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3 Things to Consider When Going to an Addiction Counselor

A Man in a therapy session with his addiction counselor.

Have you been thinking of making the brave step to start seeing an addiction counselor? We know you might have a lot of questions, including exactly what they do, how their role works, choosing one that’s right for your needs, and more. But rest assured, we’re going to answer all of those questions and more in today’s post. 

Keep reading to find the answers you’re looking for and make important progress on your sober journey.

Here are three things to consider and important questions to ask when going to a substance abuse counselor. 

What is an Addiction Counselor?

Also known as substance abuse counselors, play important roles in getting and keeping people in recovery. 

During their appointments with their counselor, those in recovery or active addiction will explore a number of things, including experiences, feelings, and patterns that can contribute to addiction or act as triggers. Depending on the therapy modality a specific counselor employs, these sessions can look very different. However, the overarching goal of every approach is to help the patient ultimately enter recovery, or stay there if they already are.

Now, as for those therapy modalities, let’s explore those next.

During your search for substance abuse counselors, you’ll discover that there are several types of therapy they offer. It’s helpful to learn more about these different types and what might work best for you.

Here are five common types of therapy you might come across in your search, along with definitions from Addiction Center:

Types of therapy

  1. Biofeedback and Neurofeedback. These therapies use real-time displays of brain activity to monitor levels of muscle tension, blood pressure, and heart rate. This trains the patient on how to manipulate brain function in order to gain some control over their physiological processes.
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is effective in helping addiction and mental health disorders because it focuses on the relationship between thoughts and the subsequent behaviors and choices related to them. Through the use of CBT, a counselor can help patients identify triggers that lead to drug or alcohol use and then replace those responses with healthy ones.
  3. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT is used to treat individuals with a dual diagnosis; one of the main objectives is to help patients gain confidence and coping abilities to handle stressful situations in healthy ways. DBT will also improve communication skills and self-image, which can help people with conditions such as Borderline Personality Disorder and eating disorders.
  4. Meditation, Hypnotherapy, Guided Imagery, and Mindfulness. These types of therapies place a focus on identifying triggers, controlling stress responses and using deep relaxation techniques. The main idea of these types of therapy is to get an individual into a relaxed state of mind to utilize healthy coping strategies to manage cravings, feelings, and stress. Aromatherapy is an effective supplement to these types of therapy.
  5. Holistic therapies. In addition to traditional treatment methods, holistic therapy helps patients practice introspection and learn healthy coping skills. It also gives patients who are not comfortable opening up in traditional therapy sessions a way to communicate their deepest fears and issues in a non-threatening manner. A few forms of holistic therapy that can be useful in treating addictions are yoga, art therapy, music therapy, and equine therapy.

What is the Role of an Addiction Counselor?

The role of a substance abuse counselor involves several key elements and functions. Depending on the type of therapy they use, these specific elements may vary slightly. However, their broad role is the same.

Creating an alliance with their patients

As any counselor will tell you, if they don’t have trust with their patients, the hopes for a successful outcome greatly diminish. As such, one of the first and most important aspects of their role in creating an alliance with their patient. What exactly does that mean? For starters, it means developing a counselor-patient relationship based on trust and mutual respect. This alliance will serve as the foundation for their sessions. 

Supporting and encouraging recovery

The role of a counselor, whether for substance abuse or not, largely involves offering unbiased support to their patient. This judgment-free space is incredibly important for promoting healing and recovery. Those in addiction need to know they are in a safe space where they can explore the thoughts and feelings they might not be able to share otherwise. More importantly, they need to be able to share these things without fear of repercussions or judgment.

For many people with substance abuse issues, their counseling sessions might be the first place they feel they can really be themselves and begin to break down the walls they have kept up for so long. 

Along with unconditional emotional support, it is also part of a counselor’s role to encourage their patients’ recovery. This means encouraging good decision-making and offering appropriate guidance. 

Meet with family members and partners for counseling sessions

Another important part of addiction counseling involves bringing in partners and family members for counseling sessions. As you might already know, addiction is a family disease. That means, in order to treat it, it’s important to treat the entire family unit. While some sessions will involve just the individual dealing with substance abuse, it can also involve appointments with family members, as well as providing educational resources and guidance. 

(Don’t miss this post next with tips for setting boundaries with family members)

Developing relapse prevention plans

It’s also incredibly important for substance abuse counselors to work with their patients on creating relapse prevention plans. 

These plans should be tailored toward each patient’s unique circumstances.

However, they generally include:

  • Reporting from the patient’s previous (if any) relapses as well as their general experience with substance abuse
  • Warning signs and triggers with strategies for the patient to avoid them
  • A list of resources and support to turn to when temptation strikes
  • An emergency relapse plan
  • A list of lifestyle goals and changes for a patient to implement to maintain long-term recovery

Point patients toward additional resources

Along with the direct support a substance abuse counselor provides, there are several other resources they can provide their patients with. These include pointing them to support groups, AA meetings, and a number of sober services, including sober coaches, companions, and escorts.

What is the Difference Between an Addiction Counselor and a Sober Companion?

Those on their journey toward recovery might also be considering enlisting the help of a sober coach. However, they might be wondering if they need both a sober companion and a substance abuse counselor. The truth is, both roles are incredibly useful for those in recovery, but they do different things.

We’ve already covered the role of a substance abuse counselor, but now let’s look at sober companions from our FAQ page to see how they differ:

“The main role of a sober companion is to encourage the client to make healthy life choices, doing so by example. Sober companions are those who are in recovery themselves and have a solution for staying sober, long-term. They offer a wide variety of services, ranging from running errands, transport to work, going to 12 step meetings, making sure the home of the client is clear from drugs or alcohol, and other tasks that help support the client in their journey to sobriety.”

As you can see, counselors and companions both serve very important, but different, purposes. In fact, one might encourage you to work with the other to create a more comprehensive recovery plan. Your counselor might even be the one to introduce you to a variety of sober services, including those at Elysian Sober Services like we mentioned. 

Are you ready to take important steps toward long-term recovery? We’re here to help. Contact us today to learn more about the sober services we offer. 

For further reading, take a look at these posts next:

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