Therapy can be a powerful support to addiction recovery

Therapy is a regular part of most inpatient or outpatient treatment programs. Clients typically attend daily group therapy. Higher-end programs usually also offer one-on-one sessions with an individual therapist several times a week. 

However, most people in recovery (indeed, most people with a drug or alcohol problem) don’t ever attend any sort of formal treatment program. They might go to twelve-step meetings, or quit cold turkey and try and remain clean and sober through willpower. They may not even think about therapy as a form of support. 

But therapy can really help, whether you have six days or six years.

One of the pillars of a successful recovery is learning to be deeply honest. This is something many people (addicts and non-addicts alike)  struggle with, to one degree or another. It’s a natural human instinct to try to protect oneself by lying. But for people who want to stay clean, that instinct has to be overcome. People who can’t bring themselves to tell or accept the truth are most likely headed for a relapse.

Therapy can be a terrific place to practice honesty. One of the primary goals of any good therapist is to make you the client feel safe, and to help you explore any truths you may have been running away from. A good therapist knows how to do this in a gentle, skillful way, giving you the space to express whatever you’ve been holding on to, and helping you move through it and move forward. This can be really healing.

Especially for people in early recovery, working with a therapist also helps you learn to trust again. Many people in recovery have spent years of their lives so focused on drinking and using that they have lost any meaningful human relationships, and don’t have anyone in their lives they can really trust. Building a relationship with a therapist gives you someone you can trust, and helps you remember how good that feels. 

If you’re in twelve-step groups, therapy can be a great complement to the twelve-step process. Twelve-step groups wisely emphasize self-forgetting and service to others as a key to staying sober, but it can also be really helpful to be able to spend time focusing on yourself with a therapist. If you’re dealing with a significant issue, a trauma, or a life change, having a safe space to examine yourself is invaluable. Your sponsor may not have the time or the aptitude to talk you through it alone, while a therapist might have specific training and expertise, which can be very useful. There is no shame in seeking outside help.

If you own a car, you know it needs occasional maintenance to run well. People need maintenance too. Therapy can provide that. 

Joan Borsten