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  • Individual therapy or psychotherapy is a form of talk therapy. You meet with a therapist, social worker, or mental health professional and they help you get to the root cause of your issues. 

    Behavioral therapy is part of addiction treatment because addiction is a chronic mental illness that changes the brain, behaviors, and priorities of those living with the disease. 

    Once in therapy, a therapist can customize your treatment and help you deal with your unique problems. Individual therapy helps ensure you get customized treatment that meets your needs.

    How Individual Therapy Works

    What occurs in individual counseling sessions depends on the therapist and patient. However, there are some common things you can expect when going to therapy for addiction treatment. 

    First Session

    The first therapy session almost always involves an assessment where you go over your substance use/mental health history and your current addiction treatment plan. You might also get into what you want out of therapy and make a plan to help you continue the recovery process.


    After your first session, you’ll likely talk about any homework you had from previous sessions, like writing in a journal or working on mindfulness, and then talk about anything that came up during the time between sessions. 

    Did you have any recurring symptoms? Were there any challenges you faced? How did you deal with them?

    Your therapist will then help you work through any stressors and find methods to keep you calm when cravings occur. As your therapy progresses, you’ll evaluate how your treatment plan is going and if any changes need to be made. 

    You may also discuss inner conflicts, past experiences, phobias, and difficult relationships in your life. Since almost everything is confidential, it’s beneficial to be as honest as possible.

    How Long Does Therapy Last?

    How long you go to therapy depends on how much progress you make. It can be short-term or long-term

    Therapy can also be a lifelong process where you go for a certain period of time when issues pop up and then take breaks when things seem to be going well and you’ve met your goals.

    Types of Individual Psychotherapy

    Several different types of psychotherapy or behavioral therapy help with addiction. Which one you experience depends on what your therapist practices; every clinician has a different approach. 

    Some common types of therapy include:

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

    CBT was originally developed to prevent relapse among people struggling with addiction. It focuses on predicting common problems and then learning new tools and skills to better manage any problematic thinking, attitudes, and behaviors.

    Contingency Management (CM)

    Contingency management involves understanding personal patterns, developing better coping skills, and receiving tangible rewards that reinforce positive behavior changes.

    Community Reinforcement Therapy (CRT)

    This therapy focuses on improving family relationships, learning skills to reduce chances of relapse, job-hunting skills or vocational training, and finding new social networks.

    Motivational Enhancement Therapy

    This approach focuses on resolving any ambivalence about addiction treatment through a quick, initial session with questions regarding past history and addiction followed by a review of personal or behavioral issues caused by substance abuse. 

    Follow-up sessions are used to build a plan for recovery after therapy ends.

    Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

    DBT uses the practice of mindfulness to help enhance one’s motivation to change, build self-acceptance, and reduce the urge to abuse drugs or alcohol.

    Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

    REBT encourages clients to understand their own thoughts and then helps develop better habits and positive, rational thinking.

    Benefits Of Individual Therapy

    While there are multiple aspects to addiction recovery that are helpful, individual therapy is a one-on-one way to focus on individual problems. 

    One-on-one therapy can also be helpful because it:

    • gets to the root cause of a person’s substance use
    • helps deal with thoughts, feelings, and unique situations
    • is personalized to person’s needs
    • provides maintenance along the recovery journey
    • improves personal communication skills
    • increases self-awareness
    • increases positive thinking and boosts self-esteem
    • allows for self-exploration and reflection
    • establishes healthy coping skills
    • finds triggers and reinforces coping mechanisms
    • can be scheduled around a person’s life
    • aids you in setting up an addiction treatment plan

    Individual Vs. Group Therapy

    Both individual and group therapy have distinct benefits but they are different from each other. The most obvious difference is who is in the sessions. Individual therapy sessions are one-on-one while group therapy is a group of people seeking help together.

    But while both can deal with similar issues, individual therapy can go deep into what one person is facing. It can also help with co-occurring disorders that can exist alongside addiction. That’s not always possible in group therapy. 

    That being said, both individual and group therapy can be successful and it’s often recommended to do both, if possible. Both therapy settings deal with different aspects of addiction and one may cover something that the other doesn’t.

    If you or a loved one is having problems with substance abuse, there’s help out there for you. Call our helpline today and discover the treatment options available.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Addiction & Clinical Practice Journal - Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Substance Abusers
    National Center for Biotechnology Information - Cognitive behavioral therapy
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Principles of Effective Treatment
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on May 25, 2022
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