When people with addictions enroll in treatment programs, they’re provided with multi-tiered supervision. They might have staff members available around the clock, just to ensure that patients don’t slip away to meet drug dealers, and patients might be asked to provide urine samples on a regular basis, so providers can ensure that patients remain free of drugs. Sometimes, people with addictions are even provided with medications that can make them feel ill or unusual when they take drugs. Any or all of these steps could help to ensure that a person remains sober.

But true healing from an addiction can only take place when a person makes a choice to stop using drugs and when that person has the skills needed in order to deal with temptation without relapsing. No medication and no supervisory technique can bring this kind of in-depth transformation about. It can only come through addiction counseling techniques and targeted therapies.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction treatment is considered effective, as most people who enroll in treatment programs manage to stop using in time, and they experience improvements in their mental health and social standing. It can take time for people to fully recover, and often, a variety of different techniques are required in order to bring about dramatic change, but treatment really can make a big difference. These are just some of the counseling and therapy techniques that might be incorporated into a comprehensive program for addiction.

Addiction Counseling

Addictions have a chemical component, as people who use and abuse drugs often undergo significant changes in brain cell structure and brain cell signaling. But people who have addictions also go through psychological changes, and the way in which they think and react can keep them trapped in a cycle of drug use. Counseling sessions are designed to help people to talk about their past experiences and understand how they might improve their reactions in the future.

Those Who Help

Most addiction counseling sessions are conducted by licensed mental health professionals, such as:

  • Psychiatrists
  • Licensed social workers
  • Counselors
  • Psychologists

Some of these professionals have the ability to prescribe medications, and that might be beneficial to some patients (particularly those who have an underlying mental illness), but all are prepared to really listen and work with patients through targeted, science-based counseling techniques.

Of all of the techniques used in addiction counseling programs, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most common. In this form of counseling, patients are encouraged to examine the relationship between the ways in which they think and the ways in which they might behave. By changing the thoughts that accompany a behavior, they might be able to reduce the likelihood that they’ll behave in an unappealing manner.

Since CBT deals with thoughts, most CBT sessions involve talking, planning and hypothesizing. There’s no hands-on, medication-based work involved in a typical session that utilizes this method. Even so, the National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests that this counseling type has the proven ability to help the brain to heal. Scans prove that people who had this therapy have different cell activity after CBT, when compared to scans performed before CBT sessions.


While CBT can be remarkably effective, and it is the most common form of counseling provided, it’s not the only technique available to counselors who want to work with people who have addictions.

Sometimes, in fact, counselors feel as though people with addictions might be better served by techniques that include more than one patient and one counselor. Group-based counseling sessions can help to fill this gap.

Group counseling has been in use for decades, but it came to prominence in the mid-1990s, with the rise of interpersonal group psychotherapy (IGP). Practitioners who utilize this model believe that humans are built to function in groups, and that by harnessing the power of a group, profound healing can take hold. Group members learn from a counselor, but they also learn from one another and inspire one another. Everyone helps one another, and everyone is helped. In addition, group work allows patients to focus on their interpersonal skills, which might be lacking due to decades of drug use and abuse. Group counseling sessions like this typically involve strangers who have no real connection, and that can be quite useful for some people. But for those who have struggled with an intimate group of the family, another form of counseling might be useful.

Family therapy, which allows all members of an addicted person’s family to come together to work on the healing process, was first developed in the 1950s, and according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, it’s been through many different forms since that time. In the early days, practitioners were focused on understanding the family’s systems, and how their habits tended to enforce or break down an addiction process. Now, counselors tend to incorporate CBT into their family counseling sessions, focusing on how people think and feel about one another and the family as a whole. This type of therapy is considered particularly effective when the family is dealing with marital discord due to addiction.

Practitioners often specialize in one form of counseling. For example, some have extensive experience in running family therapy sessions, while others might have completed advanced coursework in IGP. Often, addiction treatment programs have many different practitioners available, so patients can get a mix of the services they might need in order to heal. Those who get help in private practices, however, might work with a practitioner who has the ability to delve into many different types of counseling techniques.

