The term therapist is a regulated term in many states, and the position usually involves a clinical understanding of psychology. Therapists must become licensed professionals in order to practice, although their practice is not restricted to helping people with substance abuse; instead, therapists tend to focus on the whole person over a long period of time. Recovering from addiction may be the start of the therapist-client relationship, but a therapist will use a variety of techniques to help the individual with their mental and emotional health overall, of which overcoming substance abuse is one part.
Therapists train in many techniques, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to help their clients understand their interactions with the world around them and effect positive changes in several areas of their lives. Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain, involving genetics, family history, and environment. Understanding what triggered the addiction, and learning better ways to cope with that stress or trigger, is one way of changing a person’s life and mental health overall. By understanding the root causes of an addiction, the person can begin mending relationships with friends and family, working toward a career, and maintaining an emotionally stable life.
Therapists also treat mental health issues when they co-occur with substance abuse, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. In contrast, counselors are typically not trained to work with mental health issues directly.
Styles of therapy that work well in the context of addiction or co-occurring disorder treatment include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Therapists and clients work together to identify problematic behaviors and triggers for problematic behavior. The person works to change their reactions to triggers.
- Contingency Management: Positive steps and behaviors are reinforced with rewards during therapy sessions, to help stimulate the risk/reward area of the brain that would otherwise be stimulated by intoxicating substances.
- Motivational Enhancement: This therapy focuses on helping the client find internal motivation for their own recovery, rather than taking the person through specific steps. This type of therapy resolves ambivalence about the process, and it can involve family or friends.
- Family behavioral therapy: This therapy addresses environmental problems connected to addiction, such as domestic violence, mental health or substance abuse issues in relatives, unemployment, or chronic illness. This therapy works particularly well for adolescents dealing with substance abuse.