If you’re struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, you may find the idea of opening up emotionally to a therapist or counselor tough at first, even in individual therapy sessions.
How about group therapy, though? Maybe the idea of sharing deeply personal experiences in front of strangers gives you cause for concern. Perhaps you’re worried that you won’t have enough time to discuss your own thoughts and feelings in a group setting.
In our definitive guide to group therapy, we’ll hopefully lay some of these concerns to rest. Ultimately, you shouldn’t be deciding between individual therapy or group therapy, but exploring the advantages of each delivery method. We’ll help you do that today.
What is Group Therapy?
The first recorded use of group psychotherapy in the United States was in 1906, when Boston physician Dr JH Pratt worked with groups of tubercular patients unable to afford care in a hospital setting. Dr Pratt discovered that the patients benefited emotionally from sharing experiences in a group backdrop. These group sessions continued on through the 1950s.
Following WWII, group psychotherapy became increasingly popular. Treating groups of combat veterans proved far more efficient than attempting to deal with the veterans one-to-one. Many specific benefits of group therapy started becoming apparent – more on those below.
A loose definition of group therapy is more than one client receiving treatment from at least one therapist at the same time.
You may find a therapy group with more than one therapist. In this event, there will seldom be more than two therapists, and even this is rare.
The size of groups varies depending on the form of therapy being utilized. Where relationship group therapy for couples typically involves two patients and one therapist, substance abuse treatment groups may consist of 10 clients per session. Most researchers studying the effectiveness of group therapy suggest the ideal group size is somewhere between 6 and 12.
Group therapy is available in a range of therapeutic settings, including:
- Hospital-based inpatient treatment programs
- Residential treatment programs
- Outpatient treatment programs
Over the past year, the effects of the pandemic have led to a surge in the popularity of online group therapy.
Next, we’ll glimpse at some of the core applications for group psychotherapy.
Group therapy is used to treat a wide range of conditions, including:
- Alcohol use disorder
- Substance use disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
- Eating disorders
The principles used to treat patients in group therapy are outlined fully in Dr. Irvin D Yalom’s The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, but what benefits can you expect if you engage with this form of treatment?
Benefits of Group Therapy
While there are many advantages associated with group therapy, these benefits are intrinsic to group therapy as a process rather than illustrative of group therapy’s superiority over individual therapy.
These two forms of therapy are not mutually exclusive, and most addiction treatment programs offer you the opportunity of engaging with both forms of therapy.
In group therapy, then, you can expect the following key benefits:
- You enjoy diverse feedback from peers
- You get the chance to put new skills into practice
- You will feel more connected to others
- Group therapy allows you to hone your communication skills
You enjoy diverse feedback from peers
Everyone’s self-image is distorted and biased, so interacting with others allows you to get to know yourself better, and gives you the opportunity to discover how others see you.
Exposure to a broader variety of feedback makes group therapy potentially more effective than individual therapy. With solo sessions, you have nothing but the feedback of your therapist to rely on, and you may not always agree with this feedback. After all, therapists are only human, and they also suffer from biases and blind spots. In this treatment setting, you may end up resisting your therapist’s setting on what you believe to be rational grounds.
Contrast this with a group therapy session. Here, you’ll be exposed to the opinions of up to a dozen peers going through broadly similar experiences. If several group members alert you to what they perceive to be irrational behavior, you’re more likely to take stock and take action.
You get the chance to put new skills into practice
During addiction treatment, you’ll learn a range of behavioral and cognitive skills. One of the most crucial of these skills is recognizing and then challenging the flawed and distorted patterns of thinking that lead to poor behaviors.
Practicing these newly-learned skills in a real-life environment can be challenging. During times of stress, it’s more likely you will fall back on old habits and default options rather than trying something new.
In group therapy sessions, you can implement new strategies in a role-play scenario, and you can experiment with new ways of thinking and behaving without fear of censure.
Group therapy also provides a healthy backdrop for working on your assertiveness or dealing with other uncomfortable emotions. Practice makes perfect.
You will feel more connected to others
Learning to feel more connected to others is a powerful aspect of overcoming addiction and moving on with a life of sustained sobriety.
Substance abuse and alcohol abuse frequently co-occur with mental health disorders. With a dual diagnosis, a combination of depression or anxiety with abusive drinking or drug use can leave you feeling isolated, unsupported, and unloved. A therapy group offers you a ready-made support group, composed entirely of people not about to judge you for behaviors driven by addiction.
Group therapy shows you that you are not alone, and that others are going through very similar experiences. According to Dr Yalom, this is the principle of universality.
The connection to others in your group can also help you to take the recovery process even more seriously. After all, if you’ve formed close bonds with group members, the last thing you want is to admit that you’ve relapsed.
