How do you use a therapist effectively in addiction recovery? I think the biggest key, at least initially, is to get a foundation in your recovery by going to inpatient treatment, then allow them to assign you a therapist for follow up care. If you do not have this foundation of sobriety when you first get into therapy then it is not going to be nearly as helpful.
I made this mistake early in my journey when I was seeing a therapist before I was actually clean and sober. None of it was very helpful because the only thing the therapist can really do with you is to try to convince you to go to AA or to go to rehab. Without that baseline of sobriety, the therapist knows that no real growth is going to be possible.
This is because your growth is going to be based mostly on forming new and positive habits in your life. If you are stuck in addiction or alcoholism then any new habits that you attempt to form are going to be overshadowed by your drinking or drug use. Meaning that if you try to, for example, start exercising on a regular schedule, that might last for a few days and then your addiction is going to blow that new habit right out of the water. Suddenly it is going to be three weeks later and you are going to wake up after a heavy night of drinking and realize that you have not exercised for at least 3 weeks now.
That is the problem with addiction and alcoholism–when you use that as your main solution in life, it is the ONLY solution in your life. Nothing else has a chance to try to work in your life because the drinking or drug use just steamrolls everything else into oblivion.
Put simply: You cannot form positive habits while you are stuck in addiction. You must go to rehab first and get fully detoxified, then start living your life on a completely new track.
This is where the therapist comes in. When you first get clean and sober you are dealing with a lot of other bad habits, hang ups, character defects, and other issues that could all threaten to pull you back into your addiction at some point.
For example, when I got clean and sober I realized pretty early on that I was feeling sorry for myself all the time. What was going on? Why was this happening?
A therapist helped me to realize that I was doing this during my active addiction so that I could feel as though I was the victim, which then justified my drinking and drug use. I was using self pity as an excuse to drink.
But now that I was clean and sober and trying to live in recovery, my self pity was still there in my brain, trying to make me out to be the victim all the time. It was serving no good purpose, other than to justify drinking. So the therapist helped me to see this, to recognize it, and then to figure out what and why it was happening.
So then we developed a plan to get rid of the self pity. I had to raise my awareness, first of all, which was helped in part by doing some meditation every day. Then I had to come up with some counter measures to the self pity, which it turns out is gratitude. You cannot be both grateful and feeling sorry for yourself at the same time. They are polar opposites.
So a therapist was able to help me to identify and then eliminate this particular character defect, who’s only purpose for existing was to make me relapse. Pretty impressive, right?
Later on I was working with a therapist and I felt pretty good about my recovery. I was going to meetings and I was also working a part time job. This therapist was suddenly pushing me to go back to college.
At first I resisted this idea. Why upset a good thing, I thought, I am doing good in my recovery! Why add to the stress by adding in school on top of work and AA meetings? It would all be too much, or so I thought.
But the therapist insisted that I could do more, and they were right. I did go back to school, and I was able to maintain my recovery just fine.
So the therapist was seeing an opportunity for me that I could not see for myself. I never would have pushed myself to try to go back to college, but this therapist was able to convince me to do so. He pushed me just enough in the right direction.
The biggest reason that you can benefit from having a therapist in recovery is that you need the objectivity.
It is easy to look at other people in recovery and to tell them what to do, what their real problems are, and so on. But how easy is it to turn that same critical eye on ourselves?
It’s not easy. Because we are too close to our own problems, and we have an excuse for everything. Other people, when looking at our problems, can not see our excuses, and therefore they can get closer to the truth in a given situation. They can see the flaws when we have our blinders up.
We need this outside input so that we don’t steer completely off the rails in our recovery. We need a second brain to monitor our life and make sure we don’t go completely out of control, especially in early recovery. And we need a sounding board so that we know that we are not crazy, and that we are making progress.
If you do have a therapist then I would urge you to be honest with that person and to take as many suggestions from them as you can. When you take suggestions from a therapist you are essentially accessing a shortcut to wisdom. The therapist is going to give you input and advice based on their own area of expertise. So maybe they are helping you with a relationship in your life, or maybe they are giving you advice about dealing with your emotions. At any rate, you can be sure that they have already mastered this skill themselves, and that they are trying to explain to you the best and most efficient approach. The therapist can save you a lot of pain and emotional heartache if you follow their advice and do what they suggest. Unfortunately, we do not always do what our therapist recommends, right?
You may believe that having a sponsor in AA is enough, and that you don’t actually need a professional therapist that may cost money. I would argue: Why not have both? They can definitely serve different functions, although there is certainly a bit of overlap there as well. A sponsor guides you through the 12 steps. A therapist can dig deeper into emotional issues, past trauma, and can help you to deal with certain things in a clinical setting that a sponsor will likely not have the training for. In other words, while there is some overlap, a sponsor and a therapist can definitely fill different roles in terms of helping you, and you can certainly benefit by having access to both.
The more that you have trauma in your past, the more you will benefit by talking this out with a therapist and attempting to move past it. And nearly everyone who is a real addict or alcoholic has some form of trauma in their life, even if it is just the abuse that they have done to themselves based on their addiction. If you don’t have a therapist in your recovery yet, I strongly recommend that you become open to the idea that having one could help you out a lot. Good luck!