A sober friend of mine recently asked me, “I already spend so much time working on myself . . . do I really need more help?”  A lot of people come into our clinic who have already gotten sober through a 12-step program. AA and other forms of community-based recovery can be extremely helpful. However, many sober people often struggle with issues that require specialized treatment. This is where psychotherapy can come in. But there is often confusion about what exactly therapy is and how it can help. If you are already in a 12-step program here are four ways therapy differs and can enhance your recovery:

1. Getting Professional Help

According to recent research, about 42% of people with an addiction also struggle with a mood disorder, such as depression. In fact, substances are often used to self-medicate the symptoms of these disorders. Psychotherapists undergo years of rigorous training to treat these conditions, so therapy can reduce your need to self-medicate.

2. Getting an Objective Point of View

Unlike a sponsor, a therapist can offer a more objective perspective because they are not personally involved in your daily life. Of course, your therapist cares about helping you feel better, but your relationship with them will not extend beyond the therapy room. You will meet with a therapist typically once or twice a week, usually for 50 minutes sessions. You will see them in the same place, at the same time to help create a sense of structure and routine. Therapy is confidential. More than that, you will interact with your therapist in a contained, controlled place—outside of your everyday life.

3. Therapy is Designed to Help You Understand Yourself

People often say “AA is a program of action” because twelve-step programs focus on helping you change your behaviors. Well, therapy is a bit more complicated. In therapy the focus is typically on understanding why you behave in a certain way. At its best, therapy also helps you understand your unconscious mind, and why you to avoid certain feelings or issues. Through therapy you gain insight into how you perceive yourself, how you relate to others, and how your emotions work.

4. Therapy + 12 Step: A Great Collaboration 

More than anything, psychotherapy does not replace the need for your 12-step program. In fact, I would never suggest anyone quit AA in favor of therapy. 12-step programs offer valuable tools that can strengthen the usefulness of therapy. Similarly, psychotherapy can complement and enhance the important work you have already done, and continue to do, to better yourself.

By Michael Pezzullo

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