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Group Therapy for Substance Abuse

Group Therapy

Group therapy is a type of psychotherapy in which a small group of people (usually 5-12)  with similar presenting issues come together for discussion, accountability, and growth. These groups can be “informal” and take the shape of “12 step programs” but generally they are led by a trained professional with specific goals in mind.

Group Therapy Theory

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 therapeutic qualities. Science tells us that socializing in groups reduces feelings of isolation, and empowers people to improve behaviors by watching others do so.

group therapy

For these reasons and more, group therapy can prove even more successful than individual therapy for many patients and can also serve as an excellent complimentary 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 led by a well-trained group leader, 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 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.

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 groups 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 can be therapeutic 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.

  • Psychoeducational groups-These groups are largely informational and seek 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.
  • Cognitive-behavioral groups– These groups will seek to utilize CBT to rearrange behaviors and patterns that lead to addiction
  • Support groups-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-These groups allow members to share their family histories and other past trauma to reveal underlying causes for substance abuse.

All of these group types can be effective for varying issues but have proven especially effective for substance abuse. Many trained and licensed psychotherapists have experience leading one or more of these types of groups.

Benefits of Group Therapy

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. Groups also allow patients 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 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’ home life. The group structure 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

Groups 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 members deny their problems. Participating in these healthy confrontations can help 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, a group setting 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 conditions, many different types of people can find success there. 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.

  1. 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 benefitting in a group setting.
  2. Those who have difficulty with conflict may find group therapy too intense. Healthy conflict resolution is an integral part of successful group therapy. A group setting can provide an opportunity for improvement in this area, however.
  3. Those with serious, unresolved trauma may find a group setting triggering. Because there is no “filter” and group members can be unpredictable, you never know what traumatic stories may be told.
  4. Folks with volatile temperaments may find it easy to clash with other members of a group.
  5. Patients who are experiencing ongoing suicidal ideation or are unable to function in a social setting can prove disruptive in this setting are not ideal candidates for group therapy.
  6. Those worried about confidentiality may be wary of a group setting due to the increased number of potential trust violations.
  7. A group setting 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.

How large is the Group? 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. 

Is Group Therapy Enough? 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. While more vulnerability is generally better, there should be no obligation to share the deepest darkest parts of your life.

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 professionals waiting to help you on your recovery journey through individual psychotherapy as well as group opportunities.

If you believe group therapy might be for you, give us a call today. Our therapists are experienced at using group techniques to help people just like you. Begin your journey to recovery today!

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