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Individual Therapy for Addiction

Individual therapy is a talking therapy used in addiction rehabilitation to improve your mental health, and increase your chance of a long-lasting recovery.

    Individual therapy is a talking therapy which gives you the chance to get to know yourself and gain a deeper understanding of the reasons behind your addiction, guided by a trustworthy and experienced professional.

    Individual therapy is used during addiction rehabilitation and aftercare as well as treatment for mental health disorders.

    You’ll look at your emotions, thoughts and behaviour patterns during individual therapy treatment for addiction.

    Individual therapy is a broad type of therapy which encompasses:

    Patients who are fully committed to individual therapy benefit from an increased chance of long-term sobriety and a healthier, more fulfilled life, according to research. [1]

    Why is individual therapy important for addiction?

    We live in a fast-paced, outwardly-focused world with little time for self-exploration.

    Often we are not even aware of our own self-destructive thought patterns and behaviours until we hit rock bottom, struggling with an addiction that has turned our lives upside-down.

    Individual therapy helps you to change this by:

    • Learning coping mechanisms to help fight cravings and relapse triggers
    • Understanding the root cause of your addiction 
    • Making changes to your behaviour patterns and habits in line with a sober lifestyle
    • Finding a support network
    • Deciding what your goals are and helping you stay focused

    What happens during an individual therapy session for addiction?

    Two men talking one to one in an individual therapy session for addiction

    Two men talking one to one in an individual therapy session for addiction

    The idea of individual counselling can seem intimidating to many people, so gaining an understanding of the therapy process can be helpful when deciding to take that first step.

    During an individual therapy session, the patient will meet with a trained and experienced counsellor, usually in their private office. The environment will be comfortable and quiet, a safe haven in which to open up to a non-judgemental professional.

    The first session will usually involve a brief overview of the patient’s history along with any details of their addiction including any substances used, the frequency of use and the length of the addiction.

    The therapist will explain in general how their services work and the type of therapy they specialise in, and together with the patient, they will come up with a plan for treatment going forward.

    Depending on the type of individual therapy chosen, sessions can either be:

    1. patient-led
    2. therapist-led
    3. a combination of the two

    Two women talking at a table during individual therapy for addiction rehabilitation

    Two women talking at a table during individual therapy for addiction rehabilitation

    Patient-Led Individual Therapy for Addiction

    In patient-led sessions, the patient will guide the session and is invited to speak about anything that is on their mind.

    The therapist is there to listen, guide and encourage self-exploration. They generally will not tell you what to do or have opinions on what you tell them.

    Therapist-Led Individual Therapy for Addiction

    In a therapist-led session, the therapist will have a rough framework for the session which could involve homework tasks, mindfulness tasks or exposure therapy. The patient is still free to discuss any issues that they wish to bring up.

    Confidentiality is key during individual therapy treatment. A therapist is not allowed to disclose what they have been told by a patient, except in very specific circumstances which are detailed below:

    • There is an immediate risk of the patient harming themselves
    • There is an immediate risk of the patient harming others
    • The patient is unable to provide themselves with food, clothing or shelter
    • The therapist is ordered by law to provide evidence in court

    While a therapist may feel like a stranger during the first few sessions, a feeling of connection will usually develop as treatment progresses.

    This sense of trust and understanding is crucial to a healthy therapist-patient relationship, and patients are encouraged to try a new therapist if they are having trouble building or maintaining a relationship with their current one.

    What types of individual therapy are available?

    A man in individual therapy for addiction, hands clasped to his lips

    A man in individual therapy for addiction, hands clasped to his lips

    Individual therapy is not a one-size-fits-all solution. There are many different approaches to therapy, and it’s important to select a treatment that best suits you and your needs.

    Some forms of therapy work best with specific conditions, while others are broader and can provide support to individuals with a wider range of issues.

    See below for a brief overview of the most common types of individual therapy:

    1. Cognitive behavioural therapy

    Cognitive behavioural therapy is based on the theory that our behaviour is deeply influenced by our thought patterns, and that many issues such as substance abuse can be traced back to negative and deeply ingrained beliefs and thought processes.

    With the help of your therapist, you will work towards the root cause of your addiction, developing new skillsets and behaviours that can help you deal with your issues in a healthier and more productive way.

    2. Psychodynamic therapy

    This practice allows you to dive deep into your unconscious mind, with the belief that your past experiences and thought patterns have played an integral role in your addiction and self-destructive behaviours.

    It’s common to discuss your childhood, recurring dreams and memorable life moments during psychodynamic therapy. Your therapist will guide you through the process, asking questions and allowing you to make sense of your own experiences.

    3. Humanistic therapy

    Two people talking over coffee

    Humanistic therapy is generally patient-led, with your therapist taking the role of active listener and guide as you explore your feelings and emotions.

    During this treatment, you will be encouraged to discuss your addiction and the factors that lead up to it. Your counsellor will offer empathy, understanding and unconditional acceptance, with your self-growth and understanding of your own behaviour at the centre of each session.

