How Addiction Counselling Can Help Your Recovery
Addiction counselling can enhance a persons recovery by showing them how to live life on life’s terms.
Initially, drinking and drugging will have felt good. It alleviated fears, providing an escape from reality. Often, substances will have worked as a buffer to painful and distressing emotions.
However, when the intoxication wore off, we found our reality always returned with a vengeance. Often with overriding feelings of guilt, shame, regret and frustration. The reprieve from negative emotions was only ever temporary at best, and their return - ten-fold.
If, like us, you reached a place where alcohol and drugs became necessary to feel ‘right’ there was obviously something very wrong in the first place.
Having previously suppressed or avoided emotions, we are not naturally equipped to deal with them. For many of us, this can prove a huge stumbling block. So much so, it can lead a person back to using, or even to a place of contemplating ‘sober suicide’
To feel truly free from addictive behaviours and avoid relapse, it is necessary for us to learn healthier ways of managing our emotions. This can often require professional input in the form of counselling or therapy.
What is addiction counselling?
Addiction counselling is a process whereby a qualified counsellor assists by challenging unhelpful thoughts and belief systems. Through the process of identifying and challenging, this then frees the person to adopt healthier, more positive and healing thoughts.
Thoughts control our emotions and affect the way that we feel. By changing our thoughts we naturally come to a place of feeling happier within ourselves.
Addiction counselling also teaches proven methods of bringing restoration and balance to life.
Through the application of evidence-based cognitive behavioural methods, an addiction counsellors main aim is to enable you to make healthier and better informed choices. They can also help you to safely navigate and heal the past. This all helps in achieving a fulfilling and healthy, balanced life.
Where to access counselling
You can access addiction counselling both freely and privately. If you wish to proceed and access free counselling, you can ask your healthcare provider to refer you.
Private counselling can be accessed locally. You can find details of qualified, registered counsellors near you on the BACP website (British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapy) 1
If you are paying for a private addiction counsellor, please always check that they are accredited and registered. You will also want to make sure they are experienced in whatever it is you need help with.
Rehabilitation and aftercare programmes also include elements of counselling. Counselling and therapy are considered to be a very valuable part of the addiction treatment and the recovery process 2
The best time to seek counselling for addiction
When to seek counselling help for addiction is a very personal choice.
Some people find enlisting the help of a counsellor whilst they are still in active addiction helps to support and motivate them in achieving abstinence.
It is important to understand that a registered counsellor, trained in treating substance misuse, will only go as deep as they feel is safe without jeopardising your wellbeing.
Unearthing trauma from the past during active addiction is only likely to have one outcome - the desire to use more substances. Therefore, any counselling you seek during active addiction will serve to be more motivational and supportive, as oppose to going deep and unearthing trauma from the past.
If you are new to recovery or still detoxing from substances, it is likely your emotions will feel extremely volatile. After a period of abstinence this should settle to more predictable levels. This can then be a very good time to start the counselling process.
Whilst the brain adjusts to being without substances, it is very common to experience heightened and irrational emotions. The important thing here, is to focus on your self care and taking things one step at a time. 3
Counselling can be sought at any point during your recovery from addiction. The longer you remain abstinent the more awareness you will gain over potential blockages to a peaceful mind.
Who needs counselling in addiction recovery
Many of us that come into recovery from addiction have experienced traumatic events, either before, during, or after substance abuse 4
Stopping the alcohol and drugs is not enough for most if us to maintain recovery from addiction. Past events can have a habit of frequently haunting us and can influence our mood and behaviour.
Life can continue to be intolerably painful, even once the problematic substances have been stopped.
Counselling can be extremely beneficial for those of us in whom thought patterns or past events continue to be a problem.
Evidence-based addiction treatment programmes deliver intensive healing. This is because they incorporate many aspects of cognitive processing therapy and behavioural therapy techniques. 2
If you suffer from trauma, a process addiction or mental health issues, professional one to one treatment with a counsellor is usually extremely helpful. 5
Let’s face it, for many of us, there is still so much to heal from.
Why counselling is helpful to ongoing recovery
As time passes in recovery, there are more exposure to ‘firsts’. Many of us experience parenthood, divorce, celebrations, a new relationship, a bereavement, serious illness or loss for the very first time - all without the crutch of substances.
Being in recovery does not make any of us immune to life. If anything, it creates much more awareness and sensitivity around the feelings we experience in response to events that happen.
Encountering a ‘first’ life changing event in recovery from addiction can jeopardise everything. That is, unless we are wiling to ask for help and utilise our already learned recovery tools. 6
Counselling can be helpful to anyone and at any time where there are difficult emotions, pain and turmoil to overcome.
