Dual Disorders Recovery Counseling

Approaches to Drug Abuse Counseling U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health Dennis C. Daley


1.1 General Description of Approach Dual disorders recovery counseling (DDRC) is an integrated approach to treatment of patients with drug use disorders and comorbid psychiatric disorders. The DDRC model, which integrates individual and group addiction counseling approaches with psychiatric interventions, attempts to balance the focus of treatment so that both the patient’s addiction and psychiatric issues are addressed.

The DDRC model is based on the assumption that there are several treatment phases that patients may go through. These phases are rough guidelines delineating some typical issues patients deal with and include:

Phase 1?Engagement and Stabilization. In this phase, patients are persuaded, motivated, or involuntarily committed to treatment. The main goal of this phase is to help stabilize the acute symptoms of the psychiatric illness and/or the drug use disorder. Another important goal is to motivate patients to continue in treatment once the acute crisis is stabilized or the involuntary commitment expires. Dealing with ambivalence regarding recovery, working through denial of either or both illnesses, and becoming motivated for continued care are other important goals during this phase.

This phase usually takes several weeks, but for some patients it takes longer to become engaged in recovery and to stabilize from acute effects of their dual disorders.

Phase 2?Early Recovery. This phase involves learning to cope with desires to use chemicals; avoiding or coping with people, places, and things that represent high-risk addiction relapse factors; learning to cope with psychiatric symptoms; getting involved in support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), Rational Recovery (RR), Dual Recovery Anonymous, or mental health support groups; getting the family involved (if indicated); beginning to build structure into life; and identifying problems to work on in recovery.

This phase roughly involves the first 3 months following stabilization. However, some patients take much longer in this phase because they do not comply with treatment, continue to abuse drugs, experience exacerbations of psychiatric symptomology, or experience serious psychosocial problems or crises.

Phase 3?Middle Recovery. In this phase, patients continue working on issues from the previous phase as needed. In addition, patients learn to develop or improve coping skills to deal with intrapersonal and interpersonal issues. Examples of intrapersonal skills include coping with negative affect (anger, depression, emptiness, anxiety) and coping with maladaptive beliefs or thinking. Interpersonal issues that may be addressed during this phase include making amends, improving communication or relationship skills, and further developing social and recovery support systems. This phase also focuses on helping patients cope with persistent symptoms of psychiatric illness; drug use lapses, relapses, or setbacks; and crises related to the psychiatric disorder. It also focuses on helping identify and manage relapse warning signs and high-risk relapse factors related to either illness.

The middle recovery phase involves months 4 through 12, although some patients never get much beyond early recovery even after a long time in treatment. Patients who are treated for an initial acute episode of psychiatric illness with pharmacotherapy in addition to DDRC and who do not have a recurrent or persistent mental illness may be tapered off medications during this phase. Patients are usually not tapered off medications until they have several months or longer of significant improvement in psychiatric symptomology.

Phase 4?Late Recovery. This phase, also referred to as the “maintenance phase” of recovery, involves continued work on issues addressed in the middle phase of recovery and work on other clinical issues that emerge. Important intrapersonal or interpersonal issues may be explored in greater depth during this phase for patients who have continued abstinence and remained relatively free of major psychiatric symptoms.

This phase continues beyond year 1. Many patients with chronic or persistent forms of psychiatric illness (e.g., schizophrenia, bipolar disease, recurrent major depression), or severe personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder, often continue active involvement in treatment. Treatment during this phase may involve maintenance pharmacotherapy, supportive DDRC counseling, or some specific form of psychotherapy (e.g., interpersonal psychotherapy). Involvement in support groups continues during this phase of recovery as well.

1.2 Goals and Objectives of Approach The goals of this counseling model are:

  1. Achieving and maintaining abstinence from alcohol or other drugs of abuse or, for patients unable or unwilling to work toward total abstinence, reducing the amount and frequency of use and concomitant biopsychosocial sequelae associated with drug use disorders.
  2. Stabilizing acute psychiatric symptoms.
  3. Resolving or reducing problems and improving physical, emotional, social, family, interpersonal, occupational, academic, spiritual, financial, and legal functioning.
  4. Working toward positive lifestyle change.
  5. Early intervention in the process of relapse to either the addiction or the psychiatric disorder.

1.3 Theoretical Rationale/Mechanism of Action The DDRC counseling approach involves a broad range of interventions:

  1. Motivating patients to seek detoxification or inpatient treatment if symptoms warrant, and sometimes facilitating an involuntary commitment for psychiatric care.
  2. Educating patients about psychiatric illness, addictive illness, treatment, and the recovery process.
  3. Supporting patients’ efforts at recovery and providing a sense of hope regarding positive change.
  4. Referring patients for other needed services (case management, medical, social, vocational, economic needs).
  5. Helping patients increase self-awareness so that information regarding dual disorders can be personalized.
  6. Helping patients identify problems and areas of change.
  7. Helping patients develop and improve problemsolving ability and develop recovery coping skills.
  8. Facilitating pharmacotherapy evaluation and compliance. (This requires close collaboration with the team psychiatrist.)

