Substance Abuse Group Therapy
If you or a loved one is recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction, you may come across group therapy in your search for treatment. While individual counseling has its benefits, therapy conducted in a group setting can be helpful in many different ways.
Exposing one’s self to other group members might seem highly vulnerable, but the beauty of group therapy lies in the shared experience of all members of the small group. There are many types of substance abuse group therapy, and different treatment centers and programs offer something unique.
What is Group Therapy?
Group therapy is a type of psychotherapy. It involves one or more (usually up to three) therapists, who work with a larger group of clients. Usually about five to 15 clients will participate in a group session. According to the American Psychological Association, groups generally meet one to two times per week.
Oftentimes, groups who meet for group therapy will begin and end the course of therapy with the same group. A common timeframe for a group therapy course is 12 weeks. A group that meets once per week would meet 12 times in that timeframe.
12-week groups are common in the substance abuse group therapy setting. This is partially because the therapy often takes place in an inpatient treatment program, where recovering addicts stay around 12 weeks. Sometimes, individuals start group therapy during inpatient treatment and continue to participate after being sent home.
Group therapy works well when all the members of the group are dealing with a similar problem. This could mean depression, anxiety, chronic pain, or substance abuse issues. In the substance abuse setting, group therapy works particularly well because everyone in the group has had experience with addiction, and the therapists specialize in addiction treatment.
Advantages of Group Therapy over Individual Therapy
Individual therapy has its place in addiction recovery. Substance abuse treatment programs often include both individual and group therapy. But there are some benefits of group therapy that make it unique and very helpful for treating substance abuse.
Advantages of Group Therapy
- Hope: One of the pillars of group therapy is that it instills hope in those involved. A typical group therapy session for substance abuse treatment will include people at various stages of the recovery process. People who just went through detox will sit in therapy with those who have been sober for years. Well-known groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, are successful because those just beginning their road to recovery get to see first-hand how effective the therapy can be.
- Relating: The foundation of group therapy for substance abuse is that everyone involved understands addiction. By being part of a group that includes other people who have had similar experiences, people are able to see that they are not alone in their fight.
- Passing of wisdom: Group members can help each other in ways that therapists cannot. By passing down wisdom gained from their experiences, group members can help others who are going through something similar. Furthermore, being in the position of being able to help another group member can also be of huge benefit in the healing process. This type of interaction is huge when it comes to a recovering addict regaining their confidence and self-esteem.
- Learning new ways to socialize: In individual therapy, the conversation is only between client and therapist. In group therapy, members have an opportunity to interact with one another, allowing them to practice new ways of relating to each other. Many of the underlying reasons that addicts abuse drugs and alcohol have to do with relationships. Learning new ways to interact can be key in recovery.
- Safe space: While a lot of group therapy is about client-to-client interaction, there are still therapists involved. The groups run smoothly because therapists work hard to create a safe space with guidelines, rules, and processes. Therapists are still involved in the group therapy process, and there is plenty of space for them to share their wisdom.
- Group Mentality: Countless studies have shown the healing benefits of feeling included in a group or community. People who go through a course of group therapy with each other often come out truly feeling like brothers and sisters. Group therapy brings people together around the common experience of addiction and goal of recovery. Just feeling included in something positive is a huge step for many recovering addicts.
5 Models Of Group Therapy Sessions
Even within the confines of group therapy, there is plenty of variation. Many different types of group therapy exist, all with slightly different approaches. Substance abuse group therapy activities can be completely different from one group to the next. The following are five of the most common models for substance abuse group therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
These groups use cognitive behavioral therapy to help groups of recovering addicts with their recovery. Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to help people notice self-destructive patterns of behavior, and work to change them. In a group setting this technique works fantastically, because when people recognize patterns in themselves, others are able to relate and understand those patterns on a personal level.
Dynamic Group Therapy
In this kind of therapy, addicts focus on downfalls in their character and behavior. The point of this work is not to put people down, it is to recognize the character flaws that helped get an addict into the situation they are in today.
The beauty of doing this work in a group setting is that participants are able to support each other and relate to each other’s experience. This provides a support system that can help participants to overcome their feelings of shame and isolation.
Mutual Self-Help Groups
Mutual self-help groups are the most common model of group therapy for addiction recovery. Models such as the 12-step program are mutual self-help groups. Alcoholics Anonymous is a mutual self-help group that uses the support of addicts in every step of recovery to help the entire group maintain sobriety.
Outside of inpatient treatment centers, mutual self-help groups are self-run. This means that no therapist is present. The senior members of the group, usually those in late stages of recovery who have been sober for a long time, facilitate the group. Anyone is usually welcome at mutual self-help group meetings outside of treatment centers.
Network therapy uses the group therapy setting to bring in friends and family members of a recovering addict to the group. There are many reasons why network therapy works well for addiction recovery. Not only does it help addicts to understand the effects that their behavior has had on loved ones, but it also allows friends and family to really see and understand the addict’s struggle.
Network therapy often takes place at treatment centers, and it gives recovering addicts a great head start as they move back home. The strong support system that is built in network therapy can make a difference in a person’s struggle to stay sober.
Relapse Prevention Group Therapy
In this kind of group therapy, clients work to identify their triggers for using drugs. These might include stress at work or school, certain relationship dynamics, or use of another substance such as alcohol. The point of this kind of therapy is to help an addict avoid relapse at all costs, and it is usually used during the first few months of recovery, when cravings are still strong.
The group setting helps here because addicts might have similar triggers to each other, as well as methods for avoiding drug use that can be helpful to others.
Group Therapy Topics in Substance Abuse
One of the therapist’s main jobs in group therapy is to introduce topics for a given session to focus around. Topics help recovering addicts focus on one aspect of recovery. This allows some really powerful transformation to happen.
Topics that therapists might introduce for a group therapy session to focus around include:
- Self-Care: This is a common topic in substance abuse group therapy. Clients can bounce ideas off of each other for how they take care of themselves to avoid feeling like they need to turn to drugs. Eating well, good hygiene, exercise, and time spent with loved ones are all common solutions here.
- Ice-Breakers: During the early stages of group therapy, clients might need a little help getting past the shy and awkward feelings they are having.
- Triggers: Triggers are a common topic in group therapy. Clients can ask for help with avoiding their triggers, and offer each other advice on how to identify and steer clear of relapse triggers.
There are countless topics to base a group therapy session on. Usually, the therapist will have worked with a group before, and will have a good sense for where the group is at and what needs to be discussed. Sometimes, groups flow more organically and they ‘pick up where they left off’ the previous week. It depends largely on the therapist running the group, and the willingness of clients to work through issues.
Getting Help for Addiction
Addiction can be life-ruining, and even fatal. But it does not have to be a downhill slope. The right treatment plan can save an addict’s life.
Group therapy is just one tool used by treatment centers. Comprehensive treatment plans involve many other aspects of care, which all come together to give an addict a fighting chance. Don’t hesitate to call today and speak with a treatment specialist.