Private Therapy and Counseling
If you’ve never been to a counseling session before, your opinions of what it entails might be deeply informed by what you’ve seen on television or in the movies: leather couches, strict therapists and other holdovers from the era of Freudian psychoanalysis.
If this is your perception, you might wonder how in the world therapy like this might help you deal with an addiction or mental health issue.
These days, counselors use modern therapeutic techniques that are designed to provide you with more than just the opportunity to talk.
In fact, counseling can help you build skills that you can put to good use throughout your life.
Good counselors often work alongside you like your own personal life coach – helping you to change old patterns and develop new systems that are more helpful and constructive.
Modern counseling tends to be more goal-oriented than counseling in the past.1 In the past, recurring counseling sessions might have stretched on for years – as patients and their doctors continued to work over old issues and attempt to gain new insights on how those issues have impacted the patient today.
1. Counseling is Goal-Oriented.
By contrast, modern counseling sessions begin with a discussion of goals.
Many modern counselors will engage you in some kind of discussion about:
- How you’re feeling right now.
- How you’d like to feel a year from now.
These two pictures of the how you feel in the present and how you’d like to feel in the future might be very, very different. If you do discuss these topics with your counselor, however, he or she will help you figure out each of the small steps you’ll need to take in order to reach that goal.
2. Counseling Requires Personal Commitment.
While therapy for mental health conditions and addiction could be helpful for almost anyone, the techniques you’ll be introduced to in counseling tend to work best when you’re committed to working hard and making changes.
Counseling is designed to help you change your thought processes and your behavior. If you’re unwilling to make any changes at the present time, counseling might only give you the tools to make changes in the future, at best – leaving you living the very same life you’re living right now.
By committing to changes and staying devoted to your therapy, you’ll be doing all you can to get the most out of your therapy sessions.
3. Counseling Is Most Effective with Multiple Sessions.
Therapy may be goal-oriented and designed to last for a brief period of time – but that doesn’t mean that one session will “cure” the issues and conditions you’re facing.
It’s likely that you’ll need to attend multiple sessions over several months in order to experience the true benefits of counseling.
One study published in the journal Addiction, for example, found that people with depression and alcohol problems were better able to reduce their drinking when they had at least 10 counseling sessions.2 People with fewer than 10 sessions no doubt received some benefit from the counseling but showed relatively less recovery progress.
So don’t be discouraged if, after just one session, you don’t see or feel any changes in your life. In general, one session won’t do the trick.
Goals of Therapy
Often by the end of your first session, you and your therapist will have an outline of some of the goals you’d like to reach with your therapy.
While your goals will be specific and tailored just for you, some common therapy goals may include:
- Elimination of drug and alcohol abuse.
- Improved self-esteem.
- Reduction of depression, stress, and anger.
- Improved relationships with others.
- Restored sleep, healthy eating patterns, and dedication to work and productivity.
Examples of Therapy Techniques
1. Identifying Negative Thoughts
Counselors will sometimes ask you to tap into the negative thoughts that swirl around inside your head. Almost everyone has these negative thoughts at one time or another.
Examples of these negative messages that can go on inside your head might include the following:
- “You must do well, or no one will like you.”
- “Everyone can see the mistakes that you make.”
- “You’re not as smart as everyone else.”
- “People just pretend that they like you.”
The Danger of Negative Thoughts
Negative thoughts are very common and can impart significant damage in your life if left unattended.
When you’re faced with these types of negative thoughts that you can’t shake out of your mind – it’s easy to become deeply saddened and demoralized – to a point that taking drugs or just sinking into depression seems like the best or only option.
You might even be tempted to act out with anger, violence, or self-destruction when you have thoughts like this.
How to Constructively Deal with Negative Thoughts
In therapy, your counselor will ideally help you:
- Verbalize your negative thoughts.
- Break apart your negative thoughts before you act upon them.
Sometimes, these negative thoughts are an overreaction to basic events that happen every day. Other times, these thoughts have some basis in a trauma you endured but haven’t quite worked through yet.
While it may be difficult to understand how these negative thoughts got in your head in the first place, what’s important is to recognize their presence so you can deal with them and get to a healthier place.
The counselor can help you sort through the root of your negative thoughts as well as how to overcome them. Often, you may even be given homework to help you better control your thoughts and avoid acting upon the negative thoughts.
Your counselor may suggest that you3:
- Keep a journal.
- Try a new experience.
- Use relaxation exercises.
- Explore various relief strategies for pain, stress, and problem-solving.
- Practice talking to a friend about your thoughts.
Combatting negative thought patterns can be hard work and can take some practice. But the good news is that changing these negative thoughts into more positive patterns is indeed possible!
If you are willing to commit to working together with your therapist, you can give yourself the best chances for developing a genuinely brighter and more optimistic perspective for the remainder of your life journey.4
2. Skills Training
Your therapist can help you pick up crucial skills you’ll need to function independently.
Skills training strategies have been studied and shown to improve quality of life and the ability to function socially – when compared to people who did not get skills training.5 It’s believed that vital communication skills learned during skills training sessions play an important role in helping these individuals experience easier social success in the long run.
During skills training, you can focus on specific tasks you typically find difficult to complete. Some common skills that are often beneficial to focus on may include:
- Understanding body language.
