Chemical Dependency Counseling can be compared to churches and grocery stores … they vary. In each case, they offer something similar to others in the same category, but some aspects may depend on the person or persons in charge as well as the venue. In this article, I share the components of my approach to chemical dependency counseling in a private practice setting as a Christian counselor.
Assessment for Chemical Dependency Counseling
The first step in chemical dependency counseling is to gather information. What substance or substances are being used? When? How often? What is the context? When did you start? What is your history of substance use? What problems or consequences have resulted from your substance abuse? Have you made any effort in the past to modify or cease using and what was the outcome? Some chemical dependency counselors and agencies use a pen-and-paper or electronic assessment, while others like myself use an oral interview.
Tell Your Story
I like to hear my client’s story early in counseling. While some of this story is revealed in the assessment interview, chemical dependency is embedded in the context of an entire life. I find that most people are aching to share their story and be understood. This can take one or more sessions depending on the comfort of my client, how verbal they are, and the volume and nature of the content. Many addicts have had experiences or have done things that they are extremely embarrassed or ashamed about, and it can take a while to open up about these issues. I take as long as needed. It is often relieving and cathartic for the client to share critical events of their lives and it helps me get to know him or her so that I can provide more effective help.
Build Rapport and Trust
One of my chief goals in any type of counseling is to create a safe, supportive atmosphere for unloading heavy burdens. Part of my job, then, is to communicate both verbally and non-verbally that I am a real person, that I care deeply, and that I can be trusted. When good rapport has been established, a client is more likely to start letting me in to see and help them with the darkness in their lives, and the relationship becomes therapeutic and comfortable. This fosters respect, teachableness, and a willingness to engage in the work of therapy.
Education about Addiction
A critical component of substance abuse counseling is learning about addiction. This includes learning how the abuse of substances impacts a person physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually, and how substances affect the brain in ways that make abstaining increasingly difficult. I assist my clients to assess the costs of their addiction, which are not just about money. When addicts look more closely, they nearly always realize that there are more consequences to their use than they had originally thought. Reviewing recovery concepts and tools helps me and my clients to develop treatment goals and a treatment plan that is tailored and effective.
Support and Accountability in Overcoming Addiction
Group counseling facilitated by a trained counselor is often an adjunct or preferred mode of therapy. Addicts can greatly increase their awareness of the attitudes, behavior, excuses, and denial characteristic of addiction through interaction with and observation of others who struggle. Often it is easier for clients to clearly identify these traits in others than it is to see them in themselves. Twelve-step meetings, Christ-centered groups such as Celebrate Recovery, and other support groups are also recommended for the “experience, strength, and hope” they provide, as well as for the accountability they offer through membership and participation. For at least the first year, recovery can almost be considered a full-time job, and it must take a position of priority in one’s life. Ninety meetings in ninety days is often recommended at the outset, and during this time it is important to find a “sponsor”— usually a former addict in the group who has substantial clean time and has thoroughly worked a program. A sponsor is a volunteer who helps someone else to work their recovery program through encouragement, the wisdom of experience, exposing denial, and often friendship. Sponsors typically make themselves very accessible, especially during times of high risk.
Self-Care and Addiction RecoveryRecovery from chemical dependency involves the whole person. Many people who have abused substances have either stopped taking care of themselves or never did so in the first place. It is not selfish or wrong or un-Christian to take care of ourselves. In order to be healthy and whole, we must do far more than just stop abusing substances. We need to address all of our needs—body, soul, and spirit. Physically, it is important to eat a nourishing diet, get plenty of rest, exercise regularly, and attend to any medical issues. Fostering and maintaining a positive social life is also critical. Carve out time to nurture friendships, family bonds, a romantic interest, and professional relationships. Pursue hobbies and other recreational activities that you once enjoyed, or try new ones. Mental and emotional health involves your feelings; it is about acknowledging a full range of emotions, dealing with forgiveness and letting go of the past, processing traumatic or hurtful events, taking control of your thought-life, and generally “cleaning house” in your mind. Incorporate educational and interesting or challenging activities into your life in order to stimulate yourself intellectually. And finally, connect to God through prayer, worship, the Scriptures, meditation, music, service, and fellowship with other believers in order to grow and keep yourself spiritually strong. Exchange self-reliance for God-reliance ? practice surrender, build trust, know your adversary, and seek to know your purpose. Work toward a balance in all of these areas of life in order to attain a solid sense of well-being.
Use Other Tools
Substance abuse counseling will put additional tools into your toolbox, such as Thought Stopping, Bookending, and learning to stay away from slippery people, places, and things. You will also be encouraged to explore and develop your own unique strategies for overcoming a destructive lifestyle.
How Christian Chemical Dependency Counseling Can Help You
Chemical dependency is a pervasive condition that is highly resistant to change, affects the whole person, and impacts others. People who are successful in overcoming addiction to drugs or alcohol typically fight the battle on several fronts using multiple approaches, such as inpatient or outpatient treatment, working with a physician, group work, various different therapies, and individual counseling. A Christian counselor is a great resource for developing an individualized treatment plan, adds an extra layer of accountability, and can address any co-occurring disorders. While some programs emphasize a spiritual component to recovery, they often include non-Christian beliefs and values. A Christian counselor will help you to build or strengthen a solid foundation on Christ and seek His guidance in your life as you move forward.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Behavioral Health Barometer – Washington 2014, accessed 6-26-15 at http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/State_BHBarometers_2014_2/BHBarometer-WA.pdf.Photos
“Addiction,” courtesy of Kaushik Narasimhan, Flickr CreativeComnmons (CC BY-SA 2.0); “14296-counseling & psychology 4317.jpg,” by A&M University-Commerce Marketing Community, courtesy of Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Tools,” courtesy of Dylan Foley, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)