Working with Alcoholic Clients

By Rob Hadley CHt
Working with Alcoholic Clients
Therapist with alcoholic client (Photo by © sylv1rob1 -

In the ten years since opening Vancouver Hypnotherapy we’ve seen well over six thousand clients, many of which have come to see us specifically about their alcohol use. While once Quit Smoking was the staple sales area for hypnotherapists, Alcohol Management is fast becoming an area of interest.

I am often asked to talk to hypnotherapists about working with alcohol clients. The first thing I point out is that, like working with any addictions client, don’t be too quick to say, ‘Yes, come on into my home office…’

We built a tool which we offer free to other therapists to predict the success levels of any addictions client. It’s rudimentary, but quite helpful when thinking about whether or not to take a client. You can find it and use it here:

Typically we have clients come in for a screening interview, to decide whether or not we want to take them on. This is usually a half hour talk and can lead straight into the first session. It is, however, an opportunity for us to say, ‘No way!’, if things don’t look workable. Our office is in a very nice and very secure office building, which is a beneficial factor. I would not advise seeing alcohol clients in your home.

Once you begin seeing the client for a series of sessions you are going to do a couple of things. The first is to establish a good understanding of the client. Forget about this being a one session deal. On average an alcohol management client will see you six or seven times. That number comes straight out of our analysis of ten years of alcohol clients, so it’s based on a lot of cases. You’ll have to get used to the idea that this is going to be a series of sessions and you will need a thorough understanding of the client.

With is in mind you set about getting a good solid history of the client, and the client’s use of alcohol. Next you will need to look at the frequency and intensity of use. That’s very important. You don’t want to try to stop a heavy user of alcohol too swiftly. This can cause serious risks to the client, and have extremely dangerous consequences. Hypnosis is a very powerful tool, and to simply stop alcohol use can result in tremors, seizures or even a stroke. So, accurately understand the client’s use, frequency and intensity.

We developed a means to note this use and intensity. We see how many times a month they drink, and on a scale of 1 to 5 ask them to rate the intensity of use. A glass of wine every day for a month would be 30/30 and 1. Getting mildly drunk every weekend might be 8/30 and 3.

Our approach is to separate alcohol users into two groups; Constant Use Alcoholics, and Binge Use Alcohol Abusers. These two groups need very different approaches. In the case of constant use alcoholics a very moderated step down is always necessary. Their systems have become so used to being exposed to alcohol, a gentle withdrawal is the best approach.

Once you have built a comprehensive understanding of the client’s alcohol use, then you can begin the provision of a step down program. Using hypnosis to reinforce the levels of restriction on the types and intake of alcohol,you can reduce the use gradually, while stepping up a bit of exercise, and often it helps to lift the protein levels in the diet.

Hypnotherapy is a powerful tool for motivating the client to reduce alcohol use, while improving their general approach to health. During the course of this step down you are getting to know the client increasingly well, and likely beginning to understand where the client’s belief system around their alcohol use came from. This will likely be discovered over a couple of sessions, including one using regression to learn the client’s early experiences of alcohol, and discover associations the client has made with alcohol use.

Once you’ve gained this knowledge you’ll likely be able to bring it into play, to prevent the client slipping back into unhealthy use of alcohol. This approach seems to work well, and allows time for the client to get to know you, and build trust. In some instances you will move through moderation to complete exclusion. This is by no means necessary in all cases. We see about 8% need exclusion, and they almost always come from the Constant Use Alcohol group.

When working with alcohol clients the key is to take your time. Don’t rush anything. If you’d like a little more information contact me directly at

Rob Hadley Cht.

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