What happens in individual therapy?

When you enroll in a residential drug addiction treatment program, you will usually be assigned to a professional counselor who will supervise your case. At least once a week, you will meet with this person for individual therapy sessions, which will last for about 45 minutes.

Most programs want you to remain in treatment for at least three months and undergo at least 16 individual therapy sessions. The reason for this length-of-stay preference is that drug addiction research indicates that this is the minimum time necessary to achieve any kind of lasting results.

Every therapist who is certified in drug addiction treatment has a unique way of approaching clients, but most counselors employ some form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is also referred to by a number of other names, including Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, Rational Behavior Therapy, Rational Living Therapy, Schema-Focused Therapy, and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most commonly employed form of individual therapy in drug addiction counseling because it is a solution-oriented approach that is focused on the goal of achieving and maintaining abstinence from drugs. According to the National Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists, CBT operates under the assumption that drug addiction is a learned behavior that can be unlearned by recognizing distorted patterns of thought. Change your thoughts, so the philosophy goes, and you change your behaviors.

In your first individual therapy sessions, your therapist will assess your motivations and work with you to set treatment goals, such as learning coping skills, managing emotions without using drugs, and enhancing social supports. You and your therapist will examine your damaging beliefs, self-concepts, and behaviors.

Some clients have to work through their justifications for drug abuse and understand how harmful their behaviors have been to themselves and others. Your therapist may help you analyze the costs and benefits of change, and make a plan for your goals. Sometimes a therapist will challenge any underlying assumptions or beliefs you have that are at the foundation of your drug abuse. These assumptions may include the following:

  • All my friends use drugs. If I give them up, I won’t have any friends.
  • My drug abuse affects no one but me.
  • I can’t get through a weekend without using drugs.

Most therapists assign “homework” such as reading certain books or keeping a journal. Your therapist may also play the role of your personal “cheerleader” – someone who celebrates your every step of progress toward your goal of becoming drug-free.

Your individual therapist is closest to your case and will be one of the key people who decides when you are ready to leave your drug addiction program. Once you are home, you will often continue in individual therapy as you transition into your new drug-free lifestyle and your pursuit of long-term sobriety.


by McKayla Arnold