1.4 Agent of Change The DDRC model assumes that change may occur as a result of the patient-counselor relationship and the team relationship (i.e., counselor, psychiatrist, psychologist, nurse, or other professionals such as case manager or family therapist). A positive therapeutic alliance is seen as critical in helping patients become involved and stay involved in the recovery process. Community support systems, professional treatment groups, and self-help programs also serve as possible agents of positive change for dually diagnosed patients. For the more chronically and persistently mentally ill patients, a case manager may also function as an important agent in the change process.

Although patients have to work on a number of intrapersonal and interpersonal issues as part of long-term recovery, medications can facilitate this process by attenuating acute symptoms, improving mood, or improving cognitive abilities or impulse control. Thus, medications may eliminate or reduce symptoms as well as help patients become more able to address problems during counseling sessions. A severely depressed patient may be unable to focus on learning cognitive or behavioral interventions until he or she experiences a certain degree of remission from symptoms of depression; a floridly psychotic patient will not be able to focus on abstinence from drugs until the psychotic symptoms are under control.

1.5 Conception of Drug Abuse/ Addiction, Causative Factors Both psychiatric and addictive illnesses are viewed as biopsychosocial disorders. These disorders or diseases are caused or maintained by a variety of biological, psychological, and cultural/social factors. The degree of influence of specific factors may vary among psychiatric disorders.

This DDRC model assumes that there are several possible relationships between psychiatric illness and addiction (Daley et al. 1993; Meyer 1986).

  1. Axis I and Axis II psychopathology may serve as a risk factor for addictive disorders (e.g., the odds of having an addictive disorder among individuals with a mental illness is 2.7 according to the National Institute of Mental Health’s Epidemiologic Catchment Area [ECA] survey).
  2. Some psychiatric patients may be more vulnerable than others to the adverse effects of alcohol or other drugs.
  3. Addiction may serve as a risk factor for psychiatric illness (e.g., the odds of having a psychiatric disorder among those with a drug use disorder is 4.5 according to the ECA survey).
  4. The use of drugs can precipitate an underlying psychiatric condition (e.g., PCP or cocaine use may trigger a first manic episode in a vulnerable individual).
  5. Psychopathology may modify the course of an addictive disorder in terms of:a. Rapidity of course (earlier age depressives experience addiction problems earlier; male-limited alcoholics [25 percent] with antisocial behaviors have earlier onset of addiction compared with milieu-limited alcoholics [Cloninger 1987]).b. Response to treatment (patients with antisocial or borderline personality disorder often drop out of treatment early).c. Symptom picture and long-term outcome (high psychiatric severity patients as measured by the Addiction Severity Index (ASI) do worse than low psychiatric severity patients; there is a strong association between relapse and psychiatric impairment among opiate addicts and some association between relapse and psychiatric impairment among alcoholics [Catalano et al. 1988; McLellan et al. 1985]).
  6. Psychiatric symptoms may develop in the course of chronic intoxications (e.g., psychosis may follow PCP use or chronic stimulant use; suicidal tendencies and depression may follow a cocaine crash).
  7. Psychiatric symptoms may emerge as a consequence of chronic use of drugs or a relapse (e.g., depression may be caused by an awareness of the losses associated with addiction; depression may follow a drug or alcohol relapse).
  8. Drug-using behavior and psychopathological symptoms (whether antecedent or consequent) will become meaningfully linked over the course of time.
  9. The addictive disorder and the psychiatric disorder can develop at different points in time and not be linked (e.g., a bipolar patient may become hooked on drugs years after being stable from a manic disorder; an alcoholic may develop panic disorder or major depression long after being sober).
  10. Symptoms of one disorder can contribute to relapse of the other disorder (e.g., increased anxiety or hallucinations may lead the patient to alcohol or other drug use to ameliorate symptoms; a cocaine or alcohol binge may lead to depressive symptoms).


2.1 Most Similar Counseling Approaches The DDRC model is most similar to various aspects of several models of treatment used in addiction counseling, mental health counseling, or both. These include individual and group addiction recovery models, the psychoeducational (PE) model, the relapse prevention (RP) model, the cognitive-behavioral model, and the interpersonal model.

2.2 Most Dissimilar Counseling Approaches The DDRC model is dissimilar to the various forms of dynamic therapies.


3.1 Modalities of Treatment The DDRC model can be used in a variety of group treatments and in individual treatment. It can also be adapted to family treatment.

