Individual Counseling: More Than Just Talking

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People seeking treatment for addiction or co-occurring mental health disorders are likely aware that individual counseling is an essential element of treatment. Unfortunately, many people may avoid participating in treatment because they believe that therapy requires them to vent about their problems.

Contrary to common understandings, however, individual counseling and other forms of psychotherapy are not solely centered on talking. Typically, treatment programs utilize a wide variety of treatment approaches for clients. This ensures that treatment remains engaging and effective throughout a client's healing journey.

The Value of Individual Counseling

One of the most important elements of the treatment process is the use of individual counseling, also known as psychotherapy. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains that psychotherapy “refers to a variety of treatments that aim to help a person identify and change troubling emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.” Treatment centers often encourage participation in both one-on-one and group psychotherapy sessions during recovery.

Individuals utilize individual counseling for a variety of reasons. Some people use one-on-one therapy to treat or manage the symptoms of their mental health condition, like anxiety or depression. Others may do so to deal with chronic or severe experiences of stress in their life, such as the loss of a loved one.

No matter what someone is struggling with, they can benefit from individual counseling. This is because it is the responsibility of a therapist to tailor treatment approaches to fit a client's individualized needs. Often, therapists will use a variety of approaches and modalities in sessions to ensure that the client's needs are met.

Elements of Individual Counseling

Many factors contribute to a therapist's decision on what treatment approaches are used during individual counseling sessions. It is not uncommon for treatment facilities to encourage therapists to use a primary approach during an initial therapy session. Throughout treatment, however, therapists may incorporate additional approaches and elements of psychotherapy as they see fit. 

The NIMH highlights several different elements of psychotherapy that may be used in individual counseling sessions. Some of these elements include:

  • Increasing a client's awareness of the connections between their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors
  • Teaching social and communication skills, including conflict-resolution skills, to help strengthen a client's interpersonal relationships
  • Identifying strategies for stress management
  • Applying mindfulness and relaxation techniques during challenging discussions
  • Using trauma-informed treatment approaches for client's overcoming past trauma
  • Tracking a client's emotions and behaviors to visualize progress
  • Creating a safety plan for clients who are struggling with self-harm and suicidal ideation

Specific Approaches Used in Individual Counseling

It can be helpful to become aware of some of the specific treatment approaches that may be used in individual counseling sessions. This can challenge misconceptions that individual counseling is “all talk.”

Likewise, it can motivate individuals who are contemplating treatment to participate in therapy by fostering education about the therapeutic process. It is important to understand that the therapeutic alliance is a strong predictor of therapeutic effectiveness. A client and therapist must work in collaboration to foster lasting success for the client during sessions.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) is one of the most well-known and best-researched forms of psychotherapy. This form of therapy is used to treat a wide range of conditions, including depression, anxiety, and addiction.

CBT combines elements of both cognitive therapy and behavior therapy. Cognitive therapy helps clients form more clear ideas of their thoughts, attitudes, and expectations. Behavior therapy focuses on replacing harmful behaviors with beneficial ones. After all, since human behavior is learned, it can be changed.

The way CBT differentiates itself from other forms of psychotherapy is through its a problem-oriented approach. This approach encourages a client to recognize and find solutions for current problems. To do this, it helps clients address cognitive distortions and false beliefs that inform destructive behaviors.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Another approach often used in treatment is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT combines elements of CBT with mindfulness.

It was originally developed as a treatment for multi-problematic conditions, especially borderline personality disorder (BPD). Now, however, DBT used as an effective approach to treat a wide range of conditions and symptoms.

One of the central elements of DBT is that it provides clients with distress tolerance skills. These skills help clients learn to cope with challenging emotions that may result from traumatic life experiences or other mental health disorders. Clients will learn to cultivate healthy responses to distress through the use of mindfulness skills.

With these skills, clients learn to:

  • Resist impulsivity
  • Address their life experiences objectively
  • Practice self-compassion

Holistic Approaches

Many therapists also use holistic approaches in individual counseling. Holistic therapies and approaches address whole-body healing.

Some examples of holistic therapies include:

  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Fitness and physical therapies
  • Yoga and meditation practices

Treatment centers will often combine traditional treatment approaches (such as CBT and DBT) and holistic approaches as part of a client's treatment plan.

Additional Approaches

These examples only scratch the surface of the range of approaches that may be used in individual counseling. It can help to become familiar with different approaches used to treat specific conditions and symptoms.

Here are some additional approaches:

  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): Used for the treatment of trauma 
  • Exposure therapy: Used for treating specific phobias and other anxiety disorders
  • Interpersonal therapy: Used to evaluate and address problematic social interactions or interpersonal conflict
  • Motivational interviewing: Used to resolve feelings of ambivalence that act as a barrier to behavior change

Contrary to what you may think, individual counseling does not require you to simply vent about your life's problems. Often, therapists will incorporate treatment approaches that encourage you to focus on present issues, rather than issues from your past. Your therapist can suggest therapeutic approaches that they believe will best fit your individualized needs and goals for recovery. At Pathways Recovery Center, our therapists utilize a variety of traditional and holistic approaches during treatment. Some approaches we use include cognitive-behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and holistic approaches like meditation and yoga. We believe that using multiple approaches will help you stay engaged and ensure that treatment remains as effective as possible. To learn more, call us at (888) 771-0966.

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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