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Group Therapy

A long-time staple of treatment for substance use disorders, group therapy allows clients to learn from each other and improve communication skills. The format allows a therapist to see how clients react to others, and it can be a great supplement to individual therapy.

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So why exactly is it so effective? Here’s the science behind it.

What Is Group Therapy?

In group therapy, one or more therapists usually lead a group of three to four people in a guided discussion. Some groups are known to be as large as 12 clients.

The exact timeline of treatment varies according to individual needs, but it’s typical to remain in group therapy for anywhere from six months to a year.

group therapy session

There are variations to these sessions. Usually, the same group of clients meet with the same therapist on an ongoing basis. This helps to foster trust within the group.

The format will vary depending on the therapist leading the discussion. Oftentimes, the therapist highlights a particular topic for the session and gives clients a chance to discuss their individual struggles. Some therapists allow for more of an open discussion format, whereas others keep the discussion more focused.

Where Is It Used?

Group therapy is very common. You might receive it in hospitals, mental health clinics, community centers, or private clinics.

There are times when it is used on its own, but it is usually part of a comprehensive recovery plan. Oftentimes, group therapy is the primary form of therapy used in addiction treatment programs.

Are There Different Formats?

Group therapy is a blanket term for various kinds of group counseling. There are subsets of group therapy, such as:

  • Peer group counseling. Generally, this group consists of strangers. The group is generally focused on a topic that links all participants, such as abuse of alcohol or substances, depression, anxiety, or loss.
  • Family therapy. This type of psychotherapy can help families resolve issues and improve their communication. Most often, it is led by a social worker, psychologist, or accredited therapist. The specific goals depend on what the family is trying to fix.Family therapy is not meant to be a long-term therapy. The aim is to help the family repair relationships and breakdowns in communication. It is common during addiction treatment as the family learns how to navigate life with their loved one in recovery.
  • Marriage or couples counseling. This therapy involves a therapist treating spouses or romantic partners. It can help the couple decide if they want to resolve certain conflicts or end the relationship in a respectful manner.Again, it is meant to be a short-term therapy. It should assist both partners, but it’s often recommended that each partner also attend individual therapy to work on personal issues.

In all group therapies, a counselor will notice your visual cues and body language. They will see how you interact with a group, as what you do in a group dynamic often mimics what you would do in the outside world.

Group vs. Support Groups

person in a soma recovery group

If you believe that group therapy and support groups are the same thing, you’re not alone. The major difference between group therapy and support groups is that support groups are not led by a professional. They are led by a member of the group.

While support groups can be a vital form of ongoing support, they aren’t a substitute for therapy.

The goal of a support group is to provide a form of emotional support to people who are dealing with a shared problem. Support groups are led by people who are going through the same thing, whether that is substance misuse, depression, or a loss of some kind.

Support groups are a healthy way to explore emotions with people who will understand how you feel. The environment is often more dynamic than an individual session with a doctor or health care practitioner.

Participants often form strong relationships with people from their support groups. Some groups promote this with the sponsor/sponsee structure, where a more seasoned group member assists a new member. Participants can then reach out to other group members when they are struggling, and this instant support can be key to avoiding relapse.

As with group therapy, you can find support groups in a variety of scenarios. Meetings may be held in churches, hospitals, and community facilities. They may be held in person, over the phone, or even online. When appropriate, facilitators might invite a guest doctor, nurse, or other qualified professional to speak on relevant issues. Most often, however, a member of the group will speak during meetings.

Since group therapy is actually therapy, you’re likely to experience more personal growth in these sessions than in support group meetings. You’ll benefit from working directly with a therapist.

Ultimately, both group therapy and support group participation can greatly help your overall recovery process. They don’t replace each other, but they can complement each other nicely.

Forming a Recovery Plan

A plan for recovery from substance abuse will include more than group therapy and support groups. It’s important that your recovery plan is tailored to your needs to ensure the best chances of sustained sobriety.

It’s likely that your treatment regime will include the following:

  • Detox and medications: Some drugs, such as opioids, sedatives, and alcohol, produce withdrawal symptoms that must be managed in order to prevent dangerous and even life-threatening reactions. Sometimes medication is used during medical detox. It can decrease cravings, lessen withdrawal symptoms, and enable participation in therapy.
  • Treatment for co-occurring issues: Many mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, commonly co-occur with substance abuse. These issues must be treated simultaneously.
  • Education: It’s important to understand the effects of drug and/or alcohol abuse on your body and overall health. Many recovery programs also provide training on how to prevent and deal with relapse.
  • Testing: Drug tests may be given regularly to ensure treatment compliance.
  • Treatment modification: Your needs will change as you progress in recovery. It’s important that treatment changes to suit your current needs.

Part of an Overall Approach

Group therapy is likely to be a major part of your overall recovery plan. If you have any reservations or questions about it, ask your case manager or supervising therapist.

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