3.2 Ideal Treatment Setting The DDRC model was primarily developed for use in a mental health or dual disorders treatment setting. It can be used throughout the continuum of care in inpatient, other residential, partial hospital, and outpatient settings. The specific areas of focus will depend on each patient’s presenting problems and symptoms and the treatment setting. Certain aspects of this model could be adapted and used in addiction treatment settings provided that appropriate training, supervision, and consultation are available for the counselor.

3.3 Duration of Treatment Acute inpatient dual-diagnosis treatment usually lasts up to 3 weeks. Longer term specialty residential treatment programs may last from several months to a year or more. Partial hospitalization programs usually last from 6 to 12?months. Outpatient treatment lasts 6 months or longer. Recurrent conditions, such as certain depressive disorders and bipolar illness, as well as persistent mental illness such as schizophrenia, typically require ongoing participation in maintenance pharmacotherapy and some type of supportive counseling.

3.4 Compatibility With Other Treatments The DDRC model is very compatible with pharmacotherapy and family treatment. Many patients require medication to treat psychiatric symptoms. Therefore, medication compliance, the perception of taking medications as a recovering alcoholic or addict, and potential adverse effects of alcohol or other drugs on medication efficacy are important issues to discuss with the patient. Family participation in assessment and treatment is viewed as important and compatible with the DDRC model. The family can:

  1. Help provide important information in the assessment process.
  2. Provide support to the recovering patient.
  3. Address their own questions, concerns, and reactions to coping with the dually diagnosed patient.
  4. Address their own problems and issues in treatment sessions or self-help programs.
  5. Help identify early signs of addiction relapse or psychiatric recurrence and point these out to the recovering dually diagnosed family member.

A combination of family PE programs, family counseling sessions, and family support programs can be used to help families. Referrals for assessment of serious problems (psychiatric, drug abuse, behavioral) among specific family members can also be initiated as necessary (e.g., a child of a patient who is suicidal, very depressed, or getting into trouble at school can be referred for a psychiatric evaluation).

3.5 Role of Self-Help Programs Self-help programs are very important in the DDRC model of treatment. All patients are educated regarding self-help programs and linked up to specific programs. The self-help programs recommended may include any of the following for a given patient: AA, NA, CA, and other addiction support groups such as RR or Women for Sobriety; dual-recovery support groups; and mental health support groups. However, this model does not assume that a patient cannot recover without involvement in a 12-step group or that failure to attend 12-step groups is a sign of resistance. The DDRC model also assumes that some patients may use some of the tools of recovery of self-help programs even if they do not attend meetings. Sponsorship, recovery literature, slogans, and recovery clubs are also seen as very helpful aspects of recovery for dually diagnosed patients.


4.1 Educational Requirements The educational requirements are variable for inpatient staff and depend on the professional discipline’s requirements. Formal education of inpatient staff include M.D., Ph.D., master’s, bachelor’s, and associate degrees. Training in fields such as nursing may vary as well and include M.S.N., B.S.N., R.N., and L.P.N. Outpatient therapists tend to have at least a master’s degree or higher and function more autonomously than inpatient staff.

4.2 Training, Credentials, and Experience Required To effectively provide counseling services to dually diagnosed patients, the counselor needs to have a broad knowledge of assessment and treatment of dual disorders. Specific areas with which the counselor should be familiar, at a minimum, include the following:

  1. Psychiatric illnesses (types, causes, symptoms, and effects).
  2. Drug use disorders (trends in drug abuse; types and effects of various drugs; causes, symptoms, and effects of addiction).
  3. The relationship between the psychiatric illness and drug use.
  4. The recovery process for dual disorders.
  5. Self-help programs (for addiction, mental health disorders, and dual disorders).
  6. Family issues in treatment and recovery.
  7. Relapse (precipitants, warning signs, and RP strategies for both disorders).
  8. Specialized psychosocial treatment approaches for various psychiatric disorders (e.g., treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder).
  9. Pharmacotherapy.
  10. The continuum of care (for both addiction and psychiatric illnesses).
  11. Local community resources.
  12. The process of involuntary hospitalization.
  13. Motivational counseling strategies.
  14. Ways to deal with ambivalent patients and those who do not want help.
  15. Strategies to deal with refractory or treatment-resistant patients with chronic forms of mental illness.
  16. How to use bibliotherapeutic assignments to facilitate the patient’s recovery.

The counselor must be able to develop a therapeutic alliance with a broad range of patients who manifest many different disorders and differing abilities to utilize professional treatment. This requires awareness of the counselor’s own issues, biases, limitations, and strengths, as well as the counselor’s willingness to examine his or her own reactions to different patients.

The counselor needs to be able to effectively network with other service providers since many of these dually diagnosed patients have multiple psychosocial needs and problems. Because crises often arise, the counselor must also be conversant with crisis intervention approaches. The ability to work with a team is also essential in all treatment contexts.

Experience with addicts and mental health patients is the ideal. However, if a counselor is trained in one field and has access to additional training and supervision in another, it is possible to expand knowledge and skills and work effectively with dually diagnosed patients.

