6 Things to Look for in an Addiction Therapist
So, you’ve finally decided to put an end to your addiction and give this recovery thing a shot.
You’re sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. Plus, you have experienced way too many unfortunate consequences due to your addiction. You’ve reached your bottom and are ready to be done feeling empty, ashamed, and full of regret. The good news is, that you’re actually in a good place. After all, in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) they call this “the gift of desperation.” This is because it often propels someone to begin their journey to healing.
We commend you on this difficult yet crucial decision to give yourself a chance to change your life around. Our team is happy to offer support in helping you reach goals that you had previously given up or considered at one point to be impossible. It is a sign of strength and courage to say goodbye to something that’s played such a big, intricate role in your life.
The question is – what do you do next?
Finding a solid therapist that specializes in treating addictions is often a great way to get the support and guidance that you need as you embark on the recovery process. But what makes a good addiction therapist? This article highlights some of the important characteristics to look for when searching for the right therapist.
1. A Nonjudgmental Approach
In the old days of addiction counseling, many rehab centers, and substance abuse counselors were known to shame clients. They would do this to “break them down and then build them back up”. It’s true that many behaviors and thought patterns need to change. But, it’s ridiculous to think that people trying to get clean and sober aren’t already broken down as a result of their addiction. They come into addiction counseling full of shame and despair. Thus, they often need a compassionate professional who isn’t there to judge.
In fact, today’s mentality toward addiction treatment has evolved for the better. It is much more geared toward reducing shame and stigma. What was once generally called “chemical dependence” or “addiction” is now referred to as a “substance use disorder” or “compulsive behavior”.
Research shows that shame is actually a contributor to relapse.
Oftentimes, it is a roadblock to recovery. In one study, shame related to past drinking was found to increase the likelihood of relapse. In another study, shame and guilt were shown to hamper recovery from stimulant addiction. This shame spiral of addiction that many people know all too well needs to be interrupted once and for all.
A good addiction therapist will help you to explore and understand what role addiction has played in your life. Those substances and/or behaviors often fulfill some genuine, underlying need. But, in a maladaptive way. For example, someone with social anxiety may turn to alcohol to feel more at ease within interpersonal relationships, a need that all humans have as social beings. Or someone with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may use substances to numb their painful feelings and just cope with being in constant distress. Given this important context, your addiction therapist can help normalize your use. Together, you can work to create empathy and self-compassion. Then, you can reduce the shame you feel for the past choices you cannot change (unless someone invents a time machine). All while at the same time helping you to meet these needs in more adaptive, healthy ways.
2. An Expert in Addiction
In Palm Beach County, our county of almost 1.5 million residents, there are hundreds of residential and outpatient treatment centers. There are also likely thousands of independent psychotherapists (therapists and counselors). It is important to entrust your care to someone with extensive experience and skill in treating addictions. So, how do you choose one to work with?
A great place to start is getting a referral from a trusted friend or professional. They can often provide a valuable personal testimonial or a story of success. Or, they may have a good understanding of the local professional landscape to give you some names of solid clinicians. If you don’t have this luxury, take a look at their profile on Psychology Today or their website. See if they list addiction as a specialty or write about the topic in their blogs.
An addiction therapist can provide a comprehensive evaluation or assessment of your situation.
They should be able to make confident recommendations on what next steps to take. Or, what level of care you may need. They will be educated on things such as the ASAM Criteria. This provides comprehensive guidelines for planning addiction counseling and care.
An addiction therapist will be familiar with the lay of the land when it comes to rehabs, detoxes, and recovery residences (AKA “halfway houses” or “sober homes”). A therapist can suggest local or national resources that are reputable. They can also recommend other support services. They may include case management, sober coaching, or the use of technology (such as Soberlink). In addition, they will have a working knowledge of the 12-Step process for those who could benefit from participation in those groups. There is a lot that goes into addiction counseling and recovery. So, your therapist needs to be an expert in that realm.
A good addiction therapist will understand the concept of “addiction interaction.”
This is a fancy name for the whack-a-mole process of stopping one compulsive behavior only to replace it with another. They will be experts on substance use disorders but also on compulsive behaviors (otherwise known as process addictions). Your therapist will not only help you stop the self-destructive behavior. More importantly, they will help you get to the real core issues in a safe and effective way.
3. Trauma-Informed Care
At our practice which specializes in addiction and trauma, we take a comprehensive approach to treating addiction. We examine and address all the underlying issues at play. The great poet, Rumi, once wrote that “maybe you are searching among the branches for what only appears in the roots”. Often, addiction is only a symptom of the problem – the proverbial “tip of the iceberg”. In that spirit, achieving lasting recovery means working on whatever stuff lies under the surface. It is more than just stopping the substance or behavior. It requires addressing all the emotional and psychological concerns at the root of the addictive process.
