Substance abuse counselor strategies are the answer to a challenging problem to treat. Most substance abusers derive a lot of pleasure from their substance abusing behaviors. In order to effectively overcome their additions, they need to make a lot of important psychological changes. The main role of a substance abuse counselor is to facilitate these changes.
A Substance Abuse Counselor Should Empathize with the Client’s Situation
The most important strategy a substance abuse counselor can employ is empathizing with clients. Empathizing with clients does not mean excusing their behavior and helping them to avoid the negative consequences of their drug abuse. Empathizing with clients involves identifying with the emotional and social backdrop of their drug abuse and letting them know that they are not alone.
Social support is a major factor in successful substance abuse treatment. While it is ideal if the client obtains social support from a wide variety of sources, support from their substance abuse counselor is definitely helpful. Clients that feel unsupported by their counselors are much more likely to relapse or completely discontinue treatment.
Emphasize the Client’s Personal Responsibility for Change
The clients that recover from substance abuse the most effectively, are, generally speaking, those that take the most personal responsibility for their predicament. Clients that refuse to accept any responsibility for their actions generally have a very poor prognosis. Successful counselors do their best to guide clients to take more responsibility for their actions.
This does not mean, however, that aggressive strategies are employed to force the client to acknowledge responsibility for their actions. Clients tend to react in a counter-productive fashion to accusations and aggressive hints that they are failing to accomplish important goals. Present research supports the idea that gentle guidance is preferable to more aggressive counseling.
Emphasizing the client’s personal responsibility for change can be effected in a number of subtle, beneficial ways. One of the best strategies for accomplishing this is analyzing the client’s actions in terms of the client’s motives, beliefs, and other psychological aspects instead of in terms of external forces. The more clients adopt what is known as an “internal locus of control,” the more rapidly they will succeed with their prescribed treatment regimen.
Negotiate Treatment Goals
Not all clients have the same treatment goals at the start of treatment. Counselors with a “hard-hitting” approach that tend to disregard clients’ personal treatment goals are much less likely to be successful with effecting lasting change than counselors that seriously take into account their clients’ personal treatment goals. Of course, most counselors want all their clients to completely break the destructive cycle of substance abuse they are caught up in.
Gradually helping the client to adjust their treatment goals to more closely match those of the counselor is a good idea. Influencing changes in the clients’ personal treatment goals is not easy, but it can be done if the counselor has sufficient patience and empathy for the client. For the first couple of visits, the counselor should focus more on keeping the client interested in treatment than emphasizing specific treatment goals. Retention is a big problem in an outpatient setting. Consequently, retaining clients is of key importance.
Avoid Frustration and Anger
Clients are remarkably perceptive when it comes to picking up on feelings of frustration or anger. Counselors that want to make a lot of progress with their clients need to avoid the temptation to display frustration or anger when their clients fail to fully comply with prescribed behaviors. Relapses are common in substance abuse treatment, and it is the role of counselors to help minimize the occurrence of relapses without showing undue anger towards their clients.
Clients generally react badly to displays of anger for a variety of reasons. Most clients become defensive in the face of anger. It is not uncommon for them to rationalize their actions as appropriate when they receive angry criticism. This rationalization process is almost always counterproductive. The more clients engage in it, the less likely they are to successfully complete treatment.
Avoiding frustration and anger can be difficult for substance abuse therapists, because substance abuse therapy does not always have a stellar success rate. Substance abuse is a very difficult-to-change behavior. While it is true that future advances in anti-addiction drugs may make substance abuse therapy more successful, right now there are few helpful anti-addition drugs, and they play an insignificant role in most substance abuse therapy programs.
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