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 is a chance to get to know yourself and gain a deeper understanding of the reasons behind your addiction, guided by a trustworthy and experienced professional. This form of treatment is highly effective, with patients who are fully committed to the process benefiting from an increased chance of long-term sobriety and a healthier, more fulfilled life. 
What happens during an individual therapy session?
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 patient-led, therapist-led or a combination of the two.
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.
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?
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
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.
What are the advantages of individual therapy?
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
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
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-let
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
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?
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
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.