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Seven Ways Individual Therapy Can Help You Overcome Addiction

Man attending a therapy session with female therapist

Man attending a therapy session with female therapist

At Alpine Recovery Lodge, we believe that every patient is different. We work closely with each patient to determine the best course of treatment, choosing from options that include cognitive therapy and mindfulness training.

However, we also recognize that recovery is not a one-and-done proposition. It’s an ongoing challenge – a lifelong commitment to wellness and sober living.

We are often asked, both by patients and their loved ones, what they can do to increase their chances of success in the long term after they leave our facility. There are many options available, but one thing that can help is individual therapy.

Individual therapy may take many different forms. You’ll have to decide which option is the most likely to help you to overcome addiction. However, there are some clear-cut ways that individual therapy can help you overcome addiction.

#1: Individual Therapy Can Help You Control Negative Thoughts

One of the most common kinds of therapy used to treat addiction is cognitive behavioral therapy.

The basic idea behind this kind of therapy is that thoughts, feelings, and actions are all interrelated. Many people with addiction problems turn to drugs or alcohol because they have negative thoughts about themselves.

Negative thoughts, sometimes referred to as negative self-talk, often take the form of a little voice you hear inside your head. It tells you that you are unworthy or unlovable. It may even tell you that you are stupid and worthless and that nobody loves you.

This kind of thinking can have a harmful effect on you if you let it run unchecked. If you think that you lack the ability to change these thoughts, they can become the only opinion that matters to you.

It can be easy to feel that negative thoughts are beyond your control, but the opposite is actually true. It is possible to learn to control negative thoughts and train yourself to turn your thoughts in a positive direction.

Individual therapy can help you acquire the tools you need to overcome negative thoughts – and thus, to overcome negative behaviors such as drug use.

#2: Individual Therapy Can Help You Have Realistic Expectations of Yourself

Closely related to the issue of negative self-talk is the formation of irrational and harmful belief systems.

Human beings, as a whole, have a tendency to be very hard on themselves. We expect perfection when, of course, perfection is impossible.

We also have a tendency to project a need for perfection onto the other people in our lives. We imagine that they require perfection of us when, in fact, they are struggling with their own irrational expectations.

One kind of individual therapy that addresses this issue is called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, or REBT. This form of individual therapy helps people understand the difference between a rational belief and an irrational one.

In addition to the two common irrational beliefs we have already discussed, there is a third that is also quite common among people who struggle with addiction. It’s the belief that we should always get what we want.

The combination of these three irrational beliefs can be quite harmful in the struggle against addiction. It is not possible to achieve perfection, so the first two will always lead to a sense of disappointment. They also lead directly to the third, since if we want perfection and cannot achieve it, we will fail to get what we desire, as well.

A good therapist can help you learn to develop rational expectations to help you work toward recovery.

#3: Individual Therapy Can Help You Recognize Emotional Triggers

Everybody who struggles with addiction has emotional triggers that make them want to return to addictive behavior.

Some addicts have to cope with difficult interpersonal relationships with family members or significant others. Some may find that their relationships hold up, but they can’t stand to be around anybody who is drinking or using drugs.

Recognizing these triggers is an essential part of recovery for two reasons:

  1. When you recognize that certain things act as triggers, you may, in many cases, be able to take steps to avoid them. For example, if you know that your office Christmas party is going to feature a great deal of drinking, you might decide to sit it out or to attend for only a short time.
  2. If you end up getting exposed to a triggering situation or person, individual therapy can help you form coping mechanisms to get past the trigger. When you have a plan in place before you encounter a trigger, then you know what to do to get out of the situation safely and with your sobriety intact.

A good therapist will explore your history of addiction and help you learn how to recognize, avoid, and prepare for the triggers that might lead to relapse.

#4: Individual Therapy Can Help You Compartmentalize Emotions in a Healthy Way

There are two kinds of compartmentalization: healthy compartmentalization and unhealthy compartmentalization.

Addicts are often masters of unhealthy compartmentalization. They drink or use drugs to avoid thinking about emotional difficulties.

