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How to Find the Perfect Drug Addiction Therapist

Therapy plays a vital role in the treatment of a drug addiction. It helps individuals gain an understanding of their patterns of substance abuse and learn new positive coping skills to help them live a life free from substance use. Drug addiction is more than just a physical addiction. It is also associated with behavioral and emotional patterns of use that must be addressed to fully treat the addiction. 

Therapy is essential to the recovery process because it equips people with the skills they need to maintain sobriety when they leave their treatment programs. Through therapy, individuals identify triggers for substance use, coping strategies to remain sober, and social support systems they can rely on after treatment ends. 

Therapy is provided through most treatment programs, whether it’s an inpatient, outpatient, short-term, or long-term program, but it doesn’t have to end there. Therapy, like recovery, can be a lifelong process. You don’t have to stay in therapy your whole life once you start, but you can utilize it as a tool to support your sobriety for as long as you like. 

Types of Therapy Used in Addiction Treatment

Nearly all addiction treatment programs offer individual and group therapy. Participating in individual therapy gives clients the opportunity to be in a safe and intimate environment where they can work through personal histories, past and current relationships, goals for the future, and any co-occurring mental health issues, among other topics. 

Group therapy provides the opportunity for clients to benefit from hearing each other’s stories. By sharing experiences of drug addiction with the group, members benefit greatly from feeling the support of other people with similar experiences. Group therapy can help individuals feel less alone in their struggles and be part of a highly understanding support group.

There are many theoretical approaches to therapy that are widely and successfully used in addiction treatment. The theoretical model used depends on the treatment program, the therapist’s background, the substances of abuse being worked with, and the preferences of the individuals participating in therapy. Some treatment programs are based around a single theoretical model while many incorporate multiple modalities into their treatment programs.

Types of behavioral therapies that are used in addiction treatment include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT helps clients identify negative thinking and triggers for substance use and replace them with adaptive coping skills and behaviors.
  • Contingency management therapy. Incentives such as vouchers or privileges are awarded following continued abstinence from drug use.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy. This therapy strives to understand and enhance the client’s motivation for change.
  • Community reinforcement approach plus vouchers. Relationship and material incentives are used to encourage abstinence and make sobriety more rewarding than substance use.
  • Couples and family therapy. This therapy explores how drug abuse affects the whole family and uses the relationships within the family as mechanisms for change and support.
  • Maintenance therapy. This treatment uses medications to assist in relapse prevention, sometimes for many years.
  • The Matrix Model. The therapy is primarily used to treat stimulant use disorders. Participants receive psychoeducation and coaching from trained therapists and participate in self-help groups.
  • Peer support or 12-step facilitation therapy. Therapy is focused on engaging clients in 12-step programs that they can remain active in long after official treatment programs end.

Behavioral therapies are critical to the addiction treatment process because they engage people in treatment and help them become an active part of their own recovery. They help people form new attitudes and beliefs about life and drug use that cannot be achieved through detox alone. 

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The Role of the Therapist

The therapist plays an important role in the recovery process. They are a significant variable in the outcomes of treatment that is often overlooked. The therapist is responsible for establishing a positive therapist-client relationship, implementing appropriate interventions, and seeing that the therapy process is productive and beneficial to the client. They are also responsible for establishing the boundaries of therapy and making it clear how the therapeutic process will work in the current context. 

Therapists are responsible for facilitating a supportive environment and relationship with the client, in the case of family or group therapy. They are trained to encourage collaboration, manage expectations, and provide support for clients to achieve their goals in therapy.

Therapists are expected to be experts in their theoretical approaches to therapy, though no single approach to therapy is necessarily the best. Through the therapeutic relationship and intervention process, therapists can assist their clients with gaining understanding about themselves and making lasting changes.

