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Dual Diagnosis Counseling

What is Dual Diagnosis Counseling?

In this article, we’ll describe counseling for dual diagnosis. Learn dual diagnosis treatment techniques and benefits.

What is Dual Diagnosis?

People are complex and may face several health challenges at once. Dual diagnosis means a person has both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder (SUD). Dual diagnosis is also known as co-occurring disorders. 

Dual diagnosis represents a significant public health challenge. This problem affects many of the people seeking help for mental health or substance use disorders. 

dual diagnosis counseling

Scope of Dual Diagnosis

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in the United States alone, nearly 9 million people had co-occurring disorders in 2020.1

Unfortunately, only around 7.5% received treatment for both conditions. More than half received no treatment at all.

Can Dual Diagnosis Counseling Help?

Dual diagnosis counseling is an integrative treatment approach. This means it addresses mental health and substance use disorders at the same time. It is a critical strategy to manage dual diagnosis effectively. 

Co-occurring disorders counseling offers the potential to:

  • Enhance treatment outcomes
  • Reduce relapse rates
  • Improve the quality of life

What to Expect From This Article

In this article, we’ll describe dual diagnosis counseling in detail. We will present how dual diagnosis counseling usually works and why it works. 

We’ll share some common barriers to success in dual diagnosis counseling, and what to look for in a counseling professional.

What is Dual Diagnosis Counseling?

Dual diagnosis counseling is a type of counseling treatment. Dual diagnosis counseling helps address the complex interactions between mental health disorders and substance use disorders. Effective treatment must take both disorders into account.

Below are some important parts of a co-occurring disorders counseling program.

Comprehensive Assessment

The process starts with a comprehensive assessment. Assessment helps healthcare professionals understand both the mental health issue and the substance use problem. 

This includes:2

  • identifying the types and severity of symptoms;
  • understanding the individual’s life history and circumstances; and
  • considering any physical health issues that might be relevant.

Integrated Treatment Planning

Based on the assessment, the healthcare professional and patient develop a dual diagnosis counseling treatment plan. The treatment plan should address both disorders. 

This might involve a combination of therapies, including:3

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Medication management
  • Peer support
  • Case management 

The exact mix will depend on the individual’s needs and preferences.

Concurrent Treatment

Mental health disorders and substance use disorders are treated at the same time, by the same team of clinicians. 


This integrated approach recognizes the interaction between the two types of disorders. Dual diagnosis counseling also aims to treat the person as a whole.

Long-Term Perspective

Dual diagnosis counseling typically takes a long-term perspective. Professionals recognize that recovery may be a lengthy process that involves multiple stages. 


The goal is not just to reduce symptoms in the short term, but to help the person build a satisfying, meaningful life. With help, patients can learn to manage their symptoms and stay in recovery.

Multidisciplinary Approach

Dual diagnosis counseling often involves a team of professionals. They have expertise in both mental health and substance use disorders. 


A dual diagnosis counseling team may include:

  • psychiatrists
  • psychologists
  • social workers
  • addiction specialists
  • case managers

This approach helps manage the complexity of co-occurring disorders. In contrast, traditional counseling may involve a single counselor.

Emphasis on Peer Support

Dual diagnosis counseling often includes peer support as a key part of treatment. This is not typically a feature of traditional counseling. 


Peer support can include support groups for people with co-occurring disorders. These groups provide opportunities for shared understanding and mutual support. People can learn from others’ experiences.

Co-Occurring Disorders Counseling: Key Treatment Principles

Dual diagnosis counseling is guided by several key principles and strategies. Again, treatment is designed to address mental health and substance use disorders simultaneously. 

