Why Confrontational Therapy is Used in Substance Abuse Treatment

confrontational therapy

Over the years, we’ve continued to study and learn about addiction and dependency, finding that rather than being evidence of a weak character, addiction is actually a disease. In fact, addiction is a chronic, progressive, relapsing disease of the brain, rendering individuals helpless to an obsessive compulsion to seek and consume alcohol and drugs. Unfortunately, the disease of addiction cannot be cured using existing treatments; however, we’ve developed and refined a number of comprehensive therapies that address the many effects of addiction, allowing individual to recover from dependency and manage their disease so they can live healthy, sober lives.

Although cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) forms the basis of much addiction treatment, there are a number of supplemental and alternative therapies used to address chemical dependency, some of which is considered somewhat controversial. Since there’s no singular one-size-fits-all treatment that addresses every addict’s needs, addiction treatment must consist of a number of treatments and therapies that can be combined into personalized, comprehensive addiction treatment programs for addicts in recovery. One of the techniques used to treat alcohol and drug addiction—called confrontational therapy—is widely misunderstood, which is why the following seeks to describe this form of treatment, explaining its unique benefits and what it can offer individuals receiving treatment for substance abuse disorders.

What is Confrontational Therapy?

When receiving an education or training to become a counselor, psychotherapists learn a number of different techniques, each of which is valuable and beneficial to patients in particular situations. Choosing one counseling technique over others involves assessing the patient’s comfort level, preference, experiences, and the problems with which he or she needs help. In short, the counselor or therapist must determine whether a counseling technique can address or meet the needs of a patient. Confrontational therapy—also sometimes called the confrontational method or “attack” therapy—is a form of counseling that’s sometimes used in treatment of alcohol and drug addiction. As a means of helping addicts refrain from addictive behavior, confrontational therapy has been extremely controversial over the years with a number of addiction professionals asserting that this form of counseling can be more damaging or harmful to recovering addicts than it is helpful, especially for individuals who suffer from low self-esteem, self-worth, and have a poor self-image. However, the methodology of confrontational therapy is sound and there are a number of reported benefits to utilizing the confrontational method in addiction treatment for individuals who don’t suffer from low self-esteem and a poor self-image.

Confrontational therapy refers to an expressive method of counseling that evolved from ventilation therapy, which involves the patient being encouraged to express feelings of sadness or anger as a means relieving distress caused by emotional repression. By definition, confrontational therapy is characterized by highly confrontational interaction between the patient and his or her therapist, during which time the patient might experience verbal abuse, denouncement, or humiliation by the therapist or other members in a group setting. However, confrontational therapy can also involve less extreme methods such as the implementation of rigid rules or an imposed isolation, requiring that the patient makes some sort of concerted effort to heal or show a level of progress in order to earn back his or her freedom or privileges.

The ultimate goal of confrontational methods of counseling and therapy is to reduce or remove a patient’s defenses as quickly and abruptly as possible, making it possible to explore the nature of his or her problems so that the root of these issues can be found. The confrontational aspect of this form of therapy has the effect of humbling the patient, forcing him or her to reflect on actionable problems and preparing the patient to be questioned and cross-examined regarding problems in patterns of thought and behavior. In short, the goal of confrontational therapy is to tear the patient down before building them back up. There’s also an emphasis on the patient’s expressing their emotions, particularly releasing their anger by instigating him or her during counseling sessions.

girl crying in therapy

The Benefits of Confrontational Therapy for Substance Abuse Treatment

Time and again research has indicated that individuals who suffer from alcohol and drug addiction tend to be in denial regarding the reality of their dependency, having developed intensive defensive measures that prevent them from accepting or confronting the issue of their addictions. Studies of addicts have sought to identify where there are certain personality traits or characteristics that tend to be indicative of high susceptibility to addiction; however, statistics show that one of the few characteristics that tend to be common among addicts is the presence of these defense mechanisms and a tendency to deny the reality or severity of their substance abuse. As such, much recent research has sought to identify effective ways of penetrating these defense mechanisms. The confrontational method has proven to be an effective way of forcing addicts to accept their addictions through the use of confrontation in therapy.

Especially in instances of repeated relapse and regression to addictive behavior, individuals in recovery can benefit from confrontational therapy because it forces them to address their irregular thought and behavior patterns. This can take the form of verbal confrontation or by instituting particular consequences for negative behaviors, both of which can encourage discontinuation of drug-seeking and use. Rather than being empathetic and nurturing, confrontational therapy requires that therapists take a no-holds-barred approach to counseling, being open and honest about what the addicts has done or is doing wrong, what should be done to correct negative thoughts or actions, and instituting judgments or consequences that will deter the addicts from relapsing in the future.

Learn More About Addiction Treatments and Therapies Today

If you or someone you love suffers from chemical dependency and would benefit from confrontational therapy, call Recovery Hub today at 888-220-4352. Our recovery specialists can answer any questions you may have regarding confrontational therapy as well as other forms of treatment and recovery programs. Don’t wait—call us today so you can begin living a healthy, productive life once again.

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