Individual therapy is defined as one-on-one counseling where a therapist works with a client to help sort out their emotional and psychological issues. The goal of individual therapy is to provide clients with a safe space that allows them to resolve the issues they’re facing.
Individual therapy plays a crucial role in addiction treatment as it typically helps clients identify the factors that contribute to their addiction. It then provides them with skills to fight their triggers. Clients undergo an evaluation first to identify their patterns and history of addiction. This assessment helps therapists customize an effective treatment plan.
A cornerstone of individual therapy (psychotherapy) is to help clients set recovery goals and provide skills that will help prevent relapses. Individual therapy often focuses on teaching clients how to handle stress, how to problem solve, and how to cope with triggers.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Underlying Factors of Addiction
- 2 Benefits of Individual Therapy in Addiction Treatment
- 3 Common Therapeutic Techniques Used in Individual Therapy
- 4 Integrating Individual Therapy with Other Treatments
- 5 Potential Challenges and How to Overcome Them
- 6 Finding Answers
The Underlying Factors of Addiction
Addiction is always multifaceted, and many factors contribute to an individual becoming addicted to a substance. Typically, there isn’t just one reason why someone develops a substance use disorder. Therapists must look at various triggers. These include:
Psychological triggers can go as far back as a person’s early years. There may have been difficult childhood experiences, for example, such as abuse, trauma, or neglect. These experiences may cause emotional and psychological distress and may cause individuals to drink or do drugs as a way of coping with the pain.
There may be genetic factors, too. Some people may have an “addiction gene.” While this doesn’t provide a complete picture of an individual’s reason for addiction, it can be a strong contributing factor.
Dealing with chronic stress, such as financial difficulties or work-related issues, can lead to substance use disorders as well. The drugs and alcohol may temporarily relieve stress, but their excessive use can develop into an addiction that’s difficult to overcome.
Finally, some people have severe mental health issues, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and more. To help ease these symptoms, individuals may turn to drugs and alcohol.
Grief and the loss of a loved one can drive people to seek alcohol or drugs in the hopes of numbing their pain. Other times, extreme isolation, low self-esteem, or feelings of loneliness can contribute to addiction. Depression, too, can drive someone to drink or do drugs excessively. Even mild depression can push individuals over the edge.
Sometimes, peer pressure can contribute to alcoholism or substance use disorders. Some individuals may feel pressured to drink more to join a fraternity or sorority, for instance. Social acceptance in bar settings may be another factor that leads people to drink to excess.
Other times, a family history – that’s not necessarily genetic – can contribute to addiction. If there is heavy drinking or drug use within the family that has been “normalized,” individuals within that family unit are more likely to suffer from addictive behavior.
Benefits of Individual Therapy in Addiction Treatment
Individual therapy tends to be most effective in treating addiction primarily because it offers quite a few benefits.
- Customized Treatment Plans: One of the most important benefits of one-on-one therapy is that therapists can tailor their sessions based on the client’s history of addiction and needs. This personalized approach can help clients make more progress than it if were a standard one-size-fits-all approach.
- Confidentiality: Another benefit is the confidentiality that comes with individual therapy. This environment encourages clients to disclose their past behaviors without feeling judged, and they can openly discuss their fears and feelings regarding addiction and sobriety.
- Enhanced Self-Awareness: Individual therapy offers clients the space to explore the factors that led to their addiction. The therapist and client – together – can not only identify the root causes of the client’s addiction, but they can explore negative thought patterns and behaviors as well.
- Coping Mechanisms: One-on-one therapy can be a great way for therapists to help their clients develop coping skills, stress management skills, and emotional regulation techniques. These skills can help with relapse prevention and can ensure the client makes healthier emotional and physical choices daily.
- Goal Setting: Another benefit of individual therapy is that clients can see incremental progress when it comes to setting realistic goals. Therapists can help enforce these goals and ensure the client remains committed to changing.
- Relationship Building: One-on-one therapy often creates an intimate relationship between the client and therapist, such that the client can turn to the therapist for guidance and support. The therapist’s role is to provide empathy and to help clients process their oftentimes overwhelming emotions of anger, shame, self-hatred, and guilt.