4.3 Counselor’s Recovery Status If a counselor has the training, knowledge, and experiential background in working with psychiatric patients and with addicts, a personal history of recovery can be helpful. Although self-disclosure is sometimes appropriate, in general, the counselor providing treatment should share less of his or her own recovery experience than is typically shared in the more traditional addiction counseling model.

4.4 Ideal Personal Characteristics of Counselor Hope and optimism for the patient’s recovery; a high degree of empathy, patience, and tolerance; flexibility; an ability to enjoy working with difficult patients; a realistic perspective on change and steps toward success; a low need to control the patient; an ability to engage the patient yet be able to detach; and an ability to utilize a multiplicity of treatment interventions rather than relying on a single way of counseling are important characteristics and qualities that counselors need.

4.5 Counselor’s Behaviors Prescribed The DDRC approach requires a broad range of behaviors on the part of the counselor. Specific behaviors are mediated by the severity of the patient’s symptoms and his or her related needs and problems. The counselor’s behaviors may include any of the following:

  1. Providing information and education.
  2. Challenging denial and self-destructive behaviors. (Confrontation is modified to take into account the patient’s ego strength and ability to tolerate confrontation.)
  3. Providing realistic feedback on problems and progress in treatment.
  4. Encouraging and monitoring abstinence.
  5. Helping the patient get involved in self-help groups.
  6. Helping the patient identify, prioritize, and work on problems and recovery issues.
  7. Monitoring addiction recovery issues.
  8. Monitoring target psychiatric symptoms (suicidality, mood symptoms, thought disorder symptoms, or problem behaviors).
  9. Helping the patient develop specific RP skills (e.g., coping with alcohol or other drug cravings, refusing offers to get high, challenging faulty thinking, coping with negative affect, improving interpersonal behaviors, managing relapse warning signs).
  10. Advocating on behalf of the patient and facilitating inpatient admission when needed.
  11. Facilitating the use of community resources or services.
  12. Developing therapeutic assignments aimed at helping the patient reach a goal or make a specific change.
  13. Following up when a patient fails to follow through with treatment.
  14. Offering support, encouragement, and outreach.

4.6 Counselor’s Behaviors Proscribed The DDRC counselor does not typically interpret the patient’s behaviors or motivation. The focus is more on understanding and coping with practical issues related to the dual disorders and current functioning. The counselor avoids extensive exploration of past traumas during the early phase of recovery because this can lead to avoidance of addressing the drug use disorder and can increase the patient’s anxiety. The DDRC counselor also minimizes time spent on coaddiction issues since this can deflect from the drug use problem and raise anxiety.

Harsh confrontation is avoided because it can adversely impact on the patient’s sense of self and can drive the patient away from treatment. Confrontation can be used, but it should be done in a caring, nonjudgmental, nonpunitive, and reality-oriented manner.

4.7 Recommended Supervision The goals of supervision are to help the counselor:

  1. Increase knowledge of dual disorders counseling.
  2. Improve special counseling skills.
  3. Deal with personal issues or reactions that impede therapeutic alliance or progress (e.g., anger toward a patient who relapses, negative reactions to a patient with a personality disorder).
  4. Use personal strengths in the counseling process (e.g., personal experiences, humor).
  5. Maintain a reasonable therapeutic focus on the patient’s addiction and mental health disorder.
  6. Determine strategies to work through impasses in counseling.

A variety of formats can be used in supervising the DDRC approach:

  1. Joint discussion of individual counseling cases, family sessions, or group sessions.
  2. Review of clinical notes and treatment plans.
  3. Live observation of counseling sessions.
  4. Review and discussion of audiotapes or videotapes of counseling sessions.
  5. Cotherapy sessions.
  6. Group supervision with other counselors in which individual, family, or groups are reviewed or in which clinical concerns are shared and explored.

One of the most helpful but time-intensive formats is where the counselor can be “seen in action.” This provides tremendous opportunities to identify personal or professional areas that need further attention. This is especially helpful to less experienced counselors. Once a counselor works through anxiety about being scrutinized, he or she usually finds this process helpful.

Counselors should receive specific feedback regarding their counseling. This includes positive reinforcement for good work as well as critical feedback on areas of weakness. For example, a group counselor can benefit from feedback pointing out that he or she talks too much in the group sessions or tells patients how to cope with a recovery issue before eliciting their ideas on coping strategies.

The use of adherence scales in some clinical research protocols is an excellent way of providing specific feedback on a particular treatment session. The counselor is rated on the performance of specific interventions as well as the quality of those interventions. The major drawback is that tapes of specific treatment sessions have to be reviewed in detail, a time-consuming process.


5.1 What Is the Counselor’s Role? As evidenced by the list of counselor behaviors noted earlier, many roles are assumed in DDRC: educator, collaborator, adviser, advocate, and problem solver.

