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Learning to Trust the Method in Treatment

Learning to Trust the Method in Treatment

It is normal to be cautious in a new situation, but it is important for both patients and therapists to work toward building trust

When people enter a new environment or situation, it is natural to be cautious. This is as true of addiction treatment as it is of any other new situation. Successful treatment, however, requires a measure of trust in the process. Building that trust often takes intentionality, both on the part of patients and therapists.

Components to Trusting a Therapy Method

There are many components to trusting a therapy method, including the following:

  • Trusting the diagnosis – Even when people believe that a given therapy method is appropriate for a given condition, if they don’t believe they have the condition, it’s difficult for them to believe the therapy is the right choice for their personal situation. Addiction is a disease of denial. Generally, by the time that people enter treatment, they have accepted the truth. Occasionally, however, people are coerced into beginning treatment without fully accepting their need for it. Generally, after a period of sobriety, the brain begins to heal and it becomes easier for people to see their situation objectively.

Co-existing conditions like anxiety or depression are common in people suffering from addiction. People are generally aware that they suffer from mood disorders, but other conditions, such as personality disorders, may not be as easily determined. There are specific guidelines that clinicians use in making diagnoses and in many cases there are well-researched assessment tools. If the clinician fails to explain fully why a diagnosis was made, patients may wish to ask clarifying questions. When co-occurring disorders are treated in an integrated manner, clinicians continue to assess the existence and severity of mental health conditions to determine how the treatment for one condition is affecting the other. Therapy methods may vary as the relative strength of a given condition changes.

  • Trusting that therapy is effective in general – Some people have the misconception that addiction treatment is not generally effective. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes, however, that research finds that the majority of people who enter and remain in treatment stop using drugs and improve their psychological, occupational and social functioning.[i] There are sometimes relapses on the way to full recovery, but NIDA notes that the relapse rates for addiction are similar to those for other common conditions such as asthma, hypertension and diabetes. Relapse does not mean treatment has failed, but does mean that treatment may need to be resumed or altered. Sometimes that means a change in treatment methodology.
  • Trusting that a given counselor or clinician is competent – Counselors and other addiction treatment personnel have varying levels of experience and training, but all must meet certain minimum requirements before they can work in the field. Some have sub-specialties, such as extra training or experience with clients of a certain age, gender, ethnicity or co-existing condition. If a patient has a strong preference for a specific type of counselor, it is wise to express that desire at the beginning of the treatment process.

Building a Strong Therapeutic Alliance

Much progress in treatment can be linked to the strength of the therapeutic alliance between the counselor and patient. When it is strong, patients are more likely to be honest and open, letting therapists know them more completely. Counselors are then better able to choose and fine-tune therapy methods. The patient is also more likely to trust the counselor’s judgment and accept a level of discomfort in treatment when there are high levels of mutual trust and respect.

There are things that both counselors and patients can do to build a strong therapeutic alliance. A Psychology Today blog post notes that trust builds when clients believe that their therapists will be helpful, keep them safe and nourish positive feelings.[ii] Counselors can address these goals in various ways. At the beginning of the treatment process, they can discuss what they hope to do and why they believe it will help. They can make sure that feedback does not become criticism and can focus on client strengths. Enhancing client self-esteem by expressing genuine appreciation for efforts and acknowledgement of growth is also important.

Sometimes, counselors do all they can to build a positive alliance, but patients are still wary. This may be especially true when patients have a history of relationships with people who have proved untrustworthy. An article on the Healthy Place website notes that the problem may also stem from patients’ distrust of themselves.[iii] They may lack confidence in their ability to detect harmful situations and respond assertively when necessary.

When beginning treatment with a new counselor, it is entirely appropriate for patients to ask respectful questions to get to know their therapists better. These may include questions about training, experience and treatment philosophy. Some counselors are comfortable discussing more personal matters as well, such as telling patients a little bit about their families or interests. It is also important for patients to be honest about their doubts. Expressing them opens up the conversation and allows the counselor to address the issue.

We Can Help

If you are ready for addiction treatment, we can help you find it. Give us a call and let us assist you in finding the program that best meets your preferences and needs. If you wish, we can even check your insurance coverage for you, at no cost or obligation. Our helpline is toll-free and available 24 hours a day, so why not contact us now?  Your new life can begin today.


[i] “How Effective is Drug Addiction Treatment?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, December 2012, (February 19, 2016).

[ii] “Three Ways a Therapist Establishes Trust in Therapy,” Susan Heitler, Ph.D., Psychology Today, June 2012, (February 19, 2016).

[iii] “Trusting Your Therapist: Some Practical Approaches,” Tom Cloyd, Healthy Place, November 2013, (February 19, 2016).