It’s easy to see how a person might use their addiction to self-medicate uncomfortable feelings and body sensations related to:
- Toxic shame and low self-esteem
- Grief and loss
- Relationship problems
- Poor body image
- and anxiety
All of which likely have origins related to hardship in one’s past. These present-day manifestations are often rooted in trauma and childhood adversity. It is critical to address this to achieve sobriety.
Consider a young woman who comes to therapy after abusing alcohol following a sexual assault that was never dealt with. She spends years going in and out of rehabs and treatment centers, all focusing on her drinking. Yet, the underlying trauma is never addressed and thus the alcohol addiction continues.
In another example, a man comes to therapy for help with cocaine addiction.
In the counseling process, he realizes how powerless he felt growing up in a chaotic and abusive home. He also realizes that his use of this drug has helped him feel strong. In his journey of recovery, he works to overcome those past experiences. All while learning more-healthy ways to cope. Effective addiction counseling takes into consideration not only the problematic behavior. It also takes into account the underlying issues that have fueled it to continue.
Let’s be honest – getting clean and sober can be very hard! The reality is that letting go of something so instrumental in your life, even if in a negative way, can be quite scary and challenging. Despite the stakes being high in addiction counseling (often recovery being a matter of life and death), you may still be tempted to miss appointments and procrastinate doing homework and tasks. Or, be evasive and avoidant in sessions when it comes to difficult and uncomfortable topics. The emotional temptation to do this is understandable! But at the same time, this is exactly why a good addiction therapist will know how to provide the right amount of structure and accountability you need. By doing so, you both can work to keep you on the path to success.
Successful recovery involves incorporating principles into your life. These are principles like honoring commitments, facing fears, and taking personal responsibility. Your addiction therapist will push you in just the right way. They will challenge you to keep moving forward on the path to recovery.
An effective therapist who specializes in addiction needs to be skilled and experienced in collaborating with all the other members of your recovery team. This often includes people such as family members, psychiatrists, case managers, sober coaches, and attorneys. They are all helping you to achieve the same recovery goal. They would each benefit from taking the time to collaborate as need be. Working from a systems perspective and in conjunction with these other stakeholders will give you the best chance for success.
Unfortunately, the sad truth is that many of the care providers in the community are not that great with communication. Thus, they may miss vital opportunities for follow-up and intervention. Inform your addiction therapist of all the various people in your life who support you. Then, make sure they are practicing with a true, collaborative spirit.
6. Individualized Care
We don’t treat the addiction; we treat the person. There are some general principles that apply across the addiction recovery spectrum. But, everyone’s situation is unique and deserves an individualized approach. People arrive at therapy with different strengths, needs, preferences, and situations. As a result, the treatment plan should be reflective of these factors. At the end of the day, what may work for some people may not work for others.
For example, people may abuse substances for a variety of reasons:
- To numb emotional pain…
- To deal with strong feelings of anger…
- As a cure for boredom and loneliness…
- As a social lubricant…
- To calm their anxiety and racing thoughts.
As such, the process of addiction counseling can look very different depending on an individual’s specific situation.
Some people may need inpatient rehab. Others may be okay with weekly therapy and some support groups. Some may be at risk for withdrawal complications and will need to spend time in a detox center. Others would benefit from an evening outpatient program for a few days per week. A good addiction therapist will get to know you and your situation. They will collaborate to put together a solid recovery plan.
I think of the old-school mentality regarding someone resistant to attending AA, NA, or some other 12-Step program. The approach in the past would have been to beat them up (figuratively speaking of course) until they conceded. Or, to suggest they are not ready for recovery and to come back when they’ve reached their bottom. In this example, they could benefit from attending those groups. And, a good therapist will take time to explore their reluctance. But if a person is just not willing to attend, an alternative approach may need to be considered!
There are many, excellent clinicians out there who specialize in treating addiction. Working with one can help you on the journey forward to recovery. Find someone who is the right fit and possesses the characteristics outlined in this article. Recovery is unfortunately often a matter of life and death. So, take the process seriously, find the right help, and challenge yourself to change so you can have an amazing life ahead. There are many paths to recovery – take pride that you are on one!
Schedule an Appointment with an Addiction Therapist in Delray Beach, FL
At Mangrove Therapy Group we specialize in treating all addictions. This includes substance use disorders (SUDs), process addictions, and focusing on all the underlying issues that contribute to the problem. Contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our skilled addiction therapists. They have experience in guiding families who are struggling with a loved one’s addiction. To start your therapy journey, please follow these simple steps:
- Contact Mangrove Therapy Group
- Meet with a caring addiction therapist who can support you in your journey to recovery.
- Start creating a new life for yourself!
Other Services Offered with Mangrove Therapy Group
Addictions counseling isn’t the only service offered at our Delray Beach, FL-based practice. Our clinicians are experts in treating trauma and PTSD/C-PTSD. But, they are also experts in treating body image issues, eating disorders, “Failure to Launch” syndrome, personality disorders, grief and loss, problems with self-esteem, and much more.