The benefits of counselling in addiction recovery
Counselling is most beneficial when undertaken with a sober body and mind. Substances alter our perception of reality. Whilst intoxicated and still under their influence it is very difficult to see the truth or make necessary changes outside of substance use.
In recovery our minds become more open, emotions more settled and our brains more able to engage and learn.
Counselling during recovery or as part of the rehabilitation process can really pay dividends in the long run.
The benefits of counselling in addiction recovery include:
- A safe and confidential space, where we can express our thoughts and emotions without fear of judgement
- Opportunity to process past events and trauma
- Identify and address potential blocks to long term abstinence
- Being able to see things from a healthier and more helpful perspective
- Learn evidence based treatment techniques that are helpful in preventing relapse
- Learn about addiction and how it affects you as an individual
- Develop personal growth through the experience of feeling emotions, processing them and then moving forwards without the need to suppress or avoid
- Become better equipped to show self-compassion and have healthier relationships with others
- Learn valuable techniques and strategies to maintain recovery focus
- Become a more well rounded individual as a result of increased self-awareness, self-esteem and learning problem solving skills
- Learn about healthy boundary setting, self-discovery and personal relationships
What to expect during your first addiction counselling session
It can take some people many years to build up the courage and feel strong enough to confront their inner demons. Naturally, attending a counselling session for the very first time can provoke some anxiety.
The best time to engage in addiction counselling is when you feel ready. No one else can make this decision for you.
Counselling can either conducted on a one to one basis or facilitated within a group setting (group therapy). Group therapy sessions, facilitated by a counsellor, are more commonly delivered during residential treatment. Individual counselling can be conducted on an inpatient and out patient basis.
Counselling in an inpatient environment can delve much deeper than it can in the community. This is because patients are in safe and temptation free surroundings that offer around the clock support.
Meeting your counsellor for the first time
Once you have made contact with a counsellor and they have carried out an initial assessment, they will then arrange a time for you to meet. You and your counsellor will meet in a private room within a safe setting. Many counsellors have their own private office attached to their home for convenience.
If you have a preference to work with a male or female counsellor, you will need to express this during the initial referral process.
During your first counselling session
During your first session of counselling, your counsellor will explain how counselling sessions work and what you can expect to gain from them. They will then structure a framework of how many times and how often your counselling sessions should take place. Your counsellor will also explain their confidentiality policy and discuss payments (if private counselling) 7
During your initial meeting, your counsellor should ask you what it is you feel you need assistance with and any personal goals that you hope to achieve with the assistance of their help.
How long counselling sessions last
Counselling sessions usually last 40 to 50 minutes and have a definite start and end. The counsellor will follow a number of practices and protocols to ensure you feel safe throughout the session and that you do not leave the session feeling acutely vulnerable.
How many counselling sessions will I need for addiction?
It is very difficult to initially determine how many counselling sessions a person needs for addiction. However, most people benefit from a minimum of 8 sessions.
How many counselling sessions you need as an individual really does depend on your personal treatment needs and how quickly you respond to treatment. Everyone is different, so counselling is something to approach with an open mind.
When first commencing counselling, you may have a fixed idea of exactly what it is that you need to heal. This can however change with time. As your counselling sessions progress, it is common for more issues to come to light.
A counsellor can only make guided recommendations as to how many sessions you will need, it is up you to make the final decision regarding your engagement levels.
How counselling can help in recovery from addiction
As previously mentioned, life does not stop whilst we recover from addiction, just as addiction does not stop whilst we recover from life.
Sometimes our recovery programme, along with support from like-minded others is enough. Other times, we find we need to go further.
Undoubtedly, there will be occasions in most peoples recovery where professional help and support is extremely beneficial.
Through seeking professional help to grow beyond your addiction, you will learn, gain new coping strategies & heal. Ultimately, you will become stronger in your recovery for undertaking this process.
- BACP website - https://www.bacp.co.uk
- Treatment and Recovery National Institute on Drug Abuse NIDA - https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
- Addiction: Decreased reward sensitivity and increased expectation sensitivity conspire to overwhelm the brain's control circuit https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2948245/
- Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3051362/
- What to expect when being counselled for trauma and post traumatic stress PTSD https://www.bacp.co.uk/about-therapy/trauma-and-ptsd/
- Relapse prevention: introduction and overview of the model. Marlatt GA, George W. Br J Addict. 1984 Sep; 79(3):261-73 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6595020/
- What you can expect from conselling https://counsellingfoundation.org/personal-counselling/what-can-you-expect-from-counselling/