5.2 Who Talks More? Generally, the patient talks the most during individual DDRC sessions. In PE groups, the counselor is usually very active in providing education to the group. However, patients are encouraged to ask questions, share personal experiences related to the group topic, and express feelings.

5.3 How Directive Is the Counselor? In DDRC, the counselor may be very directive and active with one patient and less directive and active with another. The approach must be individualized and take into account each patient’s strengths, abilities, and deficits. However, the counselor is generally more directive than in traditional mental health counseling, particularly in relation to continued drug use and relapse setups and in pointing out other self-defeating behavior patterns.

5.4 Therapeutic Alliance A good therapeutic alliance (TA) facilitates recovery and is based on the counselor’s ability to connect with the patient, respect differences, show empathy, use humor, and understand the inner world of the patient. Listening, providing information, being supportive and encouraging, and being up front and directive can help build the TA.

A poor TA often shows in a patient’s missed appointments or failure to comply with treatment. Discussing common problems in recovery and acknowledging specific problems between the counselor and the patient can help improve a poor alliance. Calling patients who drop out of treatment early and inquiring as to whether they think a new treatment plan can help may also help correct a poor TA. Discussing specific cases in supervision can help the counselor identify causes of a poor TA and develop strategies to correct the problem. As a last resort, a case may be transferred to another counselor if the client-counselor relationship is such that a TA cannot be formed.


6.1 Clients Best Suited for This Counseling Approach The DDRC approach can be adapted for virtually any type of addiction, mental health disorder, or combination of dual disorders. However, it is best suited for mood, anxiety, schizophrenic, personality, adjustment, and other addictive disorders, in combination with alcohol or other drug addiction.

6.2 Clients Poorly Suited for This Counseling Approach Clients with mental retardation, organic brain syndromes, head injuries, and more severe forms of thought disorders are less suited for this counseling approach.


The initial assessment involves a combination of the following: psychiatric evaluation, mental status exam, ASI, physical examination, laboratory work, and urinalysis. Patient and collateral interviews and review of previous records are part of the assessment process. The assessment process for inpatient treatment is more extensive and involved than assessment for outpatient care.

An assessment covers the following areas: review of current problems, symptoms and reasons for referral, current and past psychiatric history, current and past drug use and abuse, history of treatment, mental status exam, medical history, family history, developmental history (e.g., development, school, work), current stressors, social support system, current and past suicidality, current and past aggressiveness or homicidality, and other areas based on the judgment of the evaluation team (e.g., relapse history, patterns of hospitalization).

The drug abuse history should include specific drugs used (past and present), patterns of use (frequency, quantity, methods), context of use, and consequence of use (medical, psychiatric, family, legal, occupational, spiritual, financial). It should also include review of drug abuse or addiction symptoms (e.g., loss of control, obsession or preoccupation, tolerance changes, inability to abstain despite repeated attempts, withdrawal syndromes, continuation of use despite psychosocial problems, impairment caused by intoxications). Clinical interviews can be used as well as specific assessment instruments, such as the ASI, Drug Use Screening Inventory, Drug Abuse Screening Test, Milligan Alcoholism Screening Test, or other addiction-specific instruments. Regular or random urinalysis or breathalyzers can be used to monitor drug use, particularly in the early phases of recovery.

Specific instruments may also be used for psychiatric disorders to obtain objective and subjective data. These may be administered by a professional (e.g., certain personality disorder interviews), or they may be completed by the patient at different points in time (e.g., Beck Depression or Anxiety Inventories, Zung Depression Inventory). These can also be used to gather baseline data and measure change in symptoms over time.

Completing recovery workbook assignments or the drug abuse problem checklist (see Appendix for examples) is an additional way of assessing a patient’s perception of his or her problem areas related to drug use. The counselor can use these tools to identify specific areas for focus in individual DDRC sessions.


8.1 Format for a Typical Session An individual DDRC session reviews addiction and mental health recovery issues. The time spent in a given session on addiction or mental health issues varies and depends on the specific issues and recovery status of a particular patient. For example, even if a depressed alcoholic patient were sober 9 months, the counselor may briefly inquire about any number of addiction recovery issues (e.g., cravings or close calls, actual episodes of use, involvement in self-help group meetings, discussions with sponsors). Or, if an addicted patient’s depression were improved, the counselor would inquire about the typical symptoms this patient had prior to coming to treatment (e.g., mood, suicidality, energy). Any crisis issues would be attended to as well.

