What Do Clients and Therapists Talk About During Individual Therapy?

Addiction is a highly complex disease that almost always requires professional treatment to overcome.1During addiction treatment, a variety of therapies help individuals dig into underlying issues connected to the addiction and develop essential coping skills for long-term recovery.

These therapies include group and individual therapies. Individual therapy takes place between a single client and a licensed therapist. This article looks at what clients and therapists might talk about during therapy.

Addressing the Underlying Causes of Addiction

Addiction almost always has underlying causes, and getting to the bottom of all contributing facts is central to successful recovery. The most common underlying issues behind addiction include:

  • Chronic stress, such as the kind that comes from living with poverty, abuse, work stress or family dysfunction
  • A history of trauma, such as sexual abuse or being the victim of or witness to violence
  • Mental illness, such as anxiety and depression

It’s very common for people to use drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with stress, trauma and mental illness. Treating an addiction requires addressing these and other issues unique to the individual. During individual therapy, a therapist will help you work through these issues.

The therapist will help you express difficult emotions and process traumatic experiences. You’ll learn how these experiences have shaped your current thought and behavior patterns, and you’ll learn how to restore healthier ways of thinking and behaving. You’ll develop a toolkit of coping skills and strategies to help you reduce your stress, and you’ll learn to manage symptoms of mental illness. If you’ve experienced trauma, therapy will help you reduce fear, anger and intrusive thoughts and effectively cope with other unique problems and issues.

Recognizing and Changing Stinking Thinking

Addiction changes the physical structures and chemical functions of your brain, and this affects your thoughts and behaviors. Addiction leads to a number of dysfunctional ways of thinking, which psychologists dub “stinking thinking.” Some common patterns of stinking thinking include:

  • Black-and-white thinking. Here, there’s no room for shades of gray. Any situation that falls short of perfect is a total failure. I ate this chocolate chip cookie, and now I’ve completely blown my diet.
  • Overgeneralizing. Using words like “always,” “never,” “everyone” and “nobody” shows that you see a single negative event as a never-ending cycle of defeat. I always mess things up.
  • Fortune-telling. You predict that things are going to turn out badly. I’m going to bomb this interview.
  • Mental filter. You dwell exclusively on one negative detail and ignore numerous positive ones, creating a distorted view of reality.

Your therapist will help you recognize these and other unhealthy thought patterns and learn to think in healthier ways.

Exploring Your Triggers

For successful recovery, it’s crucial to know the people, places, thoughts, emotions and situations that trigger cravings to use. During individual therapy, your therapist will help you identify your triggers and high-risk situations and develop skills and strategies to avoid or cope with them. You’ll also learn how to reduce the intensity of cravings and get through them successfully when they do occur.

How to Get the Most Out of Individual Therapy

Most people who engage with their treatment plan during rehab enjoy successful long-term recovery, according to the University of Pennsylvania Health System.2 The best way to ensure you get the most out of therapy is to fully engage with it. Be open-minded, and be as honest as you can with your therapist—and yourself.

Through individual therapy, you’ll learn a great deal about yourself, and a lot of things in your life will begin to make sense. You’ll come away with a higher level of self-awareness and greater clarity that will help you in your journey to long-term recovery.


  1. http://www.psnpaloalto.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Depression-Diagnostic-Criteria-and-Severity-Rating.pdf
  2. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Related-Conditions/Dual-Diagnosis

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