Group therapy is a type of psychotherapy in which a small group of people (usually 5-12) with similar presenting issues come together for group discussion, accountability, and growth. These groups can be “informal” and take the shape of “12 step programs” but generally group therapy sessions are led by a trained professional with specific goals in mind.
Human beings have a natural inclination to want to be in a community with others. Group therapy can be an extremely powerful tool because of this desire to congregate together and relate to each other.
One reason for the effectiveness of group therapy is that simply being in a group, in general, has mental health therapeutic qualities. Science tells us that socializing in groups reduces feelings of isolation, and empowers people to improve behaviors by watching others do so.
For these reasons and more, group therapy can prove even more successful than individual therapy for many mental health and substance abuse patients and can also serve as an excellent complementary piece to traditional individual therapies.
Group therapy can prove particularly effective for substance use treatments like alcohol and drug addiction. Because these afflictions often isolate people from their families and support systems, those in recovery are often eager to rejoin normal society and can be inspired by the successes of others.
Especially when group therapy sessions are led by a well-trained group therapist and the group dynamics are going well, the healing potential of group therapies can be utilized to foster healthy relationships, provide accountability, give patients a forum for self-realization, and teach new social skills. In summation, group therapy can provide a wide range of growth opportunities and is a healthy alternative or complement to individual therapy.
What to Expect in Group Therapy
Traditionally, group therapy for substance abuse or with co-occurring mental health disorders involves one or more trained and licensed psychologists who lead a group of between 5 and 15 patients. Usually, groups meet for an hour or two every week as a group process and discuss each problem.
More and more, patients are attending group therapy as a sole means of counseling, but traditionally, group therapy is seen as complementary to individual counseling.
Most group therapy sessions are designed to speak to a specific problem such as obesity, depression, social anxiety, or drug/alcohol abuse. Other groups may focus more generally on dealing with anger or family issues, body image, social difficulties, or coping with loss. “Support Groups” are often utilized to help those who have experienced profound loss, such as the death of a loved one.
Group Therapy and Substance Abuse
Group interaction is good for one’s mental health in many circumstances. Relationships have the power to change people. This is especially true in therapeutic relationships- as patients become attached to group leaders and group members, they are more likely to exhibit change. There are many different types of “groups” that can constitute as therapeutic. According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) here are the five group models that are common in substance abuse treatment:
This group psychotherapy is largely informational and seeks to teach about the dangers of substance use and abuse. They can be helpful for patients as well as friends and family.
Skills development groups
These groups help develop healthy habits, such as coping skills, that will assist patients in breaking free of addiction. Skills development groups let you learn new skills or improve existing ones.
Cognitive behavioral group therapy
These cognitive behavioral groups will seek to utilize CBT to rearrange behaviors and patterns that lead to addiction. During group cognitive behavioral therapy, members work with a therapist to identify negative thoughts and behaviors and replace them with more positive ones. Cognitive behavioral groups typically last for 10-12 weeks, and group members meet weekly for 1-2 hours.
These groups provide a forum for members to share personal stories of triumph and tragedy that can hold addicts accountable and lead to healing.
Interpersonal process group psychotherapy
Interpersonal process group psychotherapy allows members to share their family histories and other past trauma to reveal underlying causes for substance abuse. Interpersonal process group psychotherapy is based on the belief that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are shaped by our relationships with others. Interpersonal process group psychotherapy helps members explore their relationships with others, and to understand how these relationships affect their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
All of these group therapy types can be effective for varying issues but have proven especially effective for substance abuse. Many trained and licensed psychotherapists and mental health professionals have experience leading one or more of these types of group therapy.
Benefits of Group Therapy Treatment For Addiction
Although baring your soul to a group of “strangers” may sound intimidating at first, group therapy can have incredible benefits. Psychologists say that most group therapy participants are pleasantly surprised at how rewarding their experiences were. Groups can act as a forum for voicing long-held trauma and can be a support network of like-minded people. Group therapy also allows group members to hear other unique perspectives and new ideas. Perhaps most importantly, group therapy can help normalize mental health and substance abuse struggles and let patients know they are not alone.