The majority of time spent during the individual counseling session (unless a crisis takes up the session) focuses on the patient’s agenda. The patient is usually asked at the beginning of the session what concern or problem he or she wants to focus on in that day’s session. The problem or concern should be one that the patient has identified as an important part of his or her treatment plan. In relation to the problem or issues identified, the counselor helps the patient explore this to better understand and cope with it. Coping strategies are especially important since the session should be a purposeful one aimed at helping the patient work toward change. During the course of the DDRC session, any “live” material that is relevant to the patient’s dual disorders or recovery can be processed. For example, if the patient gives evidence of maladaptive thinking in the session that is contributing to anxiety or depressive symptoms (jumping to conclusions or focusing only on the negative), this can be pointed out and discussed in the context of the patient’s problems.

The DDRC session ends with a review of what the patient will be doing between this and the next session relating to his or her recovery. It is helpful for the counselor to provide encouragement and positive feedback at the end of each session for the work that the patient accomplished and for the effort put forth. Reading, writing, or behavioral assignments may be given at the end of the session. The goal of these therapeutic assignments is to have the patient actively work on problems and issues between counseling sessions.

8.2 Several Typical Session Topics or Themes Medication visits and special consultations are held with the counselor and psychiatrist. These ensure integrated care, help prevent the patient from “splitting” the counselor and psychiatrist, and enhance ongoing team communication. These visits are usually brief and focus on medication issues or treatment compliance issues. The counselor gives the psychiatrist an update on treatment prior to the joint meeting. The counselor adds input during the session as needed. The psychiatrist and counselor can strategize after the meeting regarding therapeutic interventions.

8.3 Session Structure PE group sessions can easily be adapted to inpatient, residential, partial hospital, or outpatient settings. A specific PE group treatment curriculum can be developed for use in any treatment setting. PE group programs can vary in terms of number of sessions offered per week and total number of sessions offered during the treatment course. For example, patients in the author’s various inpatient dual disorders programs participate in up to five PE groups each week. Outpatients may attend weekly PE groups for up to several months.

PE groups provide information on important recovery topics to patients and help them begin to explore different coping strategies to handle the various demands of recovery. It is important to try to balance the focus on problems and coping strategies so that patients can begin to be exposed to positive strategies that can help them deal with their issues and problems.

PE group sessions are structured around a specific recovery issue or theme. The specific themes reviewed depend on the total number of sessions available for the patient. Each PE group is structured as follows (see Appendix for sample group sessions):

  1. Topic or recovery theme.
  2. Objectives or purpose of PE group session.
  3. Major points to review and methods of covering the material.
  4. PE group handouts to be read aloud, completed, and discussed in group, allowing members to relate personally to the PE topic.

The group leader reviews the material interactively, so that patients can ask questions, share personal experiences related to the material covered, and provide help and support to one another. Outpatient and partial hospital PE group sessions usually last 1-1/2 hours; inpatient PE group sessions usually last 1 hour.

Prior to reviewing the PE group topic material in outpatient groups, the leader first takes time to discuss whether or not any patients have had setbacks, lapses or relapses, close calls, strong cravings to use drugs, or any other pressing issue since the last session. Some time is spent discussing these matters prior to reviewing the group curriculum.

Specific topics or recovery themes explored in PE groups include:

  1. Understanding psychiatric illnesses (causes, symptoms, and treatment) and addiction (causes, symptoms, and treatment).
  2. Understanding relationships between drug use and psychiatric disorders.
  3. Denial of dual disorders and common roadblocks in recovery.
  4. Medical and psychiatric effects of drugs and addiction.
  5. Psychosocial effects of dual disorders.
  6. The recovery process for dual disorders.
  7. Medication education.
  8. Coping with cravings and desires to use alcohol or other drugs.
  9. Coping with anger, anxiety, and worry.
  10. Coping with boredom.
  11. Discovering ways to use leisure time.
  12. Coping with depression.
  13. Coping with guilt and shame.
  14. Family issues (e.g., impact of dual disorders, recovery resources, family treatment).
  15. Developing a sober recovery support system.
  16. Coping with pressures to get high or to stop taking psychiatric medications.
  17. Changing negative or maladaptive thinking.
  18. Spirituality in recovery.
  19. Joining AA/NA/CA, mental health, and dual recovery support groups and recovery clubs.
  20. Recovery prevention (warning signs, high-risk factors).
  21. Followup inpatient care.
  22. Understanding and using psychotherapy and counseling.

This material can also be modified and adapted for use in 90-minute weekly multiple family groups (MFGs) or for use in monthly, daily, or halfday PE workshops attended by patients and families or significant others (SOs).

Any of the above themes as well as others may be explored in individual DDRC sessions.

8.4 Strategies for Dealing With Common Clinical Problems Lateness is discussed directly with the patient to determine the reasons for it, and strategies are discussed so the patient can better comply with the treatment schedule. Chronic patterns of lateness may be generalized as indicative of broader patterns of difficulty with responsibility or as part of a self-defeating pattern of behavior.

Missed sessions are discussed with the patient to determine why and to work through any resistance the patient has. A patient who fails to show or who calls to cancel an appointment is usually called by the clinician or sent a friendly note in the mail offering another appointment or asking the patient to call so an appointment can be rescheduled.

