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Individual Therapy for drug addiction and alcoholism

Individual therapy is the process whereby a psychiatrist, therapist or counselor works with a patient on a one-one-one basis. Individual therapy is critical in the treatment of patients in drug and alcohol rehab. Although the mainstay of drug and alcohol treatment is group treatment and activities, individual therapy is necessary to give patients a forum to discuss and process thoughts, emotions and events that they may not be comfortable sharing in a group setting.

The individualized treatment plan is also formulated, in part, by the therapist and patient in individualized sessions. Substance abusers who are not comfortable being candid in a group setting may be able to do so in individual drug and alcohol therapy sessions. To be sure, it is important to not foster dependence upon the individual sessions, as peer support and overcoming the fear, shame and guilt of one’s past is best done in a group setting.

How Individual Therapy Works

In individual therapy, the substance abuse counselor will utilize various therapeutic modalities depending upon the training and background of the staff member and will be based upon the patient’s presentation and needs. A strong, but professional bond may develop between the patient and the therapist, which can be a powerful tool in overcoming the fear of losing drug addiction and alcoholism as a coping skill and the fear of acceptance. Ultimately, self-acceptance and acceptance of the reality of the situation is key to a successful recovery.

Individual Therapy for Dual Diagnosis

Individual therapy is also applied to dual diagnosis disorders, such as bipolar, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, among many others. An integrated dual diagnosis substance abuse treatment plan should incorporate both issues to provide simultaneous treatment. Much of the treatment for the dual diagnosis disorder may occur in individual sessions.

Transference and Countertransference

Two powerful therapeutic phenomenon can occur in individual therapy, transference and countertransference. Transference is the experience of unconsciously redirecting feelings or emotions that were originally felt in childhood towards the therapist; whereas, countertransference is the emotions that a therapist experiences when treating a patient. More specifically, a therapist may transfer his/her feelings onto a patient, and can be a reaction to transference. Transference and countertransference can occur in either the group or individual setting, but each can be more pronounced in the individual therapy setting due to the bond that has been developed from the intensely personal issues that have been shared by the patient.

Individual Therapy vs Group Therapy

In individual therapy, the counselor may allow the patient to control the flow of the session, or may be more proactive on directing the themes that will be processed in the session. Again, this is dependent upon the substance abuse therapist’s training and experience, but also upon the patient’s specific needs. Drug and alcohol treatment tends to be somewhat more directive, due to the extreme use of defense mechanisms by the patient and the terminal nature of the disease. It is however, important for the patient to develop his/her own revelations in the process.

For the most part in group therapy, the substance abuse counselor is present to guide and prompt the group, rather than to provide directed therapy. All patients should be considered key to the free flow process of the group and the therapist will make sure that all patients are involved.

Although one tends to develop a strong bond his/her therapist, it is important to get different viewpoints and experience different substance abuse treatment modality is most effective for any given patient.
Individual therapy is an invaluable tool that is widely utilized in drug and alcohol rehab and should be integrated with group therapy to provide optimum treatment response. The topics processed in individual therapy will naturally flow into group therapy and vice versa.

Behavioral Wellness and Recovery employees experience and licensed substance abuse and mental health therapists who lead both group and individual dual diagnosis therapy sessions. You may reach us at any time by calling 800-683-4457.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.

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West Chester, PA 19380
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