Therapy, both group and individual, is one of the most important parts of addiction treatment. The majority of people with substance use disorders also have a co-occurring mental health issue. Common co-occurring conditions include anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, OCD, PTSD, autism spectrum disorders, personality disorders, and schizophrenia. For a variety of reasons, these can all make recovery more challenging. Addressing these issues and getting them under control is the key to success in recovery, so it’s crucial to make the most of therapy. Many people are anxious going into therapy because they don’t know what to expect and they may be reluctant to discuss their deepest feelings with someone they barely know. Therapists know this is part of the job. You don’t have to know anything, in particular, going into your sessions, but the following things can help you make the best use of your time in therapy.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is, to be honest. You’ll often get into sensitive topics during sessions. You might have to talk about abuse or trauma that you’ve been used to hiding your entire life. You might be pretty scared to discuss those things openly. However, there are several things to keep in mind. First, you don’t have to talk about anything before you’re ready. A good therapist will know when to push and when to leave you alone and how to find the easiest ways into an uncomfortable topic. If you’re not ready to talk about something, say you’re not ready; don’t make something up. Second, your therapist can’t help you if you don’t share what’s really going on. Only you know what happened in your life and how you feel about it. You can continue to hide it if you want, but then you won’t get any better. Third, a therapist is one of the very few people who are legally required to keep your secrets. The only exceptions are typically those that involve a credible threat of harm to yourself or others, intention to commit fraud, or child abuse. Aside from those issues, a therapist is a safer confidant than your closest friends.
Similar to the point above, don’t censor yourself. We have a tendency when talking to others to stick to the point and leave out the superfluous details and stray thoughts that happen to enter our heads while talking. In therapy, these digressions can actually be useful. Our brains are highly associative, so it’s often telling when a seemingly unrelated thought occurs to us while talking about something else. Although you would normally ignore these thoughts in conversation, it’s often good to just say them in therapy. They may mean nothing, but they may be important.
There are several reasons to ask lots of questions in therapy. First, you learn more about the process and what’s going on in your head. Often people feel embarrassed like they’re the only ones who have ever experienced a particular problem. If you feel that way, you can just ask. Your therapist won’t reveal details of other patients, but they can tell you whether something you’re experiencing is common. If you don’t see the point of some line of discussion or some exercise, ask. Having a better understanding why you’re doing something can motivate you and make you more willing to try something outside your comfort zone. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your therapist questions about themselves. Since they're meant to be helping you with certain problems, it’s reasonable to ask about their experience, education, and background. Often, therapists get into their line of work because they’ve had very similar experiences to yours. If you know you they understand what you’re going through, you may feel a little better about their ability to help you.
Often, your therapist will ask you to do some homework. This isn’t typically too time consuming, although it may occasionally be challenging. Your therapist may ask you to keep track of certain behaviors, confront a certain situation that makes you anxious, or open a dialog with an important person in your life. Some of these assignments will make you anxious, others are more routine. It’s a good idea to give these a good faith effort. If you just go to therapy once or twice a week and don’t work on your issues between sessions, it’s pretty much like taking piano lessons and never practicing the piano. It’s better than nothing, but you could be progressing much faster with a little effort.
It’s easy to think of therapy as just going to an expert who is supposed to fix your problems, like a mechanic or doctor, but therapy is more like a collaboration. You have to participate even for your therapist to know why you’re there and what you want to accomplish. It takes practice to figure out how to express yourself effectively. Also, keep in mind that your therapist isn’t just remaking you however they want. You have to have some sense of what you want from therapy and whether you’re moving in the right direction. Think of your therapist as an expert advisor who you’ve brought on to help you build a better life.
Related to the point above, it’s good to have a few general goals in mind when you enter therapy. If you’re in therapy as part of treatment, overcoming addiction will certainly be among those goals, but the specifics may look different from what you expect. Still, it helps to know what you want from therapy. Do you want to be less anxious? Have better relationships? Be more responsible? These are all worth discussing. It’s also a good idea to discuss some criteria for improvement with your therapist. How will you know that therapy is helping? What are some signals you should try something different? If you don’t know where you want to end up, it doesn’t matter what road you take.
Offering a full range of recovery and mental health services, Valiant Living offers "Expanded Recovery" to enrich our clients’ lives in mind, body, and spirit. Through evidence-based therapy options and the endless adventure of Colorado, Valiant fosters connection, encouraging clients to get connected to themselves, their peers, their families, and their higher power. With the power of recovery, clients are restored to full health and experience life-changing healing. Call us today for more information: 303-536-5463