Group therapy allows you to hone your communication skills
Even if you feel you are a strong communicator, how effectively do you listen? Are you really listening, or are you just waiting for an opportunity to speak? Group therapy will show you the difference and help you sharpen up your speaking and listening skills.
Poor communication skills can impact all areas of your life, from home and work to interactions with strangers. Interpersonal conflict can be hugely stressful, and this can be lessened in intensity when you know how to properly and rationally communicate rather than entering into a shouting match.
f you engage with group therapy, whether as part of treatment for addiction, a mental health condition, or a dual diagnosis, you can expect it to take any of the following forms:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) groups
- Psychoeducational groups
- Interpersonal process groups
- Skill development groups
All of these models offer powerful benefits, and you may engage with a therapy group that uses several of these models, either during the same session, or at varying stages of treatment.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Groups
CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) is one of the most widely used styles of evidence-based group therapy.
The underlying concept of CBT is that negative behaviors are learned behaviors reinforced over time. To change such behaviors, you need to change the thoughts and feelings that lead to substance abuse.
CBT sessions are goal-oriented, and you’ll learn how to:
- Identify the flawed or distorted thinking triggering problematic behaviors
- Use new, superior patterns of thinking and behavior
- Prevent relapse through planning and management
The core focus of a psychoeducational group is offering information and education about the overarching themes of substance abuse and mental health.
Beyond this, you’ll double down on the consequences of the poor behaviors involved with either addiction or mental health disorders.
Groups may be presented much like a college lecture, with therapists frequently delivering audiovisual material.
You’ll explore the impact of substance abuse as well as the barriers to sustained recovery. You’ll also touch on simple skills like meditation, eating healthily, and managing stress or anger.
Interpersonal Process Groups
An interpersonal process group helps to encourage healing through better understanding psychodynamics. Psychodynamics theory explains personality through the way in which you function based on unconscious wishes and fears.
The focus of interpersonal process groups is healthy emotional development through working on childhood concerns. By addressing these unresolved issues, you should find your judgment skills improve.
The content of these groups is secondary to the way in which group members behave and interact now: in this way, it’s like a mindful group. You will get the chance to see how your present is being influenced by your past.
Skill Development Groups
The focus of skills development groups is slanted more toward the group members interacting with each other rather than exclusively with the group leader.
Each session will deal with a skill central to remaining abstinent. Popular topics include:
- Defusing triggers for substance abuse
- Communicating and interacting positively
- Managing responses to anger
- Financial management
- Parenting skills
Addiction Group Therapy
You should be aware that group therapy and support groups might operate on similar principles, but they are not the same.
A support group like AA or NA is led by group members rather than professionals. Many groups utilize a sponsor/sponsee structure. Here, experienced group members help newcomers as they negotiate the early stages of sobriety. This ongoing support can help minimize your chances of relapse.
Just like group therapy, support groups take place in a range of settings.
While 12-step support groups can be a pivotal part of ongoing care, they are not a direct substitute for therapy. Ultimately, both group therapy and support groups can be highly beneficial to sustained recovery, so don’t view this as an either/or situation. These modalities complement each other neatly.
Group Therapy for Drug Addiction
There is a huge variety of topics up for discussion in group therapy. Often, discussions wander randomly into uncharted territory.
Despite the benefit of a flexible and organic approach, most addiction group therapy starts by focusing on a specific subject, such as:
- Impulse control
- Addiction education
- Mental health education
- Goal setting
- Conflict resolution
- Financial management
- Anger management
- Stress management
Finding Group Therapy Near Me
The best way of engaging with group therapy near you is to do so as part of a recovery program.
If you have a mild addiction and you feel you would benefit from outpatient treatment, most of these programs will offer group therapy as part of the program.
For anyone with a moderate or severe addiction to drink or drugs, residential rehab can be the most effective route to detox, withdrawal, and sobriety. A core component of all inpatient rehab is group therapy as well as individual therapy.
If you’re not sure where to get started, consider The District Recovery Community if you’re living in Orange County and ready to reclaim the life you lost to addiction.
The District Recovery and Group Therapy in Orange County
Whatever the extent and nature of your addiction to drink, drugs, or prescription medication, we have a range of personalized treatment programs to help you. We use a combination of evidence-based medication-assisted treatment and psychotherapy like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavior therapy). You can also expect a cross-section of adventure therapy and vocational development.
A vital part of all our addiction therapy treatment programs, group therapy can help you benefit from the powerful peer support available from other group members, and you’ll also be able to help others through challenges they are facing.
To get the process started, call the friendly TDRC team at 844-287-8506.