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Group Therapy Addiction Treatment

Group Therapy in Addiction Treatment

Entering an alcohol and drug treatment program is a significant step toward recovery and requires considerable courage. The thought of facing your demons and changing your life in powerful ways may elicit emotions, including anxiety, hope, and perhaps even fear.

One of the most anxiety-provoking aspects of addiction treatment for many is the therapy process. It’s not uncommon to feel some degree of resistance to the prospect of baring your soul to a total stranger in individual therapy or counseling. Even more daunting may be the idea of group therapy, which is an integral part of almost all drug and alcohol treatment programs. While individual and group therapy are designed to help individuals gain insight, learn healthier coping skills, and work through challenging issues, group therapy has many unique benefits that complement individual therapy.

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What is Group Therapy?

In a nutshell, group therapy involves two or more individuals at the same time – in addition to the therapist – rather than one person in recovery working one-on-one with a therapist. Participants in a therapy group talk about their struggles, feelings, experiences, and goals with their peers. Therapy groups may be tailored to a specific recovery topic, such as how to recognize and avoid triggers, or they may be general, such as how to handle difficult family, peer, work, or other interpersonal relationships.

Unique Aspects of Group Therapy

The group therapy process allows you to benefit from your interactions with other group members, not just from the input and interaction with the therapist. In individual therapy, you may wonder if the therapist has ever walked in your shoes and can even begin to truly understand what you’re going through. In group therapy for alcohol or substance use disorders, however, you’re guaranteed to have at least one thing in common with the people in your group: your alcohol or substance use disorder.

Another unique element of group therapy is that the group represents a microcosm – a miniature replica of your life and each group member’s life – in the real world outside treatment. In other words, each person’s weaknesses and strengths are inevitably revealed over time in the group setting. For example, suppose someone in the group struggles with having empathy for others or gets defensive in response to constructive feedback. In that case, that struggle will almost certainly surface during the group therapy process. This provides an excellent opportunity for each participant to work on those challenges in a safe setting, with the help and support of other group members.

What to Expect

Group therapy sessions may be open or closed – meaning new members may join at any time (open) or the group membership remains the same from beginning to end (closed). Open groups may be ongoing, with no specific start or end date, while closed groups are often designed for a predetermined number of weeks or months. Therapy groups in the outpatient setting are usually closed, while inpatient and residential groups are more likely to be open.

Therapy groups may be led by a single therapist (or counselor) or co-led by two therapists. Therapists should be licensed and have training in and experience doing group therapy. The therapist’s role is to set and reinforce group rules and guidelines, lead the group process, and ensure the atmosphere is cohesive, healthy, safe, and productive for all participants. The therapist will ask questions, encourage participation, give appropriate feedback, and observe how participants interact in the group. The primary goal is to help all participants benefit in a way that moves them closer to reaching their individual treatment goals.

Confidentiality is an integral part of group therapy. All participants are expected to honor the confidentiality of everyone in the group. They’re actively involved in the group. Depending on the treatment setting, participants may refrain from interacting with each other outside of the group setting.

Group therapy sessions usually last at least a full hour and often last from one to two hours. The longer length can help ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the group discussions. Group size can vary, but, on average, therapy groups have between 5 and 10 participants at a time. Too few or too many participants can negatively affect the group process.

In outpatient settings, therapy groups usually meet only once a week. In more intensive treatment settings, such as inpatient, residential, and partial hospitalization settings, therapy groups may meet two or three times per week or even daily.

Benefits of Group Therapy in Addiction Treatment

Following are some of the unique benefits of group therapy:

Potential Drawbacks of Group Therapy

While group therapy offers many benefits, it’s important to understand its disadvantages. Two of the main disadvantages include:

While these concerns are real, the advantages of group therapy far outweigh the disadvantages. For this reason, group therapy is the mainstay of almost all treatment programs.

The Importance of Group Therapy

Group therapy has long been vital in treating alcohol and substance use disorders. While it may seem scary, uncomfortable, and even daunting to initially participate in a therapy group, most people find that once they attend two or three groups, their initial fears subside. As mentioned above, one of the most beneficial aspects of group therapy is being surrounded by a small group of peers who have walked in your shoes, can share your struggles, support you along the way, and celebrate with you on your recovery journey.