The Therapeutic Relationship

The therapeutic relationship, which is formed between a client and therapist, plays an essential role in therapy being productive or not. It has been accepted by many mental health professionals as the most important factor that determines the success of therapy. The specific theoretical model that the therapist works from or the issues the client presents with have less of an impact on therapy outcomes than the relationship does.

Through a genuine, honest, and supportive relationship, clients practice participation in a healthy relationship. They experience building trust with another person and grow because of the relationship. Therapists allow themselves to be affected by the client, and clients are impacted by the therapist. The relationship itself is the primary factor for change, and it is the greatest predictor of positive outcomes. 

The therapeutic relationship begins to form from the very first point of contact. This may be over the phone when making the first appointment or during an intake session as part of a treatment program. The relationship is expected to grow over time, however, and it does not always happen instantly. The therapist and client may even experience some barriers that prevent the relationship from evolving. The barriers only provide an opportunity for discussion, however, to develop effective strategies to overcome them. 

Through an authentic and transparent therapeutic relationship, clients learn about themselves as well as how to cultivate positive relationships outside of therapy. The client is encouraged to take the skills gained in therapy and apply them to current or new relationships in their everyday lives. 

How to Find the Right Therapist for You

Understanding the importance of the therapeutic relationship in achieving positive treatment outcomes provides encouragement to find a therapist that you truly enjoy working with. Therapists are just people like everyone else, and they come with their own personalities and professional dispositions that may or may not be appealing to you. Theoretically, you will be spending a significant amount of time with this person delving into your most intimate feelings, so you want to make sure you feel comfortable working with them.

If you have the flexibility to select your own therapist, it makes sense to shop around a bit to find one that is the best fit for you. Many therapists provide free phone consultations that already serve as the first step to see if you might be a good fit for each other. If you are participating in a treatment program, you will be more limited in your selection, but if multiple therapists are available, you may have some say in whom you would like to work with. 

Below is a step-by-step guide to help you find a great therapist to work with.

Step 1

Talk to friends or family members who may also be in therapy. Personal recommendations from people you trust can get you pointed in the right direction. If you don’t want to work with the same therapist as your friends, their therapist might be able to give you referrals to trusted colleagues.

Step 2

Search online for therapists in your area. Many therapists maintain websites, and they can provide insights into the therapist’s style. You can also search through online directories of therapists to find contact information for ones that interest you.

Step 3

Decide if you want to work with a male, female, or gender-neutral therapist. There is no right or wrong answer here. You may have a predisposition to which gender you feel most comfortable working with. Listen to that instinct, as it can serve you in the therapeutic process.

Step 4

Therapist talking to a patient about effective treatment

Decide if there is particular theoretical orientation or approach to therapy that you want to work with, such as art therapy or traditional talk therapy. If a particular approach resonates with you, spend time to find a therapist who is experienced with that modality.

Step 5

Make a few phone calls to therapists who are at the top of your list. Don’t be shy about asking about the therapist’s orientation and professional background. They are used to answering these calls. You can use their response to your questions to guide you in your decision-making process.

Step 6

Take a moment to evaluate how you felt speaking with each therapist. Set up an initial appointment with someone you liked. After that initial appointment, you can still decide if you want to continue working with the therapist or not. The therapeutic relationship will take time to evolve, but if you just don’t feel like it’s working, you can cut ties and try another therapist.

Chances are, there is no single therapist that is the best fit above all others. There are many therapists out there who are available to work with you and with whom you will likely be able to form a strong and transformative therapeutic relationship with. Take your time to find a therapist that you can see yourself opening up to and then dive in to the process.

Likewise, if you are participating in a treatment program with limited options for therapists, it does not mean that your therapeutic outcomes will be restricted. Focus on establishing a rapport with the therapist and let the relationship develop from there.


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(February 2011). How to Find the Best Therapist for You. Psychology Today from

(January 2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide. National Institute on Drug Abuse from

(May 2017). The Role of the Therapist in Therapeutic Change. U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health from

(2017). The Therapist’s Role. Columbia Center for Psychiatry from

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