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A Therapist's Approach to Addressing Denial in Addiction with Empathy and Tact and Self-Care in Mind

Updated: Apr 24

By Tonya Hand, Psy.M. March 9, 2024

In my practice as a therapist, I've encountered clients who struggle with addiction and are in denial about the impact it have on their lives and the lives of their family.  The family also have a difficult time on how to confront their family member. To further understand how this process works, for example, I will use a fictitious client to illustrate. Let's call one of the clients Jamie, who would often minimize their substance use during our sessions, attributing it to various external factors and refusing to acknowledge the severity of the issue.

Approaching Jamie about their addiction requires a delicate balance of empathy, patience, and tact. I understand that pushing too hard could cause them to retreat further into denial, so I approach the topic with care and consideration.

During our sessions, I focus on creating a safe and non-judgmental space where Jamie feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings. I listen actively to their concerns and validate their experiences while gently highlighting the consequences of their substance use.

I provide psychoeducation about addiction, explain the physiological and psychological factors involved and offer information about treatment options and support resources. I emphasize that seeking help is a brave step towards healing and encourage Jamie to explore their relationship with substances in a way that feel manageable for them.

Throughout our conversations, I remain patient and empathetic, understanding that change takes time and that Jamie needs to come to their own conclusions about their addiction. I ask open-ended questions that prompts self-reflection and empower Jamie to take ownership of their recovery journey.

As our work together progresses, Jamie can gradually began to acknowledge the impact of their addiction and express a willingness to seek help. Together, we develop a personalized treatment plan that address their unique needs and goals, incorporate therapy, support groups, and other resources to support their journey toward recovery.

Approaching Jamie with empathy, patience, and tact not only help them confront their addiction but also strengthens our therapeutic relationship. It underscores the importance of meeting clients where they are and empowering them to take control of their own healing process. Here's a suggestion on how family and friends can address denial in addiction with self-care in mind:

#1 - Express Concern and Support

Start the conversation by expressing your concern for their well-being. Use "I" statements to avoid sounding accusatory. For example, "I've noticed some changes in your behavior that worry me."

#2 - Share Observations

Provide specific examples of behaviors or situations that have raised concerns. Avoid judgmental language and focus on expressing how their actions have impacted you or others around them.

"In the pursuit of healing and understanding, empathy is the key that unlocks the door to transformation." – Oprah Winfrey

#3 - Offer Information

Offer factual information about addiction and its effects. This could include resources for support groups, helplines, or treatment options. Present this information in a non-confrontational manner, emphasizing that you're offering it out of care and concern.

#4 - Listen Actively

Allow them to express their thoughts and feelings without interruption. Show empathy and validate their emotions, even if you disagree with their perspective. Active listening can help them feel heard and understood.

#5 - Set Boundaries

Clearly communicate your boundaries and the impact their behavior has on your relationship. Let them know that while you care about them, you cannot continue to support or enable their substance use.

#6 - Encourage Self-Reflection

Encourage them to reflect on their behavior and its consequences. Ask open-ended questions that prompt them to consider the effects of their substance use on themselves and others.

#7 - Express Love and Support

Reiterate your love and support for them, emphasizing that you're there to help whenever they're ready to seek assistance. Remind them that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

#8 - Take Care of Yourself

Remember to prioritize your own well-being throughout the conversation and beyond. Set boundaries to protect your emotional health and seek support from friends, family, or a therapist if needed. Click here to learn more about self-care.

It's important to recognize that you can't force someone to acknowledge their addiction or seek help if they're not ready. Your role is to offer support, encouragement, and resources while taking care of yourself in the process. If you found this article helpful, please share it with others who need support with addressing denial in addiction. For more information about how we can support recovery efforts Click Here.

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