Substance abuse is an ongoing problem in the US. According to national statistics, the number of people abusing substances is around 20 million. While use rates are declining for some substances, others such as opioids are still at epidemic proportions. Behavioral addictions are also on the rise in America, and these include gambling, shopping, gaming, plastic surgery, and more.

The good news is that there is ample treatment available for individuals struggling with addiction and substance abuse. This often includes a combination of detox followed by individual therapy, group therapy, and/or family therapy.

If you’re in the process of seeking treatment for addiction and are curious about the different types of therapy available, the article below can help.

Individual Therapy

distraught woman talking with therapist

Individual therapy is essentially as it sounds: it is a counseling session between a client and a mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, or certified counselor. Unlike group therapy, where clients share experiences with others, individual therapy is delivered in an intimate and private space.

While the duration and type of individual therapy can vary, sessions can range from once per day to once per week and will last for about one hour. The sessions typically take place in areas such as a therapist’s office, classroom, or outdoor area, depending on client needs and what’s available.

When it comes to addiction and/or substance abuse, individual therapy is vital for helping a person get to the root cause of their addiction. The confidential one-on-one space that is afforded by individual therapy is intended to help a client feel safe to talk and explore their feelings around their addictive behavior. Individual therapy is also useful if a client has underlying mental health conditions that have been previously unaddressed.

What is universal about this kind of treatment is that it involves the creation of a safe space so that the counselor can guide a client to better understand their emotions, life experiences, and behaviors.

The Role of Confidentiality

Individual therapy sessions are completely confidential. Therapists are ethically bound to not disclose any information about what is shared during a counseling session. The only exceptions to this are when a client is:

  • In danger of harming themselves.
  • Likely to harm someone else.
  • Unable to provide for their own basic needs such as food, shelter, or clothing.
  • In receipt of a court order (i.e. directly from a judge) that compels the therapist to submit information or testify in a case.

What Happens During Therapy?

Individual therapy is guided by conversations between the client and the counselor. This can be fairly structured and led by questions from the therapist, or it can be freer where the client can guide the session according to what they need. The style of the session will greatly depend on the specific needs of the client and what the therapist considers most effective.

Whatever the style, the aim is to help each client gain insight into their emotions, behaviors, and experiences and attain a deeper understanding of themselves. Other goals of individual therapy include:

  • Boosting self-esteem
  • Improving communication skills
  • Guiding the client to a better self-understanding
  • Learning new coping mechanisms
  • Addressing triggers and cravings and how to manage them
  • Helping with interpersonal relationships
  • Developing goals for the future

A therapist may also work with the client to set goals for the days and months ahead. This could include treatment strategies, recovery meeting attendance, implementing new activities, and creating a long-term sobriety plan. Some therapists also use a technique called contingency management which provides motivational tools to help clients stay sober and reach personal goals.

The Therapist’s Role

While individual therapy sessions can vary, most therapists will aim to avoid judgment and criticism of the client. The goal of this type of therapy is to work together to achieve recovery, resolve difficult issues, and reach a set of positive objectives.

If you’re in the position of choosing a therapist, they should have credentials from state or national boards that oversee mental health professionals. This includes holding licenses or certificates that confirm their qualification to conduct individual therapy. Those with substance abuse treatment backgrounds are also important as they will have a unique understanding of both mental health and addiction issues.

Benefits of Individual Therapy

There are many benefits to individual therapy. These include:

  • Improving emotional communication
  • Allowing the healthy expression of opinions, feelings, and traumatic experiences
  • Being able to identify one’s defense mechanisms
  • Gaining insight into dysfunctional behavior or difficult emotions
  • Learning to create healthy and strong boundaries
  • Understanding and maintaining accountability for one’s behavior
  • Increasing self-awareness and self-reliance
  • Learning how to build trusting and healthy relationships

Why Individual Therapy Is Important

Recovery from addiction involves more than just abstinence and physical detoxing. There are often a host of mental and emotional issues that need resolving once the addictive substance has been withdrawn.

Individual therapy plays an important role in this recovery, especially for individuals who may not be aware of the reasons underlying their addiction. This type of therapy is also helpful for allowing clients to express unresolved or buried feelings that are contributing to their addiction or substance use.

Some of the other reasons that individual therapy is important include:

  • Helping a client avoid and/or learn how to manage triggers and avoid relapses.
  • Helping a client deal with situational or life stresses such as work, family, relationships, and finances.
  • Helping a client develop coping mechanisms if they have to return to environmental triggers such as neighborhoods, bars, or other locations that encourage alcohol or drug use.
  • Helping a client learn how to avoid social pressures by developing tools for healthier relationships and dealing with family and friends who continue to take substances.

Types of Therapies in Individual Counseling

There are a variety of different therapies that can be used in individual counseling. Below are the most common.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

One of the most effective therapies for substance abuse is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps individuals change negative cycles of thought and behavior into more positive ones, and this has shown to be effective for addiction and mental health conditions.