- Planning an outing.
- Talking to strangers.
3. Using Incentives to Overcome Addiction
One additional addiction therapy technique that has been found to be helpful for some individuals is the use of incentives.
The idea behind incentives in therapy is to motivate individuals towards sobriety by using a reward system – much like the reward system that often motivates individuals to use drugs and alcohol in the first place.
How Immediate Rewards Can Motivate
Using drugs and alcohol tends to give you an immediate reward – you use the substance, and then something that you experience to be rewarding happens in return. Going through addiction therapy, however, typically isn’t associated with this sort of immediate response. And some individuals find that they truly miss the “rush” feelings that come with experiencing immediate reward.
By incorporating some type of immediate rewards into your addiction treatment, your therapist might help you:
- Feel a more tangible sense of personal accomplishment.
- Experience more instant gratification for your recovery efforts.
What Kinds of Incentives are Offered?
Before your therapy sessions, you’ll typically be asked to provide a urine sample that is tested for the presence of drugs. If no drugs are found, you may be given a voucher as a reward.
The rewards tend to get bigger the longer you go without drugs – and they often revolve around a healthy, drug-free lifestyle. Rewards might include:
- Gym memberships.
- Restaurant gift certificates.
- Movie passes.
- Yoga class passes.
This approach of using incentives has been used and found effective in treating individuals addicted to cocaine and opioids such heroin.6 Some therapists might choose to use the incentives therapy modality for other addictions as well.
Tailoring Therapy to Specific Mental Health Conditions
Therapy can be further modified to help people with specific types of mental health illnesses and conditions.
If you have schizophrenia, for example, you might have trouble with:
- Getting a job.
- Making friends.
- Understanding your disease.
These types of troubles can make it functionally difficult to live your life, and understanding your thought patterns alone may not be enough to effectively help you deal with all of the challenges you face.
By adding skills training, incentives, and medications to your treatment regimen, however, certain mental health conditions can be more successfully managed.
How Long Does Therapy Take?
The length of addiction therapy treatment will differ, depending on the individual and on the nature of the addiction.
According to the American Psychological Association, you should expect that certain goals of therapy may take quite some time to reach.7 Your therapist will help you understand how long your therapy is expected to take. In general, you’ll know your therapy is working when you begin to feel a sense of relief or hope about the future.
Choosing a Therapist
When it comes to choosing a therapist, it can be helpful to seek the advice of other healthcare providers or addiction treatment professionals, or individuals who may have had experiences of their own in therapy. Your doctor, your addiction intervention specialist, or your caseworker may be able to provide you with a list of recommended therapists who are qualified to work on your specific addiction.
Looking at a list of possible therapists can be overwhelming, however. You’ll want to find just the right person to help you, but you might feel completely at a loss as to which one to choose.
Mayo Clinic, however, offers some helpful points to consider when choosing a therapist8:
- Education, training, and years in practice. Do you prefer working with someone who is fresh out of school, or would you rather work with someone more experienced?
- Insurance payments. Does the provider accept your insurance plan, and how much of the cost will be your responsibility?
- Office hours. Will you be able to make appointments at convenient times?
- Areas of specialization. Does this person know a lot about your particular type of condition?
In the end, choosing a therapist is a personal decision that can involve more than the therapist’s credentials on paper.
If the therapist has all of the proper qualifications – but you still don’t feel comfortable talking to that person about anything that’s important or personal to you – then that therapist might not be as helpful as someone else who has fewer years of experience but offers better personal rapport with you.
If you make an appointment with a therapist and soon find you don’t have a comfortable connection with that person, it’s ok to switch to a different provider. The therapist won’t take it personally, and it’s important that your therapist is someone you’re comfortable going back to again and again for your successful recovery.
Learn More and Find the Help You Need
If you’d like to learn more about addiction, mental illness, or treatment options, please call us at 1-888-744-0789. We’d love to help answer any questions you may have and guide you along a pathway towards recovery.
- Grohol, J. M. (2015). An introduction to psychotherapy. Psych Central.
- Baker, A. L., Kavanagh, D. J., Kay-Lambkin, F. J. Hunt, S. A., Lewin, T. J., Carr, V. J., et al. (2009). Randomized controlled trial of cognitive-behavioural therapy for coexisting depression and alcohol problems: short-term outcome. Addiction, 105(1), 87-99.
- Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. (2013). Cognitive behavioral therapy. Informed Health Online.
- Yoshimura, S., Okamoto, Y., Onoda, K., Matsunaga, M., Okada, G., Kunisato, Y., et al. (2014). Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression changes medial prefrontal and ventral anterior cingulate cortex activity associated with self-referential processing. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci, 9(4), 487-93.
- Yildiz, M., Veznedaroglu, B., Eryavuz, A., Kayahan, B. (2004). Psychosocial skills training on social functioning and quality of life in the treatment of schizophrenia: a controlled study in Turkey. Int J Psychiatry Clin Pract, 8(4), 219-25.
- Principles of drug addiction treatment: a research-based guide. (2012). National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- How to choose a psychologist. (2016). American Psychological Association.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014). Mental health providers: credentials, services offered and what to expect. Mayo Clinic.