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Outpatient treatment offers a wide variety of therapies for individuals who seek treatment for a substance use disorder. Based on hundreds of studies, psychotherapy is estimated to be one of the most effective treatment methods.1

An outpatient treatment counselor uses different psychotherapy methods to promote recovery and well-being. Therapy sessions may involve individual counseling, group therapy or both.

What Is Outpatient Addiction Counseling?

Outpatient counseling addresses not only the drug addiction. Counselors also address the underlying issues that often accompany substance abuse. A good outpatient treatment counselor focuses on behavioral changes, creates a time frame for progress goals and encourages self-help.

What Methods Are Used by a Good Outpatient Treatment Counselor?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, outpatient treatment methods for behavioral changes and improved cognitive functioning should include:2

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps clients recognize situations in which they’re likely to use drugs, avoid them when possible and cope with them when necessary.
  • Family therapy for patients and their families, in which codependent relationships are explored. Treatment is also used to improve overall family functioning.
  • Motivational interviewing, which makes the most of people’s readiness to change their behaviors and maintain recovery.
  • Motivational incentives, also known as contingency management, which uses positive reinforcement to encourage sobriety.

How Long Should an Outpatient Treatment Counselor Administer Therapy?

High-quality outpatient treatment programs should be progressive.3 Active treatment commonly lasts six months, and then follow-up sessions should be conducted for up to one year. This recommendation is a framework. Actual treatment length may vary for your situation.

What Qualities Does a Good Outpatient Treatment Counselor Have?

Successful outpatient treatment counselors encourage self-help. To do so, effective counselors should have the following qualities:

  • Be empathetic: A good counselor balances empathy with accountability. While it’s natural to feel sadness for a patient’s situation, a good counselor must also hold their patients accountable for their actions. Being held accountable helps a person to grow.
  • Understand boundaries: A good counselor knows how to kindly and firmly say “no” when needed. Also, good counselors will know the boundary between how much of the recovery process is their responsibility, and how much lies with the client.
  • Understand that it’s ultimately up to the patient: Despite all best efforts, some clients will relapse. Also, sometimes individuals in therapy can be deceptive. A good counselor will be comfortable with these types of ambiguities and push forward.
  • Believe in the capacity for change: A good counselor believes that patients can—and do—change. A good outpatient treatment counselor will promote optimism and hope even when it seems like there isn’t any. However, blind optimism isn’t healthy. A realistic perspective on the recovery process helps clients set reachable goals.

The Bottom Line

A good outpatient treatment counselor, armed with the best methods and characteristics, will be a collaborator, teacher, and adviser. An effective therapist is someone who knows how to enable change.


  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201108/13-qualities-look-in-effective-psychotherapist
  2. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction
  3. https://archives.drugabuse.gov/ADAC/ADAC7.html
What Makes a Good Outpatient Treatment Counselor?
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