Group therapy is an approach shown to be highly effective in the treatment of substance use disorders. For many people, group therapy is a powerful part of addiction recovery. Connecting with peers going through similar challenges helps with the isolation and shame that often accompanies addiction and reminds you that you’re not alone in your struggles. Group therapy provides a safe place to be vulnerable. You’ll see yourself in others and vice versa. You’ll work through problems and learn interpersonal skills and better ways of communicating. Group therapy is also an important complement to individual therapy, family therapy, and other components of addiction treatment.
Substance abuse group therapy is very common and there are several different types of groups and settings. You might attend group therapy in a hospital, a mental health clinic, a community center, or a substance abuse treatment program .
There are times when group therapy 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.
What Is Group Therapy?
In substance abuse group therapy, one or more therapists leads a group of people in a guided discussion on mental health and substance abuse group topics. The number of people in group therapy varies. Process groups tend to be smaller but may be as large as 16 people and psychoeducational groups may include as many as 24 people. Usually, the same group of clients meets with the same therapist on an ongoing basis. This helps foster trust within the group.
How many group therapy sessions you’ll have depends on your individual needs, but it’s typical to remain in group therapy for anywhere from six months to a year.
The format of group therapy sessions varies depending on the therapist leading the discussion and the type of group therapy. Oftentimes, the therapist highlights a particular substance abuse group topic and gives you a chance to discuss individual struggles. Some therapists allow for an open discussion format; others keep the discussion more focused.
Types of Group Therapy
There are several types and formats of group therapy. In substance abuse treatment, common types of group therapy include:
- Psychoeducational groups – You’ll learn about addiction and mental health issues. Topics may center around subjects like the disease of addiction, medications, medical and mental health conditions, trauma, relapse prevention, and components of a healthy lifestyle. You’ll be encouraged to relate the substance abuse group therapy topics to your own challenges.
- Interpersonal process groups – These groups revolve around members’ issues, problem-solving, and group dynamics. You’ll discuss an issue and hear reactions and potential solutions from peers. Interpersonal process groups usually serve as a microcosm of your relationships outside treatment. You may relate to group members in similar ways as you do with family and loved ones, so it is a way to work through some of these relationship dynamics and learn better ways to communicate.
- Skills development groups – This type of group teaches relapse-prevention tools as well as practical skills for everyday life. For example, you may learn things like how to refuse drugs, better ways to communicate, managing anger, relaxation techniques, and how to cope with urges and triggers. You’ll re-learn old skills that may have been shadowed by addiction and acquire new ones.
- Cognitive–behavioral/problem-solving groups – These groups draw on different techniques to help members recognize thinking and relational patterns that can contribute to self-destructive behaviors. You’ll develop problem-solving skills, set goals, and learn to identify behaviors and emotions that can fuel substance abuse.
- Support groups – These groups center around day-to-day life and maintaining sobriety in the face of challenges. They can provide important peer support and a sense of accountability, especially in early recovery.
Benefits of Group Therapy
Recovering from drug addiction can make you feel isolated and alienated. In group therapy, you’ll connect with people who have gone through experiences similar to yours and are in addiction recovery. You may feel safer sharing your thoughts and feelings with peers who understand.
- Group therapy gives you a safety net – A support network of peers in recovery is a critical component of long-term sobriety. Your confidence will grow as you meet with the same people at every session. If you have any negative experiences or run-ins with addiction triggers outside of group, you can discuss these with your support system. It’s comforting to know that group therapy is a safe place where you can find support during challenges in recovery.
- You find your voice –Substance abuse group therapy can help you become more aware of your feelings and talk about them with others. Your counselor will encourage you to voice your feelings so that you find confidence.
- You both give and receive support – Not only do you get support from your counselor, but you give support to your fellow group therapy members. Everyone has the opportunity to share and talk about the issue, instead of receiving individual therapy one at a time from the counselor. This can build a sense of camaraderie and self-confidence.
- You relate to yourself and others in healthier ways – Group therapy helps you see how you relate to others. How you interact with fellow therapy members often mirrors how you interact with your friends and family outside of treatment. In this way, group therapy can help you improve your relationships.