Clients who receive CBT often learn how to recognize and change automatic thoughts and dysfunctional thinking patterns. They also learn how to understand the behavior and motivation of others as well as ways to develop a greater sense of self-understanding. CBT is known to be effective and long-lasting as clients can continue utilizing these strategies once their therapy sessions have ended.

Dialectical-Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical-behavior therapy is a subset of cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on mindfulness, stress coping mechanisms, and improving relationships. DBT also helps clients identify negative influences in their lives and learn how to develop healthy coping skills. This kind of therapy is useful for people who have both substance and behavioral addictions, especially those who have concurrent mental health conditions. DBT is also effective for PTSD and for people who exhibit self-destructive behaviors.

Group Therapy

group therapy session

Group therapy serves a different function than individual therapy. Depending on the structure and type of group, this group therapy allows clients to share experiences, learn new coping techniques, practice communication skills, and gain support and strength from their peers. Group therapy provides a safe environment for people to open up and be surrounded by other people with similar experiences.

While members can benefit greatly from being around people with similar backgrounds and experiences, they can receive a wealth of input from dissimilar members, too. Having the perspective or input from someone outside your experience can shed new light and provide unique insights. Also, hearing about others’ experiences can enable clients to better understand their own.

Ultimately, group therapy can result in the development of profound connections with others. By fostering new connections with people in a group, clients learn about healthy boundaries and how to nurture trusting relationships with others.

How Does It Work?

Group therapy will often be led by a mental health professional such as a social worker, psychologist, or counselor. Sessions are typically held in classrooms or large meeting areas where individuals can be stationed in a circle. Depending on the program, these sessions can last for 1 or 2 hours.

In terms of the structure, this can vary depending on the objectives of the group. In many cases, clients must respect speaking time limits and allow everyone to participate. Some sessions are free-flowing, and others are highly structured.

Topics can range in group therapy but may include:

  • Addiction education
  • Stress management
  • Triggers for substance use or addictive behaviors
  • Managing and identifying difficult emotions
  • Processing grief and emotional trauma
  • Managing cravings and withdrawal symptoms
  • Developing healthy boundaries and relationships (and avoiding codependency)
  • Assertiveness skills
  • Dealing with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, etc.

Whatever the topic, the therapist is responsible for ensuring that the sessions enable a safe and supportive space for clients to share challenges, express emotions, and celebrate successes. The ultimate goal of group therapy is to let clients know that they are not alone and that help is always available.

The Therapist’s Role

The techniques used in group therapy differ from individual therapy because they require specific skills. Leaders who run group therapy sessions must have specialized training in managing group dynamics and conducting group therapy. Therefore, your session leader should be a certified or credentialed counselor, therapist, psychologist, or other mental health specialist. These individuals should also have some experience working in areas of substance abuse and addiction.

Group therapy also differs from other self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). In these cases, groups are often led by members of the community rather than a trained professional, and they involve sharing experiences rather than receiving clinical guidance. Group therapy, on the other hand, follows a professional set of guidelines and standards with specific therapeutic aims.

Benefits of Group Therapy

Group therapy allows clients to feel supported and relate to others. This type of therapy also helps foster trust while clients learn specific skills such as communication and setting healthy boundaries.

The American Psychological Association outlines several other benefits below:

  • Group therapy helps improve a person’s confidence and interpersonal skills.
  • Group therapy provides a foundation for attending other group meetings like AA or NA.
  • Group therapy fosters a supportive social network and establishes a baseline so that members know what to look for when seeking other support groups.
  • Group therapy helps clients learn about accountability, trust-building, and conflict resolution by consistently meeting with the same people.
  • Group therapy helps put personal problems into a more universal framework. For example, rather than feeling isolated with painful thoughts or emotions, clients can feel supported by other people who share their stories.
  • Group therapy provides diverse and well-rounded perspectives from people who come from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences.

Group Therapy Models & Techniques

Group therapy employs a range of different models, ranging from behavioral, skill-based, and interpersonal. Below are some of the most common.

Trust Building Exercises

These exercises help clients develop empathy, understanding, and respect for others. This includes activities such as trust falling, eye contact exercises, partner obstacle courses, and icebreaker questions.

Psychoeducational Groups

These kinds of sessions are educational and tend to focus on themes of substance abuse, addiction, and mental health. Sessions may resemble a class, and materials are often presented as lectures, videos, etc.

Skill Development Group Therapy

This type of group helps clients develop skills that contribute to recovery and sober living. Some of the topics include managing finances, parenting skills, anger management, coping with stress, communication, and substance triggers.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Groups

CBT is a popular technique used in individual therapy that helps clients change negative thoughts and behaviors into positive ones. In a group setting, CBT involves working with others to learn how to re-frame thought patterns and learn new techniques for amending destructive behaviors.

Support Groups

Support groups focus on giving care and understanding to their members. Guided by a leader, support groups will focus on interpersonal skills, sharing experiences, and addressing challenges in a safe environment.