General Principles

These principles guide the overall approach of co-occurring disorders counseling: 

  • Integrated treatment: Importantly, mental health and substance use disorders are treated together. This means that the same team of clinicians treats both types of disorders. This treatment is coordinated and integrated.
  • Person-centered approach: Treatment is highly individualized.  It is guided by the needs, preferences, and goals of the individual. It is not a one-size-fits-all treatment.
  • Stage-matched interventions: Treatment is designed to match the person’s stage of recovery. Someone who is not yet ready to stop using substances may work on their motivation for change. Someone who has already achieved sobriety may work on relapse prevention skills.

Treatment Techniques

Co-occurring disorders counseling can use many treatment techniques, but the below techniques are common: 

  • Motivational interviewing: This is a key strategy used in dual diagnosis counseling. This approach aims to enhance the individual’s own motivation for change, rather than trying to impose change from the outside.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps people understand the connection between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT also helps patients develop healthier coping strategies. It can be used to address both mental health symptoms and substance use.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): DBT combines CBT techniques with mindfulness and emotion regulation skills. It’s particularly effective for individuals with borderline personality disorder and substance use disorder.
  • Medication management: Medication can be a helpful part of treatment for some individuals. For example, certain medications can help to reduce cravings for substances. Others can help manage symptoms of mental health disorders.

Social Components

Dual diagnosis counseling often addresses the person’s social environment. Considerations include:


  • Peer support: Peer support can take the form of support groups, peer mentoring, or other types of peer-based services.
  • Family involvement: Family members can be crucial in supporting recovery. Treatment might involve family therapy, learning about co-occurring disorders, and more.
  • Attention to social and environmental factors: During treatment, the individual may be supported in finding safe and stable housing, improving job skills, and developing healthy relationships.

Benefits of Dual Diagnosis Counseling

Dual diagnosis counseling can help individuals with co-occurring disorders in several ways. Some of the benefits are listed below. 

Understanding Both Conditions

Dual diagnosis counseling can help individuals better understand their health. People can learn about the connections between their mental health symptoms and their substance use. This can lead to greater self-awareness and improved self-management skills.

Reduced Symptoms

The integrated treatment approach can lead to reductions in both mental health symptoms and substance use. It can also help prevent the worsening of one disorder as a result of the other.

Better Quality of Life

Dual diagnosis counseling can help individuals reclaim a higher quality of life. This might include improving relationships, finding meaningful work or activities, and securing safe housing.

Reduced Relapse Rates

By treating both disorders, dual diagnosis counseling can help reduce the likelihood of relapse. Without integrated treatment, one untreated disorder can trigger a relapse of the other.

Increased Engagement in Treatment

For some people, dual diagnosis counseling is more relevant and helpful than separate treatments for each disorder. Dual diagnosis counseling can help people fully participate in treatment and reach their goals. 

Potential Challenges in Dual Diagnosis Counseling

Co-occurring disorders counseling can be very effective, but some people face barriers to success. This is typically due to the complexity of treating co-occurring disorders.4

Some potential challenges include:

Complexity of Treatment

Co-occurring disorders can be difficult to treat. Changes in one area can have unexpected effects on the other. For example, reducing substance use can sometimes lead to an increase in mental health symptoms, at least in the short term.

Client Engagement

People with co-occurring disorders may need extra help to participate in treatment. They might feel unsure about changing their substance use, distrustful of mental health services, or overwhelmed. A patient, flexible, and person-centered approach helps.


People might face stigma for one or both conditions. This can create barriers to treatment, such as feelings of shame or fear of discrimination.

Resource Limitations

Many communities don’t have enough resources for treating co-occurring disorders. For example, they might not have enough trained clinicians. They might need more funding for quality co-occurring disorders counseling programs.

Coordination of Care

People with co-occurring disorders need their health professionals to work together smoothly. This can be challenging, especially in systems where mental health and substance use services are separate.

Systemic Issues

Many individuals with co-occurring disorders may be experiencing challenges like homelessness, unemployment, legal issues, or lack of social support. These issues are important to address, but it can be hard to navigate social services systems.

Risk Management

People with dual diagnosis may have higher risks for issues such as self-harm, suicide, or overdose. Counselors must carefully monitor these risks and have a plan for managing them.

