Is it necessary to have a therapist in order to succeed in addiction recovery? Does sobriety depend on having a counselor or a therapist in your life?
I think that there is an important concept in the answer to this question.
The concept is this:
Every alcoholic and drug addict who is struggling to find a new life would definitely benefit from having a therapist. Furthermore, anyone who is in early recovery from addiction needs to have people who have experience in recovery who can help guide them.
There is a trap in recovery that claims nearly everyone who tries to get clean and sober, at least at first. That trap is this: We are not stupid people.
Addicts and alcoholics are not generally stupid people. We know that we are intelligent, and therefore we believe that we should be smart enough to figure out sobriety. And therefore we tell ourselves that we should not have to rely on others to tell us what to do in early recovery. We should be smart enough for this, right?
That’s the trap.
If you try to outsmart recovery, especially early in the game, you are going to lose.
The reason is not because you are not smart enough. Truth be told, most every addict and alcoholic who tries to sober up is smart enough to know what to do, and even how to do it.
That’s not the problem.
Lack of knowledge is not really the problem in early recovery. If you go to AA, an old timer there will say to you during your first meeting “Don’t drink and come to AA meetings.”
Done deal. Don’t drink and come to meetings. You don’t need any more information than that. You have the entire basis of a recovery program in that one sentence, just 7 little words. Don’t drink and come to meetings. That’s all you need.
Lack of knowledge is not the problem. You know what to do, and you even know how to do it.
You just don’t want to do it.
And therein lies the biggest problem in addiction recovery: Figuring out motivation.
And what most addicts and alcoholics have found is that it was only after they hit bottom and lost nearly everything that they finally developed the motivation that was necessary to do what they had to do.
In other words, you can learn how recovery works right now, and yet continue to stay stuck in addiction, continue to beat yourself up, continue to self medicate and spiral into madness with your addiction. You know the solution: Go to meetings and don’t drink. You know what to do, you just don’t want to do it. You lack motivation. You lack surrender.
Surrender happens at some point, and the motivation magically appears, and you are able to do what you need to do. Suddenly, you humbly ask for help and become willing to go to rehab, this time for real. This time because you are desperate for a solution. If you are not desperate for a solution in recovery then you are not going to make it in long term sobriety.
Having a therapist is just one more suggestion that you are going to get along the way.
Like when people say “Go to rehab,” or they say “Go to AA meetings, do 90 in 90.” Or they tell you to get a sponsor in AA and work through the steps.
If you are just getting clean and sober and you start going to rehab and meetings every day then you are going to get an overwhelming amount of suggestions as to what you should be doing with your life.
How do you process all of this? How do you prioritize all of the suggestions?
Here’s how: You put your entire life on hold, everything that you think you want to do, and you push all of that stuff to the side. Give yourself a full year if you are serious about quitting drinking. Put everything on hold and focus 100 percent of your time and energy on recovery.
This is how you succeed in recovery when other people relapse. You have to prioritize so that every ounce of your time and energy is being poured into recovery.
So when they say “go to meetings, do 90 in 90, get a sponsor, work the steps, get therapist and do counseling once a week, go to iop, do a 28 day inpatient program,” and they have even more suggestions on top of all of that, you say “yes.”
You say yes to all of it.
Yes, I will go to rehab. Yes I will start going to meetings every single day. Yes I will do everything that you are suggesting that I do, and more.
If you are not saying yes to all of it then you are likely going to relapse. It is as simple as that.
And when you get a therapist, that person is going to listen to your situation and start making suggestions about how you should live your life differently. They are going to suggest positive changes that you could make.
And you say yes to those positive changes. You do it all. You take it all on, this massive onslaught of positive suggestions.
Because if you don’t then the addiction will win. If you don’t try to change everything, then you will drink again and nothing will have changed.
Or rather, there is a tipping point when it comes to addiction recovery. You quit drinking for the moment and you get some help. Then you start taking these suggestions and you start putting all of this stuff into action. And as you continue to do so, your life gets better and better in sobriety. But there is a part of you that still wants to say “just screw it” and go drink again.
And so there is this battle raging within yourself during early sobriety. You are pushing to make positive changes and stay sober, but there is a part of you that wants to relapse very badly.
And there is a tipping point. So after a few weeks, you are still pushing to make changes and that addiction part of your brain is still strong. You still have cravings, thoughts, and triggers on a daily basis.
But after about 3 to 6 months or so, if you have been pushing hard and working a real program of recovery, you will notice that a day will come along in which you never had a single craving or urge to drink or take drugs.
This is a miracle! You have reached the tipping point. You are now living this thing, this recovery idea, you are a living and working example of success in sobriety. You went an entire day without even thinking about drinking.
This will happen for most people around the 6 month point in recovery. Note that this only works if you are pushing yourself hard to take every positive suggestion and make every positive change that you can in your life. It takes real work. If you slip up or slack off then you can throw these estimates out of the window. You have to work for it.
And having a therapist can be a huge part of this. If you get a therapist and you are honest with that therapist then great things can happen. They will become a shortcut to wisdom for you. Because they already know what sorts of solutions work well in recovery and which do not. So they can steer you in ways that normal people cannot. They can see pitfalls and opportunities that normal people might miss.
Having a therapist may not be essential for every person’s sobriety, but if you have one and you are honest with that therapist then it will definitely help you.
Throughout most of my 16 years in recovery I have had a therapist, and at times I have had different therapists. The key is that I was honest and took advice and then put that advice into action.
You need to find new solutions in your recovery journey. All of recovery is seeking solutions. Our old solution was to self medicate and that doesn’t work any more. So you need new solutions. Having a therapist is an opportunity to have lots of new and helpful solutions at your disposal.