Interventions with patients who come to sessions under the influence are dealt with in a number of different ways depending on their condition. Detoxification and inpatient hospitalization may be arranged in severe cases involving potential withdrawal and florid psychiatric symptoms. In other cases, crisis intervention may be offered or the patient may be helped to make arrangements to go home and return for another appointment when not under the influence of chemicals.

Generally, these situations are handled in the most appropriate clinical manner. Limits may be set without coming across as punitive or judgmental.

Contracts noting a patient’s specific issues (lateness, missed sessions, failure to complete therapeutic assignments, coming to sessions under the influence of chemicals) may also be created.

8.5 Strategies for Dealing With Denial, Resistance, or Poor Motivation Treatment sessions deal with ambivalence of patients regarding ongoing participation in treatment. The counselor attempts to normalize and validate ambivalence or denial in the context of addiction or psychiatric illness. Education, support, the use of therapeutic assignments, sessions with the team to discuss symptoms and behaviors of the patient, and sessions involving collaterals such as family or SOs may be used to help deal with denial and resistance. Generally, any resistance is “grist for the therapeutic mill” and is explored in treatment sessions.

Poor motivation is usually seen as a manifestation of illness, particularly with more severely addicted or psychiatrically impaired patients. Personality issues also greatly contribute to resistance and poor motivation.

8.6 Strategies for Dealing With Crises A very flexible approach is needed in dealing with crisis since dually diagnosed patients often experience exacerbations of illness. In more severe cases, voluntary or involuntary hospitalization may be sought to help stabilize a patient. Additional face-to-face sessions with any member(s) of the treatment team, including the case manager for persistently mentally ill patients, may also be held. In some instances, supportive sessions via telephone are conducted. All patients are given an emergency phone number that can be called 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and all patients are instructed on how and when to use the psychiatric emergency room.

8.7 Counselor’s Response to Slips and Relapses The counselor typically approaches lapses or relapses as opportunities for the patient to learn about relapse precipitants or setups. All lapses and relapses to drug use are explored in an attempt to identify warning signs. Strategies are discussed to help the patient better prepare for recovery. Additional sessions or telephone contacts may be used to help the patient stabilize from some relapses. Inpatient detoxification or rehabilitation programs may be arranged in instances where the relapse is severe and cannot be interrupted with the help and support of counseling along with self-help programs (e.g., AA, NA, CA).

Drug use relapses are processed in terms of their impact on psychiatric symptoms and recovery from dual disorders. If a patient is on medication, the possible interactions with alcohol or non-prescribed drugs are discussed.

Psychiatric relapses are discussed in terms of warning signs and causes to help the patient determine what may have contributed to the relapse. Additional sessions with the counselor or other members of the treatment team may be provided to help the patient stabilize. Medication adjustments also may be made, depending on the symptoms experienced by the patient.

When psychiatric symptoms are life threatening or cause significant impairment in functioning, an inpatient hospitalization may be arranged.


Families are often adversely affected by a patient with dual disorders and have many questions and concerns regarding their ill member. Family members can have a significant impact on the patient and can be either an excellent source of support or an additional stress during the patient’s recovery. Counselors are encouraged to include families in assessment and treatment sessions. PE programs, MFGs, and individual family sessions may be used. Patients in need of family therapy may be referred to a social worker or therapist conversant with family therapy approaches if the DDRC counselor is not familiar with family therapy. Particular attention is paid to children of patients so that assessments can be arranged if a counselor feels that a psychiatric evaluation is warranted for a patient’s child.

PE programs provide helpful information on dual disorders and recovery and encourage families to attend support groups for mental health disorders or addictive disorders (e.g., Nar-Anon or Al-Anon). MFGs that include the patient and his or her family members and that combine open discussion with some focus on acquiring education can be offered on a weekly or monthly basis. Mutual help and support can be shared among members of different families. Individual family sessions can be used to focus on specific issues and problems of a particular family.

The counselor also works with the patient on strategies to improve communication and relationships with family members even when they are not directly involved in treatment sessions or recovery group meetings.


Catalano, R.; et al. Relapse in the addictions: Rates, determinants, and promising prevention strategies. 1988 Surgeon General’s Report on the Health Consequences of Smoking. Washington, DC: Office on Smoking and Health, 1988.

Cloninger, R. Neurogenetic adaptive mechanisms in alcoholism. Science 1987. pp. 410-416.

Daley, D.; Moss, H.; and Campbell, F. Dual Disorders: Counseling Clients with Chemical Dependency and Mental Illness. 2d ed. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1993.

McLellan, A.T.; Luborsky, L.; Cacciola, J.; Griffith, J.; Evans, F.; Barr, H.L.; and O’Brien, C.P. New data from the Addiction Severity Index. Reliability and validity in three centers. J Nerv Ment Dis 173(7):412-423, 1985.

