When it comes to individual counseling and addiction treatment for chemical dependence, I recommend addiction treatment, intensive outpatient or inpatient or a combination of the two. I would never minimize the importance of individual counseling for issues such as anger management, anxiety, relationship problems, depression, grief, etc. — counseling is life-saving in many incidences. There are many people who’re confused and lost and need help getting on track and figuring out the complexities of life. Just understanding what can go wrong with the brain is at times terrifying. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and almost everyone goes through a period in which they could benefit from counseling. It’s been my experience, though, listening to the stories of addicts, too many to count, that individual counseling for addiction isn’t that effective. If a counselor/therapist has specific training in addiction disorders, then individual counseling is likely to be much more effective, but, still, most addicts need specialized addiction treatment that includes group therapy.
One of the main stories I hear from addicts is that they were ashamed of the addiction label, so they convinced themselves it must be emotional problems causing the insane drug use. To the addict it was more respectable to see a therapist for depression or stress than to check into an addiction treatment center. The addict would minimize their alcohol or other drug intake and talk to the therapist about their stressful job or dysfunctional marriage. This type of counseling almost always makes an individual feel better and gain insight into the particular problems they address, but in the case of addiction, the problems dealt with are symptomatic problems. The fundamental problem of addiction wasn’t addressed.
So the addict would go on drinking or using some other drug, and the problems became worse and worse. Until the fundamental problem of addiction is addressed, it’s like taking cough syrup but not dealing with the cause of the cough. The difference between individual counseling and addiction treatment is a matter of focus and understanding the fundamental problem that must be addressed first. For addiction, I recommend addiction treatment that includes group therapy — this way the person has to face and deal with the addiction. After dealing with the addiction and gaining stabilization there’s always ongoing counseling issues that individual counseling can help, but as long as the addict is drinking alcohol or using some other drug, individual counseling will be sabotaged by the addict.