Counselling for Addiction

Counselling for addiction is best performed with a private therapist who understands addiction and/or mental health. Addiction counselling combined with other forms of therapy is an effective treatment for addiction, whether you opt for residential programmes or as part of an outpatient treatment strategy.

This guide explains the role of counselling in treating addiction and the different modes of therapy used for treating addiction at its core.

What is Counselling?

Counselling is handled by a highly trained professional counsellor with experience in using different counselling approaches. In the case of addiction, counselling is based on helping you recover from addiction and find ways to deal with negative emotions, stressors or triggers.

Although the counsellor’s job is to focus on the addiction itself, they are also trained in working towards addressing any related issues – childhood trauma, family history of addiction and mental health problems.

During the counselling process, your counsellor must help you with finding ways to deal with your problems rather than just giving advice and instruction on how to fix your addiction.

Counselling is:

  • The time set aside to explore issues that may come up during the sessions, which may include highly stressful and emotional feelings that may come up for you. And helping you to find ways to cope with these emotions and feelings in a healthy and non-self-destructive way
  • Assisting you with focusing on your feelings, behaviours, and experiences with a positive change as your goal.
  • Confidential, therapy is based on a relationship of trust and understanding, unless there is an inherent risk to your life or someone else, your confidentiality in therapy will be maintained.

a man in a group session

What role does counselling play in treating addiction?

Since addiction recovery is not a one size fits all programme, treatment should be as multifaceted as the causes. Understanding the causes of your addiction – which can range from mental health, social and environmental issues, employment or job-related stress, and emotional issues, and helping you to address these causes, whilst developing the skills to cope, and be able to have appropriate behavioural reactions to triggers and stressors is just a small part of what a counsellor will assist you in achieving during your sessions.

Addiction counselling is about understanding that addiction is a disease, and your counsellor knows that with the right treatment, time, and sessions, it is treatable.

Nobody chooses to be addicted to anything, there is always a cause, unfortunately, these causes may not be immediately evident, a counsellor can help you explore and understand your past and what road led you to addiction, without addressing these causal issues you may be tempted to relapse.


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What happens during counselling sessions?

During your session you will be encouraged to talk about your feelings and emotions, your counsellor will help you gain a better understanding of what you are facing and guide you towards finding your own solutions.

Your counsellor is not there to tell you what to do, but rather to give you a safe and supportive environment in which you can heal.


Since addiction recovery is a long process, you may need several sessions before you start to see progress, but you will gradually start to feel better.

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    What counselling is available?

    Private residential treatment centres offer counselling as part of your holistic treatment plan, but if you plan to see a counsellor as an outpatient, the following therapies also apply:

    Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

    CBT is a talking therapy that works on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and actions are connected and that the vicious cycle addiction has trapped you in is through negative thoughts and feelings. Focus is placed on your current state of mind and the problems you are experiencing rather than on the repair of past problems, therapy offers up practical and achievable ways to improve your mental state every day.

    Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)

    Though a form of CBT, the main difference is DBT promotes change by improving emotional stability through experience and behavioral validation. Behavior modification by challenging faulty or negative thought patterns and belief systems.

    Both behavioral therapies rely on therapy in both group and individual settings and promote skills training to help you learn how to cope with the urges, and impulse control issues addiction feeds on.

    Addiction treatment incorporated therapy:

    The Matrix Model: A 16-week treatment approach that combines the above behavioural therapy, a 12 step programme, family education, counselling, and promoting activities that are not drug-related.

    Private facilities offer ongoing treatment after your rehabilitation is complete, they will also help find you and your family additional support group sessions in your community to further assist with relapse prevention.

    You can also find counselling centres through the NHS, unfortunately, there is often a waiting period due to the shortage of professionals available, also you may not be able to see the same counsellor at every visit, it will depend on who is on duty.

    You can get free psychological therapies, including counselling for depression, on the NHS, without a referral from a GP.


    couple in a therapy session

    How to find the right counsellor

    In a private residential treatment centre, the addiction counsellor would have first met you during the intervention stage or on admission, they would have assessed you to determine:

    • Addiction
    • Addiction level or stage (mild, moderate, or advanced)
    • Age
    • Family support
    • Legal requirements

    This would have enabled them to formulate and implement a treatment plan through

    • Individual therapy
    • Group therapy
    • Treatment classes

    If you are seeking counselling as an outpatient you are welcome to contact our helpline and we can guide you to a counsellor in your area, alternatively, the NHS keeps a registry of NHS counsellors that you will be referred to.

    Generally, you are only given 6 to 12 counselling sessions through the NHS and there could be a waiting list of between 6 and 18 weeks for a referral.

    How long should I seek counselling for addiction?

    When counselling is a part of your treatment plan and has been experienced in a non-judgemental and empathetic way, your ability to identify and handle stressors, triggers, and causes for your addiction is improved.

    Continued supportive counselling during recovery in conjunction with the support found in mutual aid groups and 12 Step programmes have proven to be the most effective long term maintenance treatment for addiction recovery


    You may only need a few counselling sessions, this will be determined by your progress and discussed between you and your counsellor, alternatively, you may require therapy as a lifelong treatment plan and find it beneficial for years.

    SMART Recovery UK, is a free, nonprofit,  Self Management and Recovery Training programme available to help assist in the recovery process of addiction.

    The SMART Recovery approach to recovery is summarized in the Four-Point program.

    SMART Recovery teaches how to:

    1) Enhance and maintain motivation to abstain

    2) Cope with urges

    3) Manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors

    4) Balance momentary and enduring satisfactions



    man talking to a therapist

    Counselling for Families affected by addiction

    There is an increasing recognition that addiction affects the entire family and the communities in which these families live.

    There has been a growth in carer organisations, most notably Adfam and Families Anonymous

    The Adfam website ( is very useful and has a list of different organisations that you can contact for support for your family through treatment.

    Families Anonymous (  is a self-help service based on the 12-steps plan and is aimed at helping families affected by drug use and behavioural problems.


    Private rehabilitation centres also offer counselling and support for families of their patients as part of their treatment programmes.

    Jason Sheirs
    Author / Jason Shiers / Dip. Psych MBACP
    Jason Shiers is a Certified Transformative Coach & Certified Psychotherapist who is a specialist in addiction, trauma and eating disorders. He has been working in the field of addiction for 25 years now.