    4. Behavioural therapy

    This is an action-focused, practical form of therapy. This treatment does not tend to focus on the past and the reasons for our behaviours – instead, your therapist will work with you to challenge your patterns in order to develop healthy reactions and behaviours.

    The methods used in behavioural therapy can include exposure, relaxation techniques, association and directly facing your fears.

    Your therapist may place you in a triggering situation (from the safety of the therapy room) and guide you into developing a healthy coping mechanism.

    5. Motivational Interviewing

    This is a motivation-led approach which helps you to boost your morale and stay focused on your recovery journey.

    What are the advantages of individual therapy?

    A mother carrying her son on the beach

    The practice of individual therapy for addiction recovery has been extensively studied, and this form of treatment has been proven to contribute to successful long-term sobriety.

    Below are some of the many advantages of individual therapy:

    1. Therapist-patient bonding in individual therapy

    The connection between therapist and patient is one of the most crucial aspects of treatment, as progress can be delayed or stifled if a patient does not feel comfortable with their therapist.

    It can be easier to establish this connection through one-on-one counselling as the focus is entirely on the patient, allowing emotional intimacy and a feeling of trust to develop naturally.

    2. Complete confidentiality in individual therapy

    This form of treatment guarantees complete confidentiality, allowing patients to explore their most closely guarded secrets without fear of consequences.

    It is forbidden for therapists to reveal details of their sessions with patients, except under the very specific circumstances detailed above.

    3. More flexible and patient-led

    As group therapy sessions are held at a fixed time and need to provide guidance to a range of people, there isn’t a lot of scope for customisation. The personal aspect of individual therapy makes it easier to organise emergency sessions and rearrange times and dates if needed.

    The patient is also free to slow or increase the pace of therapy as needed, allowing them to get the most out of their sessions.

    4. Intense self-exploration

    A male therapist talking

    Individual therapy encourages intense self-exploration with the close guidance of a trained therapist. This personalised attention and focus can make it easier for the patient to gain a deeper understanding of their motivations and behaviour in a shorter space of time.

    5. Improve communication skills

    Speaking one on one is a great way for patients to improve their communication skills and learn how to express themselves and their emotions.

    Many people struggling with an addiction begin to withdraw from society and lose confidence in their social skills, and individual therapy can provide them with an opportunity to reclaim their voice.

    6. Learn healthy coping skills

    This form of treatment allows the patient to develop a unique and personalised set of skills that they can carry with them throughout their life.

    They will learn how to deal with unpleasant emotions, manage stress and work through triggers even after the treatment has ended. This increases the chances of long-term sobriety while building confidence and self-esteem.

    7. Non-judgemental confrontation

    Individual therapy provides patients with an opportunity to confront unhealthy thought patterns and behaviours and take responsibility for their actions in a safe and non-judgemental environment.

    A professional therapist can help individuals work through their emotions without forming their own opinions, providing a safe space that encourages self-exploration.

    What are the disadvantages of individual therapy?

    A brain

    It’s important to be aware of the potential disadvantages of individual therapy when considering this form of treatment. While one-on-one counselling has many benefits, there are a small number of aspects to consider.

    Below are some of the disadvantages of individual therapy:

    1. Can be more expensive

    If you choose to go private for your therapy treatment, individual therapy can be more costly than group therapy.

    It’s recommended that individuals recovering from addiction seek both individual and group therapy in order to maximise the chances of a successful long-term recovery.

    2. Less support network

    While group therapy involves a number of other people sharing similar experiences, individual therapy is between you and your therapist.

    This can cause some people to feel isolated as there is no built-in support network of peers, but these feelings can be alleviated by attending both individual and group therapy as recommended above.

    3. Can feel intense

    A man in a therapy session looking stressed

    Individual therapy can feel more intense as the focus is entirely on you.

    Some people may feel more comfortable attending group therapy sessions where the attention is shared between a number of different people – however, it is important to step outside your comfort zone during addiction recovery and individual therapy is a great start.

    4. Singular viewpoint

    Group therapy involves exposure to a diverse range of backgrounds and life experiences, while individual therapy involves only one other person.

    It can be helpful to hear and see many different viewpoints and behaviours when attempting to challenge negative beliefs and thought patterns.

    It’s never too late to examine the reasons behind your addiction and learn new behaviours and skills to help you progress through your recovery journey.

    Don’t be discouraged by the overwhelming number of therapy options available today.

    Individual therapy has been proven to be highly effective at treating addiction and is an extremely promising option for anyone looking to improve their life while challenging self-destructive thoughts and behaviours in a safe, non-judgemental environment.

    Is individual therapy more effective for addiction?

    Patient and therapist talking about depression and addiction

    No, research supports many different types of addiction therapy.

    In a study, behavioural couples therapy was as effective as CBT at reducing drinking even more effective at enhancing relationship satisfaction.[2]

    Is individual therapy for addiction the best choice if I don’t like talking?

    Consider how you express yourself best and if you would feel comfortable talking about your feelings.

    Holistic therapy may be a better choice if you don’t want to verbally communicate, and would prefer to work through your emotions through music, equine care, art or mindfulness.

    To find help and support in your local area, be sure to read this page here.






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