Stay-Busy Activities

As the name suggests, this type of group therapy provides techniques and activities that a person can use to deal with triggers and cravings. These can include hobbies, arts and crafts, sports, or other simple and enjoyable activities which can prevent relapses.

Family Therapy

teenager in family therapy session

Family therapy is a type of therapy that consists of a therapist and a group where all the members are related. Like group therapy, there are a variety of family therapy techniques and models such as cognitive-behavioral, psychoanalytic, interpersonal, etc. The type of therapy will vary depending on the needs of the family and the skills and background of the therapist.

While individual therapy is focused on gaining insight into one’s emotions, behaviors, and thoughts, family therapy concentrates on the relationships between family members. This type of therapy aims to understand and validate the experiences of each member and to foster healthy connections.

Family Therapy and Substance Abuse

This type of therapy is especially important when substance abuse or addiction occurs within the family. The effects of addiction can be extensive and widespread; therefore, family therapy is designed to help members come to terms with their own experiences and repair any broken connections. This includes assessing and changing unhealthy dynamics that have arisen due to substance abuse or addictive behaviors.

For example, if one of the parents has an addiction, the kids may have taken on a detective role as they are constantly checking to see if alcohol or drugs are being hidden. Therefore, substance abuse can lead to new roles within the family, which are unhealthy and destructive to everyone involved. Therefore, the role of the therapist is to explore how substance abuse has affected dynamics, individual roles, intimacy, and closeness between members.

When delivered alongside other modes of treatment, family therapy can be highly beneficial for addiction and substance abuse. Not only can it help members express their emotions and anxieties, but it can also provide new skills.

Benefits of Family Therapy

The benefits of family therapy can be far-reaching, especially if members have been torn apart by a person’s addiction. This type of therapy can help families resolve conflict and create new patterns of relating. Along with healthy emotional expression and communication, the benefits of family therapy include:

  • Improving the functioning of the family unit.
  • Helping the addicted person gain awareness of their needs and the consequences of their behaviors.
  • Providing space for family members to gain support for their emotions and improve their well-being.
  • Improving communication and relationships between members.
  • Helping family members understand and avoid enabling behaviors.
  • Addressing codependent behavior that could prevent recovery.
  • Teaching family members about the support systems that are in place for substance use.
  • Preventing substance use from spreading to other family members or through future generations.
  • Safely addressing topics such as trauma, mental health, grief, parenting, domestic violence, infidelity, financial problems, etc.

Why Family Therapy Is Important

While individual and group therapy are effective means for helping a person recover from addiction, family therapy can also play an integral role. Substance abuse does not occur in isolation, and it often has a rippling effect on the rest of the family. By resolving issues around substance abuse within the family, it can greatly improve a person’s chance for long-term recovery. This type of therapy can also be an effective way of preventing relapse if everyone is on board to help.

Family therapy can also assist all types of families ranging from single parents to clients who live with blended or divorced families. Children, spouses, partners, and the like can be greatly affected by addiction, leading to issues such as codependence, fears of abandonment, neglect, abuse, and more. Family therapy thus becomes a vital tool in preventing and healing dysfunctional behaviors and relations between members.

Family Therapy Techniques

Family therapy can vary in terms of models and techniques. Due to the complexities of navigating relationship issues and teaching new skills, therapists may use a range of methods. These include a mixture of:

  • Role-playing
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Communication techniques
  • Journaling
  • Writing letters to one’s self or others
  • Open emotional expression
  • Providing step-by-step methods for improving relationships
  • Including holistic care to support growth
  • Increased family connection
  • Restructuring of dynamics

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an especially common therapeutic technique in family therapy. As mentioned, in individual therapy and group therapy, CBT promotes healthy emotional expression while helping members turn dysfunctional behaviors into more constructive ones.


If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse, you are not alone. Treatment and support are readily available. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment.

You can also find a list of treatment centers near you on our website to help get you on the path to recovery.

Key Sources

Addiction Helper. (n.d.). Group Therapy Addiction Treatment.

Buddy T. (2021). Addiction Treatment Should Include Family Therapy.

Hoffman, M. (2019). Counseling and Addiction.

Lesser, B. (2021). In-Depth Individual Counseling.

Mayo Clinic. (2021). Family therapy.

Medical Disclaimer

At, we are dedicated to helping people recover from problematic substance use and associated mental health disorders. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are not alone. Information on treatment and support options is readily available through the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-4357. To further assist you along the path to recovery, the treatment center locator on our website allows you to easily find rehabilitation programs and services in your local area.

We provide our readers with factual, evidence-based content concerning the causes and nature of addiction, as well as available treatment options. However, this informative content is intended for educational purposes only. It is by no means a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. With regard to any addiction-related health concerns, you should always seek the guidance of a qualified, registered physician who is licensed to practice medicine in your particular jurisdiction. You should never avoid or delay seeking professional health care advice or services based on information obtained from our website. Our authors, editors, medical reviewers, website developers, and parent company do not assume any liability, obligation, or responsibility for any loss, damage, or adverse consequences alleged to have happened directly or indirectly as a result of the material presented on