If you are struggling with a substance use disorder, therapy will likely be part of the solution. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, at least half of people with substance use disorders also have a mental health challenge such as an anxiety disorder, depression, PTSD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and others.
If you try to stay sober without treating these issues, you’re fighting an uphill battle. Even people without co-occurring mental health issues can benefit from regular therapy, especially as they transition home from a treatment program. The following tips are designed to help you make the most of the time you spend in your therapy sessions.
Understand that Therapy Is a Collaboration
First of all, understand that your therapist is not going to “fix” you. Therapy is a cooperative process, which means you have to set the direction and participate in the process. In fact, you don’t want your therapist to do too much for you. If your therapist were to tell you what to do or decide what your goals should be, they would be overstepping their boundaries. The ultimate goal of therapy should be to help you become a better caretaker of your own wellbeing.
Create Indicators of Progress
Recovery from addiction and mental health in general is rarely a straightforward process. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re making any progress at all. Everyone is different and requires a slightly different approach to therapy—and sometimes even a different therapist. To manage the chaos inherent in finding a path forward, it helps to have some goals for recovery and some way to know if you’re making progress toward those goals.
For example, one overall goal might be to improve your relationship with your spouse or to reduce your frequency of angry outbursts. Those two goals might even be related. You should also have some way of knowing whether you’re making progress towards those goals, perhaps by rating your relationship on important facets from week to week or tracking the number of times you lose your temper. Progress will never be steady, but knowing where you’re trying to go and having some means of monitoring progress will at least let you know if you’re on the right track.
In most of our social interactions, we censor ourselves pretty heavily. We keep potentially hurtful opinions to ourselves, we hide things we’re embarrassed about, and we omit information that’s not relevant to our conversation. In therapy, you have to work against those tendencies a bit. It’s important to be as open as you can be, perhaps even a bit more than you’re comfortable with. You have to deal with your thoughts, beliefs, and emotions as they are, not as you would like them to be.
Furthermore, the stray thoughts and tangents that are distracting in normal conversation may be illuminating in therapy, so if you’re unsure whether to say something, err on the side of openness. Your therapist is legally bound by confidentiality, so unless you’re making a credible threat against someone or yourself, you don’t have to worry about having what you say getting around.
Just as you should be open about expressing yourself in therapy sessions, you should also indulge your curiosity. Ask any question that comes to mind, whether you want to know what your therapist thinks about something you said, what kind of psychological principles are relevant to your problem, or what kind of experience your therapist has in dealing with a particular issue. As noted above, therapy is a collaboration and your therapist is like your expert advisor, so make full use of that resource.
Keep an Open Mind
We all think we understand ourselves better than anyone else does. Afterall, we have unique access to our own thoughts, emotions, and personal histories. We think we understand our own behaviors and motivations. However, we’re also very good at deceiving ourselves. Your therapist may occasionally make suggestions that sound off base, but it’s a good idea to take these suggestions seriously, even if you ultimately decide not to accept them.
This also applies to behavioral changes. Anything new is bound to feel uncomfortable at first. Keep in mind what they say in AA: “Your best thinking is what got you here.” Be willing to try something new.
Do Your Homework
Therapy often entails a bit of homework. These assignments aren’t typically very difficult or time-consuming, but they may occasionally be emotionally challenging. Keep in mind that you typically only spend one or two hours a week in therapy, and these homework assignments help you apply your work in sessions to your life more broadly.
Skipping your homework is like taking piano lessons and not practicing during the week. If you don’t get homework, it’s still a good idea to keep a therapy journal. Write down what you talked about each session, what you thought about it, new things that occur to you, and any questions. This helps you process the session and be better prepared for the next one.
Try New Behaviors
Therapy isn’t only diagnostic; it’s also a sort of lab where you can try out new behaviors. This is especially true of group therapy sessions, but it can apply to individual therapy, as well. Try out new communication skills or new behavioral skills. Your therapist will likely be more than willing to rehearse with you. In a group environment, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice other skills—like providing or soliciting constructive feedback, setting boundaries, asking questions, and so on—in a safe, moderated environment.
Talk About Therapy
Sometimes it’s useful to get meta during your sessions. For example, it’s often a good idea to periodically evaluate how things are going, if you’re making progress, which interventions you found most useful, whether your goals have changed, and so on. Your therapist should do this periodically, but you should, too.
This is especially important if you feel like something isn’t working or like you’re not making progress. It takes time to build a therapeutic relationship, so if something isn’t quite working, it’s better to discuss it rather than abruptly quit therapy or switch therapists.
In a good therapeutic relationship, you shouldn’t have to worry about setting boundaries with your therapist. That is, they should pay attention to what you’re saying, respect your autonomy and values, and certainly never do anything to make you feel unsafe.
More often, it will be the people outside of therapy you’ll have to maintain boundaries with. Some people might be eager to know what you’re saying about them in therapy, or they may want to offer their own advice. It’s typically best to mostly keep the content of your therapy sessions to yourself, or only share judiciously with someone you trust.
Therapy is one of the cornerstones of a successful recovery from addiction, but you only get out what you put in. Therapy is a collaborative effort, and it’s important to be as open as possible, fully participate in the process, and keep an open mind.
At Hired Power, we know that recovery from addiction is an ongoing process. That’s why we offer services like case management and recovery assistants to help integrate recovery into your regular life and make sure all the parts of your recovery plan work together. To learn more about our services, call us today at 714-559-3919.