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Why Individual Therapy Is Important for Addiction Recovery

5 minute read

Millions of Americans struggle with addiction, but millions more are in recovery. With the right treatment and a desire to change, a fulfilling life in recovery is possible. Many people will need the structure, support, and evidence-based approaches of an addiction treatment center to get better. These settings give you time and space away from triggers and provide a wide range of therapies. Individual counseling is one of these.

What Is Individual Therapy?

Individual therapy is also known as:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Talk therapy
  • Counseling

In individual therapy, you’ll work one-on-one with a trained mental health professional to work through issues in a safe space. Your therapist will help you identify unhealthy thoughts and how they contribute to behaviors. You may discuss family, difficult relationships, and past experiences. Your therapist will help you recognize how previous challenges are affecting you in the present day. You may also develop goals for individual therapy. These may include decreasing symptoms of depression or anxiety, building a better support system, or remaining drug- and alcohol-free. It’s a collaborative process, and your therapist will work with you to develop your goals and come up with a plan for achieving them.

There are many types of individual therapy that have been proven effective. Some of these include:

These are just a few. You can work with your therapist to find out which option is best for you.

Why Is One-on-One Therapy Part of Addiction Recovery?

Individual therapy can be a powerful intervention in addiction recovery. Many people turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with trauma or negative experiences and emotions. Individual therapy can help address these underlying issues.

Addiction can also put you in scary and vulnerable situations, like:

  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Neglect
  • Loss of relationships
  • Being a victim of or witness to a crime

There is often a lot of emotional pain to sort through once substances have left your system. An individual therapist can help you work through your feelings and change unhealthy patterns. This process is essential to long-term recovery.

Learning to manage your new sobriety is equally important. Things like stress, negative thoughts and emotions, and past people or environments can be triggers for relapse. Individual therapy can help you learn healthy coping skills in the face of triggers.

What to Expect from Individual Therapy

If you’re considering individual therapy, you may have questions like:

  • How long are the sessions?
  • How often will I go?
  • What will the therapist and I discuss?

Individual counseling sessions typically begin as one-hour long sessions once a week. How frequently you meet with your therapist may vary depending on your needs and where you are in recovery.

During your first meeting, the therapist will get to know you and find out more about your background and goals. You may complete documents like initial assessments, medical history, and family history. Future sessions will focus on helping you achieve your goals, work through difficult feelings, and change destructive thought patterns and behaviors.

Get the Most Out of Individual Therapy

Now that you know what to expect, here’s how to get the most out of individual counseling.

  • Prepare. Think ahead of time about what goals you want to accomplish before your therapy session. This will help your therapist decide what interventions are most appropriate.
  • Keep an open mind. Trying something new and being open to change can be uncomfortable, but it can also be very rewarding, even life-changing. Therapists are specially trained in evidence-based approaches to help you with your struggles. They want to empower you to make change and give you the tools you need to be successful.
  • Bring content from group sessions into individual sessions. Individual therapy is a good way to explore issues that come up in group therapy. It’s also a safe space to discuss topics you’re not ready to bring to the group yet.
  • Prepare for trauma sessions. If you’re working through trauma with your therapist, take time to prepare before the session, and take care of yourself after the session. These sessions can be emotionally draining, so check in with your individual therapist for a plan to care for yourself after individual sessions.
  • Be honest. Honesty is at the center of trust. It takes time to build trust with your individual therapist. Be honest with the content you discuss. If something is not working and you want to try something different, let your therapist know. To get the most out of your individual sessions, you must advocate for your needs. Your therapist is there to help, but they’re not a mind reader.
  • Get to know your therapist’s specialty. Many therapists have their own specialties, such as focused training in grief and loss, trauma, or addictions. This specialized training means the therapist has learned specific individual therapy techniques that are effective for a particular issue. Knowing about your therapist’s training may help you decide if they’re the right match for you.

How Is Individual Therapy Different from Group Therapy?

Individual and group therapy are great tools for relapse prevention. Some people choose to participate in both types of therapy, while others may only take part in one. In addiction treatment, both types of therapies work well together. Group therapy generally involves one or more therapists and around five to 15 clients. Groups may focus on specific topics, such as grief, anxiety, or substance abuse, or more general topics, like improving social skills. One of the main differences between individual and group therapy is that you will receive less individualized attention in group therapy. Group therapy focuses more on clients relating to one another and forming a support system for each other.

Some people may not be as willing to share in a group at first. Individual therapy allows those who struggle to talk in group settings work through their issues in a more private setting. Individual therapy also allows for you to make more specific goals for your own recovery.

Individual counseling can be a great complement to group therapy. For example, it can be helpful to process topics you learned in group with your individual counselor. This may lead to a deeper understanding of group topics and allow you to process your thoughts and feelings about the group content.

Find What Works for You

While there is no one route to recovery, long-term individual therapy has been proven effective in helping people avoid relapse. Some benefits of individual therapy include processing traumatic experiences; learning new, healthy coping skills; and learning to navigate triggers—all of which are extremely important in maintaining recovery.

If you’re ready to explore addiction treatment options, reach out. We’ll tell you about all the options available to you, and help you find what works best for your needs.


Medically Reviewed by Lindsay Hutchison, MS, LPC, LCADC
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