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Therapy During Addiction Treatment: Benefits & Goals

Therapy comprises a significant portion of professional addiction treatment efforts. Additionally, it can benefit patients who are struggling with both substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders. Many different approaches to therapy may be used in addiction treatment, such as individual therapy, group therapy, couples therapy, or family therapy. Depending on the program you are enrolled in, they may also utilize different modalities or techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, EMDR, or others. Understanding different types of therapy that may be offered in addiction treatment can help you to make the most out of your treatment program.

What Is Therapy?

Therapy is another term for psychotherapy or “talk therapy,” and is a set of treatment approaches that help people to understand and change thoughts, behaviors, and feelings that impact their mental health.1 Therapy is conducted by a licensed mental health professional, typically someone who has completed advanced training in the mental health field, though many different professions can become licensed therapists.1 For example, a therapist can be a licensed clinical social worker, a licensed psychological counselor, a marriage and family therapist, or a psychologist.

Therapy often takes place in a one-on-one setting between you and the therapist, in their office or over a secure telehealth platform. Oftentimes therapy is just be one aspect of a comprehensive mental health treatment plan, which might combine regular counseling and medications, for example.1

Therapy works by identifying goals that you want to work on with the therapist and tailoring various treatment approaches to address the needs you have as you work towards those goals. Different approaches may be used for different problems—for example, someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or another anxiety disorder would benefit from exposure therapy, a specialized type of cognitive behavioral therapy.1

In addiction treatment, the goals of therapy are often to understand the reasons why a person uses substances and to develop new ways of coping with uncomfortable emotions. This can include a variety of therapy approaches, such as learning to identify and change unhelpful thought patterns, developing new communication skills, or supportive therapy as they move through the difficult process of behavior change.1

Does Therapy Help in Addiction Treatment?

Therapy can lead to positive health outcomes for those struggling with addiction. Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of psychotherapy as an intervention for treating substance use problems for decades. One study from 2020 published in JAMA Psychiatry found that combining medication with a targeted form of psychotherapy such as CBT is effective in addressing the effects of addiction that medication will not address, such as developing coping skills.2 Furthermore, research published in 2022 found that an integrative model of psychotherapy as a part of addiction treatment was effective in facilitating behavior change, as the use of multiple therapeutic modalities allowed for versatility in the approach.3

In addition, therapy sessions can be conducted in various addiction treatment settings, including inpatient, outpatient, and aftercare settings. Though treatment may be conducted somewhat differently across these various settings, the therapeutic goals for each will be similar.  In addition to the various settings, treatment may also be adapted for any co-occurring mental health conditions that may also need to be addressed in addition to issues of substance use and addiction.

In treatment for co-occurring disorders, also sometimes called dual diagnosis treatment, psychotherapeutic approaches such as CBT, motivational interviewing, 12-Step facilitation, and community reinforcement may be used as part of a well-rounded, evidence-based treatment plan.4 Treatment that addresses both mental health concerns and substance use will address both psychiatric symptoms—often through the combination of medication and therapy—and maladaptive substance use behaviors as well.4

Types of Therapies Used in Drug & Alcohol Rehab

A variety of approaches are used in psychotherapy for people with substance use problems. It is important that your treatment plan be tailored to your unique needs, considering both your strengths and vulnerabilities when you start treatment. Some common therapeutic settings, as well as the various therapeutic modalities one might encounter during addiction treatment include:

Individual therapy: A common format where treatment of mental health or substance use problems is conducted one-on-one between the client and a licensed therapist. Sessions typically last about an hour but may be more or less time, depending on the treatment program you are a part of.

Group therapy: Another common format of psychotherapy in which participants are part of a group of clients who share a common goal in treatment. Group sizes may vary depending on your treatment program, and there may be one or more therapists facilitating the group based on its size. Group sessions typically last longer than individual therapy sessions, and may involve activities, group sharing or processing, or other interventions designed to help members benefit from the experience of others in the group.

Family therapy: A format of psychotherapy that is commonly a part of addiction treatment, designed to explore family dynamics and address their patterns of functioning over time.5 In substance use treatment, family therapy often focuses on how the family system has influenced one family member’s substance use behavior, and how to use that influence to promote change and a healthier dynamic.5

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): A therapeutic approach that may be utilized in individual or group settings, helps people understand how certain situations, thoughts, and experiences can reinforce compulsive drug and alcohol use, while promoting ways to change their resultant maladaptive behaviors to better maintain sobriety.6 CBT is a skills-based modality in which clients will learn different ways to resist cravings and urges to use and develop new activities to replace previous drug-involved behavior.6

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): An approach to psychotherapy that focuses on coping with painful or intense emotions through acceptance, development of coping skills, and using strategies to maintain abstinence from substances.7 In DBT treatment, clients learn to change their situation while also tolerating uncomfortable emotions that are brought up during the change process.7

Motivational interviewing (MI): An approach in psychotherapy that helps clients to break through their ambivalent feelings about behavior change to be able to quit using substances.8

Contingency management (CM): A type of psychotherapy in which participants are rewarded for positive behavior change, such as a negative drug screen, or attendance in treatment groups.9 This intervention is based on principles of basic behavior analysis, which believes that reinforcement of a behavior shortly after it occurs will encourage continued episodes of that behavior.9

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): Typically held in an individual therapy session, EMDR is a highly specialized treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that can be useful in treating co-occurring substance use disorders as well.10 During an EMDR session, clients will focus on a traumatic memory or experience while following a bilateral stimulus, such as a light that is shone into one eye, then the other, to reprocess the experience of the memory in their brain.10

Does Insurance Cover Therapy in Drug & Alcohol Rehab?

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, health insurance plans are now required to provide some degree of coverage for the medically necessary treatment of mental health conditions and substance misuse. Your insurance may cover the cost of therapy used in addiction treatment programs. However, because this may vary from plan to plan, it is always a good idea to check with your health insurance plan administrator to determine the cost of treatment ahead of time.

Find Rehabs that Offer Therapy Near You

If you or a loved one are seeking treatment for a substance use problem, help is available. It is important to seek a treatment program that is credible and uses evidence-based modalities to ensure that your time in treatment is effective. Before starting the search for a treatment program, it is a good idea to consult with your doctor or another member of your healthcare team to have your physical and mental health assessed. Your doctor will help you to identify what needs you have going into treatment and recommend an appropriate level of care based on those needs.

Once you have an idea of what you are looking for, finding a treatment program near you is just a click away. Try using an online database like our treatment directory to browse thousands of treatment centers nationwide. You can also contact American Addiction Centers’ addiction helpline to talk with an admissions navigator in a free, private phone consultation. Our team can help you answer questions about what to expect in addiction therapy, find rehab centers near you, and verify your insurance benefits to ensure that treatment is affordable.

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