Relapse Prevention and Management

Relapse can be a common part of the recovery process for co-occurring disorders. Counselors need to help individuals develop a plan for preventing and managing relapse. 


Despite these challenges, dual diagnosis counseling can effectively support recovery. It requires specialized knowledge and skills, and a commitment to providing integrated, person-centered care.

Important Qualities in a Dual Diagnosis Counseling Professional

It’s important to look for healthcare professionals with experience treating co-occurring disorders. Counselors who provide dual diagnosis counseling services must have specific qualifications and expertise. 


Most dual diagnosis counselors have at least a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, social work, or a related field. Some might also have a doctoral degree. They should have specific coursework or training in both mental health and substance use disorders.


Dual diagnosis counselors should be trained in effective therapies for co-occurring disorders. This might include cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, dialectical behavior therapy, and other evidence-based treatments.


Because the field of co-occurring disorders is continually evolving, counselors should always be learning. Continued professional development ensures they stay up-to-date with the latest research and treatment approaches.


Counselors should be licensed to practice in their state. The specific requirements for licensure vary by state. Typically, counselors must complete education, supervised experience, and a licensure exam.


Several certifications can demonstrate a counselor’s expertise in dual diagnosis counseling. For example, in the United States, the International Association of Addictions and Offender Counselors offers a Co-Occurring Disorders Professional (CODP) credential.


In addition to formal qualifications, experience is crucial. Counselors should have experience working with individuals who have co-occurring disorders. Ideally, they should have experience working in integrated treatment settings.

Skills and Personal Attributes

Counselors should have a few key skills and personal attributes. This helps them provide the most effective dual diagnosis counseling services. 


These skills and attributes include:


  • strong interpersonal skills
  • empathy
  • patience
  • flexibility
  • cultural competency
  • a nonjudgmental attitude

Dual diagnosis counseling professionals also need good problem-solving skills. They use these skills to help patients navigate the complex challenges of recovery.

Dual Diagnosis Counseling at Rise Above

Rise Above Treatment is an innovative, progressive treatment center in Murrieta, California. We are well-staffed with qualified and compassionate professionals and offer a range of substance use disorder and mental health disorder rehabilitation treatment options. 

At Rise AboveTreatment, we are wholly committed to providing evidence-based therapeutic strategies and creating individualized treatment plans. This allows for a holistic approach that treats the individual, not just the symptoms.

Dual Diagnosis Counseling

Rise Above Treatment provides a holistic, integrated approach to treatment. Mental health disorders and substance use disorders are treated together rather than separately. 


The Rise Above dual diagnosis counseling program involves a variety of therapeutic approaches tailored to the individual’s specific needs. 


These include cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, dialectical behavior therapy, and other evidence-based practices.

Rise Above Treatment Opportunities

We offer comprehensive services, including:

  • Comprehensive assessment 
  • Individual counseling 
  • Group therapy
  • Medication management 
  • Case management services

Regain Autonomy Over Your Lives – Begin Healing Today

With a team of dedicated and trained professionals, Rise Above Treatment provides comprehensive dual diagnosis counseling. 


We address both mental health and substance use disorders. Our counselors and other professionals meet all the criteria for effective dual-diagnosis counseling. 


We use an integrated, person-centered approach. Our counselors strive to treat co-occurring disorders and support individuals on their journey to a healthier, more fulfilling life. We are ready to help you or your loved one take the first step to recovery.

Reach Out to Rise Above Treatment

Don’t let co-occurring disorders control your life or that of a loved one. Reach out to Rise Above today and discover how our dual diagnosis counseling can help you find recovery and well-being.

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Are you ready to Rise Above your mental health and addiction challenges?

Reach out to us today. Let us provide the support and guidance needed for sustainable recovery and wellness, allowing you to lead the happy, healthy, and fulfilling life you deserve.