Group Therapy vs. Support Groups
Group therapy and support groups are not the same thing. The main difference is that support groups are not led by professionals. They are led by group members. Support groups are a healthy way to explore emotions with people who understand what you’re going through. A common example is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
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. You can reach out to other group members when you’re struggling. This ongoing support can be key to avoiding relapse.
As with group therapy, you can find support groups in a variety of settings. 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, a member of the group speaks during meetings.
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 emotional support to people who are dealing with a shared problem. In group therapy, you’ll also benefit from the guidance of a licensed therapist.
Ultimately, both group therapy and support group participation can greatly help your overall recovery journey. They don’t replace each other, but they can complement each other well.
Group Therapy vs. Individual Therapy: Which One Is Right for Me?
Group therapy and individual therapy are both effective in treating addiction and mental health issues. Most people find both fit into their recovery plans well because each provides different benefits.
A couple differences to keep in mind include:
- Confidentiality – While confidentiality is often a requirement of a group therapy setting, it isn’t a guarantee.
- Pace – Individual therapy can move at a pace that’s convenient for you and right for your stage of recovery.
- One-on-one attention – If you prefer dedicated time with a therapist, you may feel drawn to individual therapy, but group therapy can still offer important ways to practice skills you’re learning in individual therapy.
- Extroversion vs. introversion – More extroverted people may prefer group therapy, as it allows them to interact with others and share similar experiences. Group therapy also offers many perspectives instead of just one, which can open your mind to new ways of thinking. If you consider yourself more introverted, you will still benefit from group therapy though, and may consider it as a complement to individual therapy.
How To Get the Most Out of Group Therapy
Getting the most out of group therapy ultimately entails being open to the process of giving and getting support from others. At first, it can be difficult to be open and talk honestly about feelings and thoughts to others in your group. This is normal. As others talk about their struggles and challenges, you’ll likely become more comfortable being vulnerable with the group. Many people in group therapy begin to see the strength and gifts in vulnerability and view it in a different way.
While in group therapy, you’ll be asked to look at things from different perspectives. This can be uncomfortable for some. You may not be able to look at things differently when you start but continuing to reflect on group discussions outside of group sessions and working with an individual therapist can support the process.
Group therapy is most beneficial to those who come to the group first to understand, then to be understood. Group therapy allows other people to give their perspectives, even if you don’t agree. Ask questions when you have them because if you have a question, others likely do too. Group therapy helps you learn and grow with others in similar situations, with similar problems.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Group Therapy
The goal of group therapy is to provide a safe, accepting space where you can feel comfortable talking about difficult issues and get support from peers. There are things you can do to help support this environment.
Do’s of group therapy:
- Share your experiences and struggles with other group members.
- Listen when others are sharing their stories and questions.
- Provide support for other group members.
- Reflect on how you’re feeling and thinking during group.
- Be open to differing perspectives and new ideas.
- Apply what you’ve learned in the therapy group outside group sessions.
Don’ts of group therapy:
- Talk over or interrupt someone when they are speaking.
- Discount other group members’ feelings.
- Share personal, identifying information or share detailed information about a peer in your group to those outside the group.
If you have any questions about the rules or etiquette of group therapy, ask the therapist leading your group.
Substance Abuse Group Topics & Activities
The substance abuse group topics discussed in group therapy are vast, and sometimes group sessions end up in unplanned places. It’s important to be flexible during sessions, allowing the conversation to develop organically based on the needs of the group.
That said, most group sessions explore new topics each time. Group activities focus on specific topics related to substance use or personal growth and may include:
- Impulse control
- Goal setting
- Financial management
- Conflict resolution
- Stress management
- Anger management
- Addiction and mental health education
Certain types of groups will have processing around a topic and activities that put learning into practice. For example, a stress-management group session may focus on stress-management techniques that promote recovery. You may be asked to explore how you managed stress in the past and why those strategies may not work now.
Group Therapy at Footprints to Recovery
Group therapy is one component of the comprehensive treatment plans at our recovery centers. Whether you’re in residential treatment, partial hospitalization, an intensive outpatient program, or outpatient treatment, group therapy and individual therapy are likely to be part of your treatment plan. We also offer a selection of traditional, alternative, and trauma therapies so you are addressing addiction and mental health issues in different ways. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, reach out to us today to see how we can help.
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