Retraining to become a counselor can lead to one of several specialties. One of these is helping people with addictions. Getting to the root cause of the problem and helping your clients make a positive change in their lives is incredibly rewarding. Here are some of the many ways you will help people struggling with an addiction:

Start by listening

One of the best ways to help those struggling with addictions is to listen to them. They may be used to well-meaning friends and family telling them what to do, and strangers judging them. So, this could be the first time they have someone who will listen to them without passing judgment.

This isn’t easy to do because most of us have opinions about other people and events but being able to listen and remain impartial is an acquired skill in counseling. You can learn more about this and develop other skills and knowledge you need by taking a reputable course, such as the certified counselor for chemical dependency online training program offered by Walsh University. With 100% of the coursework online and an endorsement from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board, you can graduate with minimal disruption to your other commitments and feel reassured that your qualification will be a valuable asset in your future career as a counselor.

Listening doesn’t mean you don’t contribute to the conversation, but this should show you’ve understood or provide encouragement for the client to delve deeper. The questions you ask should be open, rather than anything they can agree or disagree with, just to avoid sharing with you. One example of this is asking them how they felt after a particular event in their life, instead of asking if it upset them. This allows them to share their own experience, without being made to feel like they should feel a certain way.

Offer encouragement and support

Your role as a counselor is to encourage and support clients with addictions. They may continue to make mistakes and have occasional relapses, even after a long period of sobriety. To help them, you need to understand why this happened and support them in moving forward, instead of dwelling on the past. Otherwise, this can be a downward spiral in which they stop being honest with you or stop attending your sessions altogether.

By helping them and offering support, they could improve the quality of their lives, and prevent the risk of an accidental or unintentional overdose by drug users. Counselors help people to identify other things worth living for, giving them a reason to address their dependency issues and work with you to help themselves. You can encourage them to set goals, however big or small. Each small milestone will be an achievement and help them keep going.

Instead of setting a target to stop drinking or using illegal substances, you could try asking them to stay sober for a day, then a week, etc. Building this up over time will eventually lead to the same outcome of staying sober in the long term, but it feels more manageable when broken up into smaller chunks of time. It’s also important to create long-term changes in their lifestyle so people with addictive personalities don’t swap one dependency for another.

Helping your client understand

Another important way to help clients with addictions is by helping them understand themselves better. They may be unaware of the everyday situations which make it harder to resist their addictions. Through talking to you, with your occasional questions, they may discover the triggers which make staying away from temptations more challenging. You will also assess them and come up with educated theories on their addictions and underlying issues, but as you get to know them, you will understand how much or how little of this to share at once, and what might be better for them to gain an understanding of in their own time, with your help.

With a deeper understanding of their issues and triggers, they can avoid some while finding ways to face others that are less avoidable. For instance, socializing might be encouraged outside of work, but if these social settings are in bars and involve drinking alcohol, an alcoholic might be conflicted between being seen as anti-social and shunning his colleagues, or being tempted to give in. The other options would include speaking privately to his employer and explaining why he can’t attend, or perhaps suggesting something where alcohol isn’t the sole focus of the outing, such as rock climbing or some other active pursuit. With your help, the client can find the courage to do either of these.

Alternatively, there may be a toxic person in their life who makes staying sober difficult. If they can cut ties with them, this is one less barrier on your client’s road to recovery. By acting as a sounding board with occasional guidance to help them find the answers for themselves, you can help your client resolve dilemmas and obstacles around sobriety. Sometimes these are placed there by the client themselves, and they are reluctant to see this. Instead of blaming them, you can help them discover for themselves during your sessions and encourage them to find solutions instead.

Building trust

When you take on a client, it takes time to build trust. Showing empathy can help your client open up. You might not have been in their position, but you can show an understanding of their situation. For example, their anxiety might cause them to rely on alcohol or drugs, and if you’ve never experienced anxiety of that level, you can’t relate, but you can gain an understanding of it by asking how it affects them and remaining impartial when they give answers you don’t agree with. The best way to help build trust is to focus on the client instead of what you might do in their situation. If they know they can say anything without being judged, they will be more likely to open up to you, even if the first few sessions are difficult for them.

Being patient and allowing them the space to talk in their own time is more helpful than trying to get them to talk before they’re ready. Sometimes, it’s easy to read between the lines of what they do say, but instead of putting words into their mouth, which may or may not be correct, your client is more likely to trust you if you give them the time to say the same thing themselves. Some clients will seek help from you because it’s what their friends and family have insisted they do. Until they want to change and accept help, all you can do is be there and create a professional relationship with them to build trust.

Sharing some experiences may feel like reliving the trauma for them, so they are more likely to do this if they feel they are in a safe space and you are someone they can trust with the information.

Understanding everyone is different

Another way to help a client struggling with addiction is not to compare their situation to anyone else’s. If you know friends or family members who have similar experiences, that doesn’t mean your client’s experience will match these. Everyone deals with things differently. Any prior experience of addiction will help, but it’s not a good idea to use this as a direct comparison.

Treat your client as an individual. They might ask how long a recovery plan will take, but you will help them by not setting strict timeframes. These can only lead to disillusionment if he or she doesn’t complete a goal in the specific time you mention. Instead, set goals, but allow your clients to reach these targets in their own time.

Supporting your client’s family

Counselors are also sometimes expected to work with the client’s family. Unless the client agrees, some or all information shared will be confidential, so it’s important to be careful what you share with them. It can help to build trust and encourage your client to continue sharing personal information if you treat this sensitively and don’t share the details when you offer support to family members.

Alternatively, some families or couples will attend your sessions together. This helps the other person or people to gain a better understanding of the addiction your client is battling against. In these sessions, you help by acting as a mediator, encouraging them to talk openly, but while leaving out negativity. You may also want to schedule some sessions with just the client who has an addiction. This can help them open up and build up the courage to share information in joint therapy sessions.

As a counselor, helping clients with a chemical dependency is about more than just talking. Often you will have to find ways to understand someone with different life experiences than you, build rapport and trust, create plans for recovery and further plans if the client relapses. All this needs to be done without judgment or assumptions if you want to help the client.