A lot of people who are faced with the idea of getting clean and sober turn to counseling services as their solution. This can be a helpful step and can certainly benefit the addict or alcoholic in their journey of recovery, but I would caution everyone that counseling should be a supplemental recovery strategy and not a primary one. In other words, counseling should not be the only action you take in terms of your recovery. Nevertheless, it can still be very helpful.
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Let’s dig in and take a closer look.
Can counseling services help someone to recover?
Definitely. I experienced some real breakthroughs as a direct result of therapy in early recovery. The reason for this is because I had a counselor in long term treatment who was encouraging me to grow in certain ways.
For example, they were pushing me to go get a job, and also to go back to school, even though I was hesitating to do so at the time. Also, I was afraid of speaking in front of other people at the time, and my counselor pushed me to take action so that I could overcome this fear. Without this push from counseling, I doubt I would have taken these steps of growth because in all cases I was confronting fears that I did not want to deal with.
Having a counselor did a few specific things for me in recovery:
1) Helped me to set goals.
2) Kept me accountable in terms of taking action on a weekly basis.
3) Pushed me to deal with issues that I normally would have avoided.
I think some people believe that if they go see the right counselor, that the person will be able to convince them to stop using drugs and alcohol, or that they can somehow steer them away from that sort of lifestyle. I don’t believe this is really possible. Instead, the counselor can best help when someone is already trying to help themselves.
What if someone is still in denial? Will counseling services still help?
In a word, no. I know this from first hand experience because I was encouraged to go to counseling when my drug and alcohol problem was just starting. While I could see that the counseling sessions might have been helpful to someone who was trying to recover, I had not yet made the core decision to do so yet. So none of my efforts (or that of my counselor) really mattered at all, because I was not ready to change yet.
It does not matter how good the counselor is or how strong a connection they make with the client….if the addict is not ready to surrender and learn a new way to live, then everyone is just wasting their time.
Counseling as a secondary strategy
Counseling services are a bit like coaching. If you attend a counselor or some therapy sessions, these should not be your main strategy for recovery. If you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, then you need to take other actions in order to establish a foundation of recovery in addition to counseling.
For example, you will need to find a way to connect and network with other peers in recovery if you are going to stay clean and sober. In early recovery, this is probably more important than getting help from a counselor.
Another example would be to compare counseling to long term treatment. Which do you think has more impact? The long term treatment, of course (which might even include counseling). Ultimately, living in a long term treatment center has a huge impact on a person’s life, whereas counseling might only take place for a few hours a week. It is worth pointing out that in early recovery, you will get better results from high impact recovery strategies. In other words, strategies that create major disruption in your life. Counseling does not really do that.
On the other hand, counseling services can work out great as a secondary, long term recovery strategy. Think of it as a personal coach for recovery to help you on your journey. In fact, the idea of counseling becomes more powerful in long term recovery, because our biggest obstacle we face then is complacency. So having someone who can help give us a gentle push towards continued growth can really make a big difference in terms of our long term recovery. If we stop growing or stagnate in our recovery, then we run the risk of relapse, even if we have been clean and sober for several years. Thus, some forms of counseling, therapy, or coaching can become a helpful strategy as we progress in our recovery.