taking the time to follow up, attend group therapy, and hold yourself accountable for your recovery will help you to stay clean for the long-term. Your therapist can only help you while they are seeing you, but you can follow up, take initiative on your own, and work to ensure that what you learn in therapy continues to work for you.

A therapist can help you to move past your addiction by working with you to change your thought patterns and emotional responses, help you to create healthier coping mechanisms, and by helping you to make changes that will allow you to be happy. However, to achieve this, both you and the therapist must start from the right place with the right intentions.

Hopefully this list of do’s and don’ts will help you on your way to choosing a therapist who can help you.

The Anaheim Lighthouse is a modern and effective addiction treatment center in Southern California. To talk to us about treatment options at our affordable drug and alcohol rehab that fit your needs, call (844) 494-4939.

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