Alcohol Counseling and Your Recovery from Addiction
Perhaps you’ve just finished rehab and need alcohol counseling as a part of your aftercare program. Or maybe your drinking problem is still in its early stages, and you need counseling to nip your alcohol abuse in the bud before rehab becomes necessary. Or maybe you’ve suffered from alcohol dependency issues in the past and feel the need to re-enter therapy to prevent a relapse.
Regardless of the circumstances, substance abuse counseling has a vital role to play in the preservation of your recovery. When your sobriety is at stake and your ability to resist the urge to drink is low, alcohol counseling can bring you back from the brink and keep you focused on your health and future.
What Do Alcohol Counselors Do?
Your alcohol dependency is a medical disorder, but it is also a sign of deeper conflicts and unresolved issues. When you undergo therapy for alcohol use disorders, you’ll be counseled by a psychologist, psychiatrist or addiction treatment specialist who has been trained as an archaeologist of mental health.
Working together, you’ll dig down below the surface, beneath the shell of your self-destructive behavior, to find answers that can lead to solutions. There are reasons for your substance abuse that go beyond physical dependency, and your counselor will concentrate on helping you discover them.
Therapy for alcohol abuse also has its more practical side. As you study your disorder, you’ll learn strategies and techniques that can help you better cope with life’s stresses, giving you the power to defuse your desire to drink once you identify the triggers that can set you off. Bad patterns of behavior must be replaced by good ones, and that is something you can learn to do with the help of a well-trained medical professional.
Beyond their professional abilities, alcohol counselors also function as trusted confidantes, offering you a sympathetic, non-judgmental ear as you reveal the truth about your fears, insecurities and past traumas. Alcohol counselors wear many hats, and it is this flexibility that allows them to build constructive healing relationships with their patients.
What Specific Types of Therapies Do Alcohol Counselors Use?
Professional therapists always tailor their treatment regimens to the needs, life histories and personalities of their clients, modifying their plans as the counseling progresses and they gain more in-depth knowledge about who their patients really are.
Nevertheless, there are certain therapies that are known to produce results with patients being treated for alcohol dependency, and your counselor is likely to use one or several of them during your therapy sessions.
Some of the more popular evidence-based treatment methods for alcohol addiction include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). With CBT therapists help patients identify self-destructive thought patterns and behaviors, on the premise that corrupted thinking and behaving can be changed.
- Motivational enhancement therapy (MET). Interpersonal communication between therapist and patient is used as a vehicle to boost and reinforce the patient’s motivation to stop drinking.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). The therapist using DBT embraces a process-oriented approach that restores the patient’s sense of self-control, emotional engagement, confidence in problem solving and connection with the world.
- Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). Irrational beliefs that drive a quest for perfectionism are identified and replaced with more realistic expectations, the latter of which are less likely to lead to substance abuse.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Traumatic events—and their connection to alcohol dependency—are honestly explored, and patients are shown how to use eye movements that may help reprocess those terrible memories.
- Holistic therapies (yoga, meditation, massage, acupuncture, etc.). These mind-body therapies help patients reduce and manage stress and anxiety, and such practices have long-term value since they can easily be continued outside the therapeutic setting.
This list is not exhaustive, but it includes only therapies that have a proven record of success in treating alcohol addiction and other types of dysfunctional behaviors. As your therapy progresses, your counselor may experiment to find the therapy or therapies that work best for you.
How Is Alcohol Dependency Therapy Administered?
We tend to associate psychological counseling with private, one-on-one, face-to-face sessions between patient and therapist. This form of counseling is common in alcohol dependency treatment, and at least some of your therapy will likely take place in this type of setting.
But that isn’t your only option. In addition to traditional private counseling, other possibilities to consider group counseling, family counseling and virtual (online) counseling.
For comparative purposes, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each …
Individual (in-person) Counseling
Advantages: When you work directly with a trained addiction counselor you’ll have their full and undivided attention. In this private setting, you’ll be free to express yourself openly and honestly when speaking about highly sensitive personal issues. The relationship you form with your counselor will be intimate yet still professional, which should be a constructive mixture given your need for both expert care and unconditional moral support.
