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What to Expect When You Enter Addiction Counseling

The decision to seek help is a critical step in the recovery process. Addiction cannot be navigated alone and by enlisting the support of professionals, you can begin an individualized journey that addresses your unique needs. Below, you will find descriptions of both the outpatient and inpatient treatment experience. The level of care you require will be based on the severity of your addiction as well as any previous treatment experiences you’ve pursued in the past.

What is Outpatient Treatment?

In outpatient care, you receive regular interventions without living in the treatment facility. This option tends to be less expensive as well as less intrusive in terms of personal and professional obligations. Outpatient services are appropriate for less severe addictions and can also serve as stepping stones following a stint in an inpatient treatment program.

The frequency of appointments will be based on the severity of the addiction and the parameters you lay out with your treatment professional. Most outpatient programs encourage individual and group counseling as well as psychopharmacology for any co-occurring disorders. Participation in 12-Step groups or similar secular options is often encouraged.

What is Inpatient Treatment?

Inpatient treatment is a wonderful option for those that need to eliminate the distractions of the outside world. By living in the treatment facility, temptations and negative peer influences are no longer an issue and your sole focus can be on the recovery process. Additionally, you’ll have access to treatment professionals around the clock and can participate in a more intense recovery program.

As is the case with outpatient treatment, you will have access to individual, group, and psychopharmacological counseling. Inpatient programs vary in terms of schedule and intervention strategies, but by doing a bit of research prior to your intake, you’ll likely have a sense of the daily expectations of your particular program.

How Do I Schedule My First Appointment?

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have insurance coverage? If yes, I will contact my agency or consult the provider directory to determine where I can receive services within my network. If no, I will research local treatment facilities that offer sliding scale payment options for clients without insurance.
  • Does the identified program (or professional) have a history of treating my specific addiction issues?
  • Do I have a co-occurring mental health disorder? If yes, are the identified professionals equipped to treat both of my presenting issues?

Next, you should research your identified facility and contact them with any questions. If you feel the program is a good fit, schedule your intake/assessment appointment. In the case of inpatient treatment, referral services like The Addiction Advisor can do quite a bit of the footwork on your behalf. A basic history as well as your personal treatment preferences will be obtained and you will subsequently be matched with appropriate programs.

What Can I Expect When I Begin Treatment?


All programs will require that you complete some intake paperwork. The documents will include the provider's privacy practices as well as your patient rights and consent to treatment. You will also be asked to complete a biopsychosocial evaluation--a document that explores your physical, psychological, and social history. Some providers opt to complete these forms verbally in the initial sessions, while others prefer that the client completes them prior to the first appointment.

Treatment Planning

The treatment plan is a document created by you and your treatment team that specifies your objectives. Employing measurable and achievable outcomes--typically with target dates--provides a clear metric for success. If you are participating in more than one type of therapy (individual and group, for example) you may formulate individual objectives for each.

Individual Therapy

Individual therapy will provide you with an opportunity to process the nuances of your addiction story. Your treatment provider will discuss the various intervention strategies available and the two of you will work together to create a recovery plan.

Group Therapy

Depending on your facility’s offerings as well as your personal treatment preferences, group therapy can be professionally or peer facilitated. Regardless, you will be briefed on the group’s rules and expectations and can choose the degree to which you participate. The primary benefit of group therapy is being surrounded by people with similar drug or alcohol experiences as well as unique perspectives regarding the recovery process.

Family Meetings

Most treatment programs encourage family involvement at some point in the rehabilitation process. Often called “family meetings,” these sessions are facilitated by a treatment professional with hopes of encouraging healthier communication and family dynamics. In addition to highlighting the progress being made in treatment, these sessions also provide loved ones with invaluable education regarding the implications of long-term recovery.

How Can I Help Maximize My Treatment Program?

Provide A Detailed and Accurate History

While the assessment forms can appear quite overwhelming at the onset of treatment, it’s important to provide a thorough biological, psychological, and social history to your treatment providers. Your history will impact your course of treatment significantly and will lead to a more comprehensive treatment plan.

Be Proactive in the Creation of Your Treatment Plan

Treatment planning is no longer a one-size-fits-all approach. Your goals will provide measurable and achievable milestones that pertain specifically to your addiction and to any co-occurring mental health issues. Only you know your definition of success, and communicating this effectively to your treatment team is key. By creating goals that are personally meaningful, you will maintain the sense that you are in the driver’s seat of your own recovery.

Enter The Process with Beginner’s Mind

While your feedback will prove essential to an effective treatment regime, it’s also important to recognize that you are surrounded by professionals with invaluable insight and experience. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and open to new ideas during your time in recovery will lead to far more satisfying outcomes.

Take Advantage of All Available Resources

Inpatient and Outpatient facilities offer diverse treatment options. These options range from well-recognized 12-step groups to less traditional interventions like art therapy, yoga, and meditation. Ask for an overview of the prospects at the onset of treatment and identify those that will encourage your long-term success.

Be Honest About Slip-Ups and Fears of Relapse

It’s imperative to keep the treatment team abreast of any slip-ups. More common in outpatient recovery environments, slip-ups signal a need to reevaluate the treatment plan. Many addicts fear that a brief return to drug or alcohol use signals a failure in recovery. In reality, slip-ups are a common experience in treatment and should not be equated with “square one”. Assessing the incident, identifying the triggers, and adjusting one’s approach accordingly can actually serve as a pivotal point in the recovery process.

If you’ve experienced concerns regarding your relationship to drugs or alcohol, it’s time to seek support. The belief that an addict must reach “rock bottom” before entering recovery is a dangerous myth. Addressing the problem sooner than later can afford you with less restrictive treatment options and can save you a great deal of physical and emotional turmoil. Don’t wait until concerned loved ones are forced to make difficult decisions on your behalf. Reach out to a treatment professional today because you deserve to lead a balanced and productive life.

jen-anderson-addiction-counselorJen Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Sobriety Coach, and former alcohol enthusiast living in Florida with her husband and son.


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