After being discharged from an addiction treatment facility, setting up appointments to see a therapist might feel excessive or unnecessary, but therapy can be much more than another step in the recovery process—if you want it to be.
Addiction is not about a “lack of self control” or “irrational bad choices;” it is a biological illness. However, staying addiction-free does require self control and conscious choice.
That choice is the biggest difference between addiction and a conventional physical illness. After being cleared from a physical illness, you either are done with treatment or the follow-up has a deadline you must meet until completion. For addiction, on the other hand, recovery is a lifelong commitment and every day is a deadline.
Substance abuse recovery can be more difficult than overcoming a physical illness, and seeing a therapist can significantly help. The American Psychology Association recognizes the effectiveness of psychotherapy (talking therapy), confirming that there are large beneficial effects across the board in diverse conditions and settings, and that “clients often report [that] the benefits of treatment not only endure, but continue to improve following therapy completion.” In other words, therapy has been scientifically proven to help, and whatever you put into it can benefit you for the rest of your life.
After completing addiction treatment, you might feel like you’re at a peak of your mental and physical health, especially in comparison with how you felt before entering the program. This sense of exceptional well-being is the first reason why you should see a therapist. Therapy can help you to prevent stagnation or descent from your healthy state; and even better, it can encourage you to keep improving!
The addiction treatment facility will work with you and your therapist to ensure that everyone is on the same page in assisting you towards recovery. As an objective person who will know how far you’ve come in your recovery process, a therapist could effectively hold you accountable. You will have learned many healthy coping and social skills that will need intentional practice. Changing bad habits to good ones is much easier said than done, and therapists know that—that’s why their support can be essential.
Another reason why you should see a therapist is to have someone who will listen to you. This might sound like something that your friends and family already do, but there’s a difference: therapy is more than “just” talking and listening. For example, the Aviary Center has a comprehensive approach where a therapist works with you through approaching and defeating the obstacles that might come up during recovery. These obstacles can range from “uncovering significant emotional barriers,” to learning how addiction specifically affects your life. These topics are not ones that can very easily be explored with your friends and family because more often than not, it is when discussing these obstacles that the topic of your loved ones will come up.
A further difference between talking to a therapist and your friend is that you can speak completely freely; you won’t need to be preoccupied worrying about whether or not they are judging you or making assumptions about how you are doing in your recovery. The journey of overcoming addiction is not a straight-shot; when debriefing and exploring what this process is like for you, you need someone who will just listen—listen like it’s their job.
The final reason why you should see a therapist post-treatment is to take some precautionary steps. In case hardships or triggering situations come up and you’re tempted to respond through substance abuse, it is much easier to go to a therapist that you have regularly been seeing than to an emergency room or hotline. A therapist will already know your situation, what it has taken to get you to where you are, and what type of treatment or coping mechanisms work well for you: an incredible amount of leverage.
It is important to remember that therapy involves personal and intimate conversations, so make sure you feel comfortable with the therapist you choose. That said, try to give each therapist the benefit of the doubt; we’re all human, so it will take a little bit of time for you to feel comfortable talking to them. At least try one appointment after the initial intake, because intake appointments are almost always tedious regardless of the therapist. Check out this page from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to find a therapist near you.
Now that I’ve listed all of the benefits of therapy, I need to make a disclaimer. In therapy, you will only get out what you put in. If you are willing to try therapy and have benefitted from an addiction treatment facility’s program, then seeing a therapist could be very effective. After completing treatment, you will likely be in a responsible mindset that’s willing to make a long-term decision like committing to a therapist—don’t let that perspective go to waste.