While these are general benefits, there are also many documented clinical and mental health benefits of group therapy, such as:
Offers family‐like experiences
Group therapy can provide a stable relational dynamic that may have been lacking in many patients’ primary family group. The group setting can also give members the chance to practice healthy ways of interacting with “families” that help improve relational and coping skills.
Allows individuals to effectively confront their substance abuse and other struggles
Group therapy sessions that develop relational currency tend to offer a greater level of accountability for members. Because members share experiences and struggles, as well as victories and goals, they are better equipped than an individual therapist to encourage. Confrontation can play a healthy role in substance abuse treatment groups, especially when group members deny their problems. Participating in these healthy confrontations can help group members recognize their areas of growth.
Allows one therapist to treat multiple patients
In individual therapy, only one patient can receive counseling at a time. However, group therapy allows a therapist to influence many patients at once. Also, once a group develops chemistry and trust, individual group members can extend the influence of their groups by acting as “therapists” themselves.
Who Benefits from Group Therapy?
Almost anyone can benefit from having a better relational support group around them. This is especially true of many addicts who have alienated themselves from traditional support structures like friends and family.
Because group therapy can be geared towards so many different issues, and because patients often have co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders, many different types of people can find success in group therapy for their recovery process. However, there may be some people who would find group therapy jarring or difficult. Below are some groups that may find group therapy isn’t right for them.
People with serious social phobias may find group therapy too difficult to push through. A fear of intimacy or public speaking would also hinder a patient from benefiting in a group therapy.
Those who have difficulty with conflict may find group therapy too intense. Healthy conflict resolution is an integral part of successful group therapy. Group therapy can provide an opportunity for improvement in this area, however.
Those with serious, unresolved mental health trauma may find group therapy triggering. Because there is no “filter” and group members can be unpredictable, you never know what traumatic stories may be told.
Folks with volatile temperaments may find it easy to clash with other members in group therapy.
Patients who are experiencing ongoing suicidal ideation or are unable to function in a social setting can prove disruptive in a group setting are not ideal candidates for group therapy.
Those worried about confidentiality may be wary of a group therapy session due to the increased number of potential trust violations.
A group therapy session can lead to vulnerable self-discovery but it can also lead to “one-upping” and competition to see who is “recovering best”.
Choosing and Joining a Group
Before joining a group or consenting to group style therapy, several factors should be considered. As mentioned above, group therapy is not for everyone and a healthy self-awareness is needed to decide if this is the right route for you. You should ask yourself the following questions:
Is the Group Open or Closed?
An open group is one where new members can join at any time. A closed group begins and ends with the same members. There may be open groups that are readily available whereas closed groups for a specific purpose may take a while to form.
Group therapies can vary in size from five to twenty members. Some patients may be significantly more comfortable with small groups whereas others may thrive in a larger group setting.
How Alike are Group Members?
Results are often best when group members share similar struggles and backgrounds. Some patients may be comfortable with a group of only men or only women, while other group members may prefer those in the same age bracket.
For most patients, group therapy will work best when combined with individual counseling. If you are currently involved in individual therapy and are hitting a wall or feeling isolated, adding a group therapy setting may be helpful.
How Vulnerable Should I be?
While the level to which you open up to other group members is entirely up to you, often the more open the group is to sharing, the better the collective results will be. Some groups also involve exercises like role-playing which can be overwhelming for you. While more vulnerability is generally better, there should be no obligation to share the deepest darkest parts of your life.
You may need to try a few groups. It’s just like when you’re looking for your ideal therapy group, you may want to try different groups until the perfect one suits you. Think primarily about your needs and desires and think about what is best suited for your situation.
Group Therapy for Substance Abuse at Behavioral Health Centers
At Behavioral Health Centers, we are committed to providing personalized, professional care that meets the diverse needs of our patients. We have an incredible staff of trained substance abuse and mental health professionals waiting to help you on your recovery journey through individual psychotherapy as well as group opportunities and family therapy.
If you believe group therapy might be for you, give us a call today. Begin your journey to recovery today!