Disadvantages: Depending on your personality, individual, face-to-face style of counseling may seem too intimate. Rather than feeling comfortable you may be intimidated by your counselor’s status and knowledge (addicts usually have self-esteem issues), and if it isn’t easy for you to make personal connections with new people you may not be as open or as forthright as you should be. You could fall into the trap of saying what you think your counselor wants to hear instead of revealing your true thoughts and feelings.
Advantages: In group counseling you’ll have the best of both worlds: access to a trained expert and the opportunity to discuss your situation with peers who can relate to your struggles. Other recovering alcoholics can offer invaluable advice and feedback, since most have faced the same or similar challenges as you have. In group counseling sessions therapists often play the role of teacher, offering practical advice for coping with the triggers that provoke alcohol abuse. If too much intimacy makes you uncomfortable you may find learning easier in a classroom- or discussion-group-style setting, where information is presented in a more formal, structured style.
Disadvantages: In group sessions you may not feel comfortable revealing certain personal details, since you won’t know everyone that well and may not be sure if they are all trustworthy. While group therapy sessions are generally positive and inclusive, if someone in your group has a toxic personality it may create an unpredictable or stressful group dynamic. As you struggle with substance abuse you will be in an emotionally vulnerable state, and if you end up forming relationships with others in the group it could be counterproductive to your sobriety.
Advantages: Family counseling sessions give you the chance to make amends to the people you’ve hurt, and hearing them discuss the pain your alcohol abuse has caused may provide you with extra motivation to change. You can invite anyone you’d like to family counseling sessions, and if you pick those you trust the most it might make it easier to open up about your thoughts and feelings. On the other hand, if you invite people who’ve caused you pain you can get that off your chest and lighten the emotional load you’ve been carrying.
Disadvantages: When your loved ones are in the room you might feel shame and embarrassment about your drinking-related behavior, and those feelings might inhibit your recovery process if they leave you feel undeserving and unworthy. Your spouse, children or parents might have unacknowledged resentments that suddenly emerge during family therapy sessions, and there may be conflicts when you were hoping to receive loving support.
Virtual (online) Counseling
Advantages: Online counseling is a recent development in addiction treatment, and while it isn’t as intimate or personal as the other options it is still fully interactive and available in individual, group or family options. Therapists who work online are highly qualified professionals who deliver top-notch alcohol counseling services through audio-visual platforms like Skype. Online counseling sessions save time and money and (from the patient’s perspective) take place in a safe, relaxed setting. Multimedia resources including video lectures, virtual workbooks, peer group forums and 24-hour chatrooms are often available to complement online therapy sessions, adding richness and texture to the overall therapeutic experience.
Disadvantages: Despite technological advances the online environment is still somewhat remote, and the relationship between therapist and patient will not be as close as it would be if they met face-to-face. Counselors will hear the words their patients speak but may miss detect subtle communicative clues contained in body language, facial expressions or vocal tones. Patients who have a dual diagnosis or other complicating medical condition may not get the complete, comprehensive medical services they need in online therapy.
Your Challenge: Finding the Right Formula for Healing
Some combination of individual, group and family counseling, with virtual counseling used as a supplement, may be your best bet for overcoming an alcohol abuse disorder. With this approach, you’ll be able to enjoy the advantages of all without suffering too much from their weaknesses.
After trying all options, you may decide one type of counseling is more helpful than the others, and at that time you may want to change your recovery or sobriety maintenance plan to emphasize that style of therapy. It’s also possible that the personal and professional connections you make with your counselors will have more of an impact than the counseling format or specific therapy.
The important thing is to ask for help when you need it, and be flexible enough to make adjustments in your counseling schedule based on where (and with whom) you feel most comfortable.
Counseling can be your lighthouse on a stormy sea, and your alcohol dependency counselors the captain and crew who guide your ship safely back to shore.