Common Therapeutic Techniques Used in Individual Therapy
Individual therapy is highly effective when treating both mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders. Over the years, therapists have found that some therapeutic techniques work better than others. As a result, these techniques have become common practice to help those suffering from alcoholism and substance use disorders. Some common techniques used in individual therapy include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy states that psychological problems are based on negative ways of thinking and negative behavior. The focus of CBT is to identify negative thought patterns and behaviors, reevaluate them, and create positive thought patterns and behaviors instead.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical behavior therapy focuses on helping clients regulate their emotions and teaching them how to deal with intense emotions rather than running away from them. DBT also teaches clients how to communicate in social relationships. DBT is often used in conjunction with other therapies, such as CBT.
Motivational Interviewing (MI)
Motivational interviewing focuses on three components of motivation: is the client willing to change, does the client have the confidence to change, and is the client ready to change?
Therapists then work with clients to turn their ambivalence about change into “confident and motivated” behavior in order to change their addictive behaviors and patterns.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Developed in 1987, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing was initially designed to help clients with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). EMDR therapy focuses on the way a traumatic memory is stored in the brain. By eliminating and reducing the negative symptoms associated with this memory, therapists believe they can reduce clients’ need to self-medicate through alcohol and drugs.
Mindfulness and Meditation Practices
Mindfulness and meditation practices fall under techniques, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). MBSR therapy is designed to give you skills to help manage your stress and anxiety, while MCT incorporates meditation and breathing exercises into your daily life to help with stress, anxiety, and depression.
Individual therapy has proven to be effective for many people. In a 2015 case study of eleven participants with substance use disorders, Meaning Therapy was used as treatment. After about six to nine months after the treatment was complete, 72.7% of the participants reported that they were still sober. They also experienced fewer problems in their daily lives.
Integrating Individual Therapy with Other Treatments
When treating addiction problems, it’s important for a treatment plan to offer a holistic approach. That often means combining one-on-one therapy with collaborative care. These include:
Individual therapy is often combined with medication management as some mental health conditions require medication. Whether the client needs medicine for bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, it’s important that the client’s medication is integrated into the overall care. Sometimes medication can also used to control cravings. The combination of medication and consistent therapy sessions can sometimes reduce relapses.
Group therapy can complement one-on-one therapy as it allows the client to socially interact with others who have similar experiences. Clients can also get feedback from like-minded peers in a safe environment.
Family relationships usually suffer when someone in the family has an addiction problem. To help everyone heal and move forward, family therapy can integrated with individual therapy. Therapists can work with the individual and the family to help resolve conflicts and heal relationships.
Although support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), are not therapy, they can offer support to those who may be struggling to adjust to a life of sobriety. Support groups are safe, structured environments where people share their experiences. There are also opportunities for members to get a sponsor. Sponsors are more established members who can help guide newer members during difficult times.
It’s helpful for individuals discovering a new life of sobriety to continue to research self-help tools and strategies. Therapists may recommend online resources and self-help apps that can help individuals stay focused on their goals.
Potential Challenges and How to Overcome Them
Despite all the available treatment plans and resources available to those suffering from addiction, there are still huge obstacles to overcome.
One major obstacle is resistance. People are sometimes unwilling to go to therapy and change their life. Oftentimes, making a change is an intimidating step, and it’s easier to remain in a safe zone – immersed in their addiction. Alternatively, they may be in denial about how bad their addiction is.
On the other hand, some people with an addiction problem want to change but find that there are no affordable options. If they have a severe addiction, inpatient rehab and long-term individual therapy may be necessary. But, the out-of-pocket expenses may be too high over short-term therapy.
Finding the right therapist can be difficult, too. Clients must feel comfortable with their therapists in order to continue the sessions. If there isn’t a synergy or they don’t “click,” clients may stop attending sessions.
Attending therapy sessions weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly takes discipline and dedication. Some patients may simply not have the stamina or discipline to fully immerse themselves in therapy. It could be internal discipline that’s lacking or it could be external factors. There may be job losses, never-ending family emergencies, and so on.
Another potential challenge is culture. Some cultures create a shame around therapy, especially towards men. This may make it difficult for people who want therapy to seek the help they need.
Individual therapy can be one of the most effective ways to treat addiction as a therapist can tailor a treatment plan to meet the client’s needs. There are also different types of treatment plans that clients and therapists can explore together.
Addiction is one of the hardest diseases to overcome. However, if you are struggling with addiction and you need therapy as part of your recovery journey, contact our team at Garden State Treatment Center. Our individual therapy focuses on root triggers, improving your coping skills, and relapse prevention. We have been recognized for excellence in substance abuse and behavioral health treatment by the Joint Commission.
Resources and Further Reading