Role of Counseling in Addiction
You may be wondering why counseling, as a process, is always recommended when seeking help with a substance use disorder. Below, I’ve outlined three primary ways in which counseling helps those on the path toward recovery. Keep in mind there are more ways counseling can help than what I’ve outlined below. This is not an exhaustive list, and I’m sure if you or your loved one commits him/herself to counseling, he/she would be able to communicate additional ways in which counseling is supportive, helpful, and arguably necessary when transitioning to a healthy lifestyle:
1) Counseling provides connection: When meeting with a counsellor you will be asked to provide demographic and historical information related to your personal life. We do this to get to know you—get to know the person with which we intend to enter into a professional relationship. On the basis of this knowledge, we connect with our clients to both guides and treat the person taking the leap into a recovery. We recognize that recovery will feel unfamiliar, uncomfortable—simply different in the early stages. Counselling provides a buffer during these difficult times by employing the synergistic resource that comes from the therapeutic relationship.
2) Counseling challenges your own thinking: While the relational aspects of counseling are inherently important, counseling also serves a purpose that goes beyond connection; it is to challenge our clients in their own thinking. It is common for clients to struggle with negative thoughts (cognitions) during a bout of psychological debilitation. These thoughts can be pervasive and insidious. As counselors, we must identify the presence of this thinking, and challenge our clients to overcome them. Relapse can be conceptualized as a segment of events rather than a single one-time instance. It is usually negative thoughts that precede relapse behaviour; as counsellors, when the presence of these thoughts is identified, we combat them using empirically-supported (evidence-based) treatment modalities, which can include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) or motivational interviewing (MI). If our clients are not challenged in their own thinking, their own behaviours, it is unlikely positive change will manifest.
3) Counseling provides structure and balance: As humans, we seek structure and balance in almost all areas of our life. Think about working: we wake up, eat breakfast, and head over to our place of work. This simple daily structure implicitly balances our psyche as it represents redundant, consistent routine. Socially, these routines make us comfortable and equipped to handle the everyday challenges of our lives, like traffic on the highway or being late to that very important doctor’s appointment. Counselling, in this sense, provides this extra structural latter to one’s life. It is consistent, supportive, and more likely to produce positive outcomes the more consistently one attends the sessions. In the early stages of recovery, the structure is critical as those struggling with substance use disorders are highly vulnerable to cognitive and/or behavioural derailment. Engaging activities that provide structure, especially those conducive to recovery, is therefore critical while in recovery.
With these in mind, it becomes clear that counseling supports a healthy lifestyle, one that combats the maladaptive patterns of addiction while retaining individual strengths necessary to prolonged recovery. I encourage all readers to speak with an addiction counselor if you have any questions about the process of counseling. It’s important to ask questions so as to avoid misunderstandings about counseling and how it can assist you or your loved one overcome the addictive lifestyle.
Author: Eric Foster, MA
About the author: Eric has been a substance abuse counselor for three years, working primarily with acute patients in a detoxification and early-recovery outpatient setting. Eric subscribes to an existential/cognitive-behavioral orientation, and has written and researched extensively on the topics of power dynamics, gender prototypicality, and the counseling process. He obtained his bachelors degree in psychology while living in California, and later his masters degree in counseling psychology from Boston College. Currently, he is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology where he is engaged in research on substance use disorders, culturally-informed perceptions of substance abuse, and gender prototypicality.