Addiction Therapy

If counseling sessions are designed to help people to think and talk, therapy sessions revolve around techniques that help people to do something or act upon something. These are kinetic activities that may help people to tap into the thoughts and feelings they’ve been unable to express with simple words, and sometimes they lead to profound transformations that might be difficult to replicate in a counseling session.

Art therapy might be the easiest form of addiction therapy to understand. Here, people who have addictions are provided with a number of creative tools they can use, such as:

  • Paint
  • Clay
  • Yarn
  • Pencils

They’re asked to create something artistic that says something about their addiction or something about their feelings, and as they work, a counselor provides ongoing insight. The counselor might ask about the symbols involved or the choices the person makes, and the counselor might ask questions that get the person to think just a little more about what has happened and what should happen in the future. In later sessions, patients might review their early artwork in comparison to the work they’ve done in later stages, just to review how they’ve grown. It’s not the quality of the work that matters here as much as the insight the person gains from the process of making art, so a counselor’s input is vital.

So-called experiential therapies work in much the same way, as patients who participate in therapy like this might be encouraged to go on hikes, ride horses, kayak or do something physical in the presence of a counselor. They’re taking on some sort of challenge that they might have not considered in the past, and learning more about how strong they are and how much they can do without drugs. A counselor is there to discuss the process and help make vital connections.

Meditation therapies might also play a role. They’re learning how to tap into their own inner powers, and during these sessions, counselors might be on hand to help these patients make connections between their prior habits and the new skills they’re learning.

These therapies can seem a little unusual, and they are somewhat new to the addiction treatment repertoire. They’re so new, in fact, that some addiction treatment programs don’t provide them at all, and they might not provide them because their worth can’t always be scientifically proven.

For example, experiential therapies are designed to help people develop a sense of self-worth and value, and boost feelings of confidence. But according to a study in the Journal of Experiential Education, not all researchers who study these therapies use the same benchmarks to define improvement. As a result, it’s difficult to compare studies and prove that people who got experiential therapy did better than people who did not. The same might be said for art therapy. It’s hard to measure how much better a person might feel after a session like this, as some of the lessons people learn in these sessions hit at deep levels that are hard to define and measure.

Soothe Minds

Here, patients are asked to learn how to soothe their minds and calm their bodies using nothing more than breathing techniques and specific poses, not drugs.

Additionally, there’s no real consensus about who should provide these therapies. In some facilities, licensed mental health providers are involved in all of these therapies, and they document the work using verifiable measures. But in some facilities, community partners might provide some types of therapies. Local massage therapists, local artists, and even local camp counselors might be involved in these therapies in some facilities, and that might mean that patients aren’t provided with the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding when the sessions are complete, as they’re not working with a real mental health professional. This could also make measurement of value difficult, as patients might have different outcomes, depending on the professionals they’re working with.

Blending Techniques

Both counseling and therapy are designed to help people to heal, and both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. But thankfully, few patients have to choose just one treatment modality or one type of care. In fact, it’s common for patients to receive addiction treatment that blends a number of different therapies and different counseling methods into one big stew. In one week, a patient might get a specific mix of services. In another week, the blend might change. This ever-evolving type of care allows practitioners to really tailor the lessons they provide to their patients, and it allows addicted people to come to a deep understanding of all of the different prompts that could keep them involved in using drugs. Mental illnesses, social triggers, unusual thought patterns and more might all be touched by a comprehensive addiction program that utilizes both therapy and counseling.

This is the kind of care we offer at Black Bear Lodge. We start our treatment program with a comprehensive screening, allowing our mental health team to determine what issues might be contributing to an addiction problem. Then, we develop a comprehensive program that utilizes a number of different approaches, and we revisit that program on a regular basis to ensure that we’re providing just the right mix of services at the right time. If you’d like to know more about this, just call us at 706-914-2327. Our admissions coordinators are standing by to answer your questions.