Meyer, R., ed. Psychopathology and Addictive Disorders. New York: Guilford Press, 1986.




  1. Teach patients the importance of having a followup aftercare plan to facilitate ongoing recovery. This plan should involve professional treatment and participation in self-help support programs (e.g., AA or NA) and mental health consumer groups.
  2. Teach patients that failure to comply with ongoing treatment increases the chances of chemical use or psychiatric relapse.
  3. Help patients identify potential benefits of continued involvement in treatment and recovery.
  4. Teach patients the importance of being prepared to handle emergencies (i.e., a return to chemical use or a return or worsening of psychiatric symptoms).


  1. Use a lecture/discussion format. Write the major points on the board for reinforcement.
  2. State that studies and clinical experience show that patients who continue in treatment after discharge from the hospital do better than those who do not. Failure to comply often contributes to relapse.
  3. Stress the importance of taking medications even after symptoms are under control.
  4. Ask patients who have failed to comply with treatment in the past, and those who did, to state how this affected their addiction and psychiatric disorder.
  5. Have patients list potential benefits of complying with treatment.
  6. Ask patients what they could do if they felt their treatment plan was not working (i.e., instead of dropping out of treatment).
  7. Ask patients to list steps they could take if they lapsed or relapsed to chemical use or their psychiatric symptoms returned or worsened.


Alterman, A., ed. Substance Abuse and Psychopathology.New York: Plenum Press, 1986.

Co-Morbidity of Addictive and Psychiatric Disorders. Miller, N., and Stimmel, B., eds. Special edition of the J Addict Dis 12(3), 1993.

Daley, D., and Thase, M. Dual Disorders Recovery Counseling: A Biopsychosocial Treatment Model for Addiction and Psychiatric Illness. Independence, MO: Herald House/Independence Press, 1995.

Evans, K., and Sullivan, J.M. Dual Diagnosis: Counseling the Mentally Ill Substance Abuser. New York: Guilford Press, 1991.

Goodwin, D., and Jamison, K. Manic Depressive Illness. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Minkoff, K., and Drake, R. Dual Diagnosis of Major Mental Illness and Substance Disorder. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 1991.

Montrose, K., and Daley, D. Celebrating Small Victories. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1995.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drug Abuse and Drug Abuse Research, Third Report to Congress. Rockville, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1991. pp. 61-83.

O’Connell, D., ed. Managing the Dually Diagnosed Patient. New York: Haworth, 1990.

Pepper, B., and Ryglewicz, H. The Young Adult Chronic Patient. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc., 1982.

Regier, D., et al. Co-morbidity of mental disorders with alcohol and other drug abuse: Results from the Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study. JAMA 264(19):2511-2518, 1990.


Alcoholics Anonymous (Big Book). New York: AA World Services, Inc., 1976.

Daley, D. Relapse Prevention Workbook (Dual Diagnosis). Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1993.

Daley, D. Dual Diagnosis Workbook: Recovery Strategies for Addiction and Mental Health Problems. Independence, MO: Herald House/Independence Press, 1994.

Daley, D., and Montrose, K. Understanding Schizophrenia and Addiction. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1993.

Daley, D., and Roth, L. When Symptoms Return: Relapse and Psychiatric Illness. Holmes Beach, FL: Learning Publications, 1992.

Daley, D., and Sinberg, J. A Family Guide to Coping with Dual Disorders. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1994.

The Dual Disorders Recovery Book. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1993.

Gorski, T.T., and Miller, M. Staying Sober: A Guide for Relapse Prevention. Independence, MO: Herald House/Independence Press, 1986.

Haskett, R., and Daley, D. Understanding Bipolar Disorder and Addiction. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1994.

Living Sober. I. Skokie, IL: Gerald T. Rogers Productions. Eight interactive recovery educational videos, clinician manual, and consumer workbook, 1994.

Living Sober. II. Skokie, IL: Gerald T. Rogers Productions. Six interactive recovery educational videos, clinician manual, and consumer workbook, 1996.

Narcotics Anonymous (Basic Text). Sun Valley, CA: NA World Services Office, 1993.

Promise of Recovery. Skokie, IL: Gerald T. Rogers Productions. 1-800 227-9100. Eleven educational videos on mental health/dual diagnosis, clinician manual, and consumer workbook, 1995.

Salloum, I., and Daley, D. Understanding Anxiety Disorders and Addiction. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1993.

Thase, M., and Daley, D. Understanding Depression and Addiction. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1993.

Weiss, R., and Daley, D. Understanding Personality Problems and Addiction. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1994.


Dennis C. Daley, M.S.W.Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Program DirectorCenter for Psychiatric and Chemical Dependency ServicesUniversity of Pittsburgh Medical CenterWestern Psychiatric Institute and Clinic3811 O’Hara StreetPittsburgh, PA 15213

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