Psychotherapy is a central part of every good addiction treatment program. This typically happens in the form of individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy. There are good reasons for this. Most people who have a substance use disorder also have a co-occurring mental health issue. [https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf] Some of the most common include anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and personality disorders. Many of these significantly increase your risk of developing a substance use issue and they must be treated if you want to have a successful recovery from addiction. Even if you don’t have a co-occurring mental health issue, psychotherapy can teach you better thinking habits, coping mechanisms, and behaviors that will help you in recovery. Unfortunately, many people are hesitant to participate in treatment. They don’t really know what to expect and they may have inaccurate preconceptions about what therapy is like. The following are some common misconceptions about therapy.
Perhaps the biggest myth around therapy is that it means you’re “crazy.” Although we have made a lot of progress reducing the stigma of mental illness in recent years, a lot of work remains to be done. Most people now understand that mental illness is not caused by demons or some kind of weakness of character. However, many people still mistakenly believe that people with mental illnesses are weak or dangerous. So it is perhaps understandable that many worry about the stigma of entering therapy.
Beyond that, therapy has range of purposes, especially in the context of addiction treatment. It’s true that some people struggling with addiction have pretty serious mental health issues. If that’s the case, then other people’s opinions should be the least of your worries. However, therapy in the context of addiction treatment can also help you communicate better with your family, cope with stress better, sleep better, or process a traumatic event. There are a lot of different parts to a successful recovery and therapy can teach you the skills you need for many of those parts.
Since most people get their ideas about therapy from TV and movies, they often believe that what a therapist tells you is just common sense. Sometimes what your therapist tells you is common sense but for whatever reason, you couldn’t come up with it on your own. You only really know what it’s like to be you and so you take your own beliefs and assumptions for granted. It can be very hard to see where you’re going wrong. So sometimes your therapist will tell you something that seems perfectly obvious once you’ve heard it, but for some reason, you couldn’t see it before.
However, much of therapy does require an extensive understanding of psychology and therapeutic techniques. Your therapist’s job is not to dazzle you with her expert knowledge but rather to help you resolve your problems.
There are several reasons people resist the idea that talk therapy can help with even relatively severe psychological issues. One is that we’ve become used to the disease model of addiction and mental illness. If addiction and mental illness are diseases, what’s the point of talking about them? After all, you wouldn’t use talk therapy for pneumonia or diabetes. And much of the research on mental health in recent decades has focused on biological aspects of cognition, such as neurotransmitters and brain structures. Why would you think that talking about your problems would make any difference?
There are two main reasons. The first is neuroplasticity, or your brain’s ability to change. We have observed in brain imaging studies that using your brain differently leads to physical changes in the brain. So for example, if you do work that requires a lot of focus, the areas of your brain responsible for attention, mainly in the prefrontal cortex, become thicker. The second reason is we have studies that show talk therapy is at least as effective as medication for treating many conditions. [https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2016/05/06/a-few-things-that-therapy-may-do-better-than-medication-according-to-science/#da7976f4243f] these conditions include depression, insomnia, and ADHD, all of which are correlated with addiction. For many other conditions, including PTSD, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and anxiety disorders, the combination of talk therapy and medication works better than medication alone.
The other side of the coin is the belief that your therapist will fix all your problems. You go in, your therapist tells you what’s wrong and how to fix it, and then you’re cured. That’s not how it works. Your therapist is more like an expert consultant who you work with to solve your problems. You will often have homework between sessions and it’s important to take this seriously. Otherwise, it’s like taking piano lessons and never practicing. It’s also up to you to try to apply the skills you learn in therapy. Your therapist can help you see your unhelpful patterns and show you the skills to improve them, but lasting change takes practice and persistence.
The thought of entering therapy makes many people anxious because they’re afraid they’ll have to talk about things they don’t want to talk about. Typically, if there’s something you really don’t want to talk about, it means you really should talk about it. The desire to hide it or avoid it is similar to protecting a wound and many people instinctively realize the thing they don’t want to confront will be important in therapy. The good news is that you won’t have to talk about anything if you’re not ready. A good therapist knows that trying to force someone to deal with a problem before they’re ready can be counterproductive. You’re always the one in charge. You can talk about a problem whenever you’re ready. Most people find they feel much better once they deal with their problems openly.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 714-559-3919.
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