However, when compartmentalization is done mindfully and deliberately, it can be a very healthy thing. It can teach you how to cope with your emotions by observing them in a dispassionate way that allows you to evaluate them.

Individual therapy sessions teach you how to recognize your emotions <em>as emotions</em>, and thus to understand how to control them in a way that allows you to experience them without being debilitated by them.

One way to look at it is this: your emotions are what they are. You may not be able to control feelings of sadness or anxiety, but you can learn to detach yourself from them enough to avoid their most harmful effects.

In other words, compartmentalization is a coping mechanism that allows you to control, as much as possible, how you react to your own emotions.

#5: Individual Therapy Can Help You Establish Healthy Boundaries

The issue of boundaries is closely related to the issue of compartmentalization.

We all have people in our lives with whom we have unhealthy boundaries. In the world of addiction recovery, these relationships are often referred to as being codependent.

In a codependent relationship, both parties might become dependent on one another for happiness and support. The two parties find it difficult to imagine happiness without the other person.

Another feature of codependence is a tendency to put the other person’s needs before your own, even when doing so has a detrimental effect on your happiness. We can get caught in codependent patterns because we tell ourselves that we are being selfless – when in fact, we are doing ourselves serious harm.

When you have healthy boundaries, on the other hand, you recognize that you are not responsible for anybody’s happiness but your own. You understand that, while you can certainly provide emotional support to your loved ones when they need it, you have to look out for yourself first.

If compartmentalization is what shields you from the negative effects of your emotions, it might be helpful to think of boundaries as what shields you from the negative effects of other people’s emotions. You need both to lead an addiction-free and healthy life.

#6: Individual Therapy Helps You Manage Stress

We’ve already talked about emotions, but stress deserves its own category. For many people, stress has become a part of life in the modern world. Learning to cope with it is one of the keys to recovery.

Human beings have a complex stress response that we share with animals. It’s known as the fight-or-flight response. When we are scared or experience stress, it sets off a biochemical reaction that includes the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.

One thing that many therapists recommend to their patients is mindfulness training. Mindfulness is a practice that allows you to train your brain to let go of negative emotions such as regret, shame, and anxiety.

As you learn to become mindful of your thoughts and emotions, it becomes easy to keep stress at bay. Learning how to manage stress can help you do a better job of keeping your cool both in the workplace and at home.

#7: Individual Therapy Helps You Practice Good Self-Care

Many people who struggle with addiction to drugs and alcohol are accustomed to neglecting their personal needs. In many ways, this last benefit of individual therapy is one that encompasses everything that we have already talked about.

For example, good self-care requires that you:

  • Manage negative thoughts and correct them whenever possible
  • Have reasonable expectations of yourself and other people
  • Recognize emotional triggers and having coping mechanisms in place to deal with them
  • Learn how to compartmentalize emotions in a healthy way
  • Establish and maintain healthy boundaries in your personal relationships
  • Practice mindfulness to reduce the negative effects of stress

The very act of seeking out a therapist and committing to doing the work of therapy is a signal that you are ready to engage in good self-care. Sometimes people who have never been in therapy think of it as a selfish thing to sit and talk about your emotions for an hour. However, those of us who understand the benefits of therapy know that the opposite is actually true.

When you take the time to explore your feelings and learn how you react in certain situations, you are learning what it takes to be an emotionally healthy person. The self-care you practice in therapy will spill over into every other area of your life.

People who have successful therapeutic experiences often find that they:

  • Have stronger, healthier personal relationships than they did before they started therapy
  • Have greater emotional control and better perspective on life than they did previously
  • Are better able to manage stress, whether it is work-related or personal, than they used to be
  • Are less likely to be unkind to themselves and the people around them as a result of therapy

These are all very good things. When you take good care of yourself, you are in a position to take better care of everybody around you – and in a way that doesn’t compromise your emotional well-being.


The benefits of individual therapy for treating addiction are clear. As you spend time working toward understanding your emotions and the way they affect you, you also learn how to be a better friend, partner, and parent.