The Matrix Model

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About the Matrix Model

The Matrix Model is a style of treatment designed to aid in recovery from stimulant substances like methamphetamine and cocaine. The method was created in the 1980s and has seen widespread success. The Matrix Model is:

  • An integrative treatment. It includes aspects of many different therapeutic styles and psychological orientations.
  • An intensive outpatient program (IOP). It entails several hours of treatment each day, several days per week while allowing the client to still live at home.
  • A highly-structured program. The entire model is thoroughly designed and engineered with planned topics and sequencing for each session and phase of treatment.
  • A time-limited treatment. The model is intended to last for 16 weeks, but it can be extended for a year depending on the needs of the client.
  • A proven treatment. Multiple studies have shown benefit of the treatment based on extending recovery and client consistency. Beyond stimulants, the model is helpful for a range of substance use issues. The efficacy has been so clear that many organizations support the treatment protocol, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Theory and Foundations

The ability of the Matrix Model to bring together the most effective facets from the most effective styles makes it a successful treatment type for people new to recovery as well as those who have not found success previously.

Some treatment plans will find their basis in one psychological orientation. For example, contingency management (CM) gathers its views from behaviorism and bases all of its methods from this position. Though this can be valuable, it can be limiting as gaps in the treatment may appear. Since the treatment approach of the Matrix Model is integrative, it utilizes specific aspects of several beneficial treatment styles including:

The ability to bring together the most effective facets from the most effective styles makes it a successful treatment type for people new to recovery as well as those who have not found success previously. All of the methods are tested for their effectiveness and appropriateness for the population being treated.

The Duty of the Therapist

The integrated approach of the Matrix Model requires a therapist that is highly skilled and adaptable to a variety of situations and styles. The most appropriate therapist will be one that is experienced in CBT, motivational interviewing, and the physiology behind addiction.

In the Matrix Model, the therapist will:

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  • Facilitate group, individual, and family sessions.
  • Coordinate with other therapists and social services to benefit the client.
  • Encourage attendance and participation in 12-step meetings.
  • Engage the client in notions of cognitive-behavioral therapy to understand connections of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  • Praise and reward desired behaviors.
  • Provide consistency and structure to teach the expectations in place for the client.

Since the Matrix Model is not based in confrontation, the therapist will develop a position as a teacher and a coach. It will be the duty of the therapist to create a safe, nonjudgmental environment based on positivity and openness. The therapist will build an empathic understanding with the client and promote their needs.

The Matrix Model Structure

The intensive outpatient program structure of the Matrix Model means that the client will be involved in treatment each day of the week.

Generally, the client will attend formal treatment 3 days per week, addressing a number of topics. Typically, this treatment will include multiple types of individual and group therapy for several hours. The other days of the week, the client is prompted to attend informal treatment like 12-step meetings.

Formal Treatment in the Matrix Model

Individual/Family Sessions

During the course of treatment, the therapist will incorporate techniques from CBT while using motivational interviewing skills to reduce ambivalence in the client. At times, significant others and family members will be included in these sessions to address the current needs of the client while educating the family members on issues associated with substance abuse, addiction, and dependence.

Early Recovery Skills (ERS) Group

The Matrix Model has 8 group sessions focused on early recovery skills that are to be completed over the first month of treatment. These last for less than an hour and are co-facilitated by the therapist and a client that is established in recovery. This group is intended to be more educational than therapeutic. The ERS group is focused on two concepts:

  • The client has the power to increase the odds of abstinence and the ERS group will help with this.
  • Individual treatment can be helpful, but someone attempting to achieve lasting recovery will benefit most from also attending community-based groups.

Relapse Prevention Group

This group is scheduled to meet at the beginning and end of each week during the Matrix Model. These sessions last for 90 minutes and focus on the idea that relapse is a predictable, nonrandom event that is obvious to the therapist and other clients. The goal of these groups is to educate the client and identify the signs of relapse early so it can be prevented. Topics involve:

  • Shame, guilt, and resentment.
  • Finding appropriate uses of time.
  • Measures to build motivation.
  • Identifying triggers of relapse.
  • Building self-monitoring skills while downplaying the role of willpower.

Family Education Group

The Matrix Model believes that treatment outcomes grow when the entire family and support network of the client are active in treatment. The family will learn information related to addiction and recovery. Additionally, they will receive education regarding the signs of relapse and ways to modify their behaviors to be more desirable and helpful for the client. Both clients and their families are encouraged to attend these weekly sessions together. These groups can expand on information discussed during the individual/ family sessions.

Social Support Group

During active substance abuse, many people lose their ability to interact appropriately with others. Perhaps, some people in recovery never obtained desirable social skills during childhood like patience and dealing with rejection. The social support group works to move the person in recovery away from substances and towards a lifestyle based on being healthy and substance-free. This group begins in the third month of treatment and will continue for 36 weeks.

The period following the 16th week is called continuing care. Someone new to the social skills group will practice their skills with someone who has achieved a longer period of recovery. In this case, the group is mutually beneficial since the member with longer recovery will gain a sense of accomplishment by helping others.

In addition to the structure outlined above, the Matrix Model uses weekly urine testing and breath tests to monitor all substance use. The testing will be done randomly, but since the program is not confrontation or punitive, positive testing results will not result in dismissal from the program. Rather, it will be a point of discussion within treatment.

Program Principles

The Matrix Model has 8 principles that guide treatment and boost efficacy. All of these being completed will lead to better results for the client. They include the importance of:

8 Guiding Treatment Principles

  1. Respect
  2. Follow-through on structure and expectations
  3. Quality educational content
  4. Varied treatment approaches
  5. Reward and encouragement
  6. Engagement and Education
  7. Participation in self-help and community-based programs
  8. Periodic drug testing

  1. Building a strong, respectful relationship between therapist and client.
  2. Following through on the structure of the program and the expectations of the client.
  3. Providing quality educational content to the client that explains the nature of substance use.
  4. Using varied treatment approaches like CBT and motivational interviewing to meet the client’s needs.
  5. Rewarding and encouraging the desired behaviors while extinguishing the negative behaviors.
  6. Engaging and educating the family about addiction and recovery.
  7. Motivating members to participate in self-help and community-based programs in addition to the Matrix Model.
  8. Checking for substance use with urine testing.

Accessing Matrix Model Treatment

There are only a few treatment centers that are listed as Certified Sites in a few states. There is some expanded coverage outside of the US. The complete list can be found here.

Fortunately, due to its reputation for success and the backing from government agencies, it is likely that a treatment center near you will incorporate the principles of the Matrix Model into the program. To find a treatment program that incorporates the Matrix Model or other therapy types, call 1-888-744-0069 .

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Amanda Lautieri is a Senior Web Content Editor at American Addiction Centers and an addiction content expert for She holds a bachelor's degree and has reviewed thousands of medical articles on substance abuse and addiction.
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