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Can Group Therapy Help Me Stay Sober?

Group therapy is a core part of many addiction treatment programs. Attending therapy in a group format allows you to receive support while also giving and receiving feedback in a safe and open environment. You can learn from the experiences of others, while building a network of people committed to recovery.

More people live alone today than ever before. According to the 2012 U.S. Census, 27% of adults live alone. Many people take pride in the fact that they can live on their own. They might even call themselves an “independent spirit” or “self-sufficient.”

However, when individuals are struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, they may need someone to talk to and confide in. They may be feeling lost, scared, lonely, or afraid because they have relied on the substance of choice for a period of time. Their sole focus may have been on using or getting more of the drug. But when the substance is gone, they might realize that they really do need other people in order to heal and live a fulfilling life.

At some point during the recovery process, a substance abuse therapist may suggest active participation in group sessions. In this setting, recovering individuals are given a unique opportunity to connect with others and learn how to function in a group. Many have experienced moments of clarity crucial to their recovery journey as a result of group therapy.

What Is Group Therapy?

Woman in group therapyAddiction programs leverage the power of human connection to help individuals support one another throughout recovery. In group therapy, individuals have the opportunity to connect with others who are going through a similar experience.There are many types of group-therapy approaches, and any of them can be extremely beneficial to individuals during recovery.

While there are many therapeutic similarities among the different group-therapy approaches, there are some distinctions in how they operate and what they are designed to do. Variations include:

  • Group therapy. Meetings are led by a therapist or counselor. The session may begin with everyone in the group introducing themselves. The person leading the group will help everyone learn how to more effectively get along with others. Members of the group may regularly share updates on how they are doing in treatment.
  • Group psychotherapy. Meetings are also led by a therapist or counselor, but these meetings are designed to help people change, grow, and overcome their issues. Emphasis is placed on learning.
  • Support groups. Meetings are again led by a therapist or counselor, but participants work on providing emotional support for one another and creating a safe space.
  • Self-help groups. Meetings are not led by a therapist counselor, but all people who attend share the same symptom, disease, or situation. These groups are often large. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are examples of the 12-step model of self-help groups. There are other self-help groups available that are different than the traditional 12-step model. These include SMART Recovery, Women for Sobriety, and Rational Recovery.

Research shows that participating in a 12-step group either during or after addiction treatment has been linked to lower odds of relapse and better relationships with loved ones.

Therapy groups are a great opportunity for a person to receive feedback and support while they go through recovery. People often learn new information that is useful to them from others in the group. For example, they may learn ways to avoid triggers or relapse by hearing what is useful for another person in the group.

Groups can also act like families and friends when a person needs it the most. If an individual is feeling isolated and lonely, a group can be a place where they can find others who truly understand them and offer love and support. Being a part of a therapy group also gives a person the opportunity to practice healthy behaviors that do not involve drugs or alcohol.

How Group Therapy Works

Although every group therapy session is different depending on the members, therapist, and setting, there are a few common characteristics such as:

  • Sessions typically consist of 4 to 10 members and may last for roughly 2 hours.
  • The group usually meets 1 to 2 times a week for 1 to 2 months.
  • The sessions are usually guided by one or two licensed therapists.
  • All the participants tend to have something in common. The participants might all be former addicts of the same substance, all of the same gender, or members of the same culture, even if the participants are at different stages of recovery.
  • When a person walks into a group therapy session, the chairs might be arranged in a large circle so everyone in the group can see who is speaking. This physical arrangement might be uncomfortable at first, but it will become familiar in time.

Some therapists provide the group with specific questions to ask or issues to think about in group meetings. The group might be asked to:

  • Talk about their therapy or recovery.
  • Brainstorm solutions to problems together.
  • Participate in role-play exercises.
  • Listen to a lecture about parts of the treatment process.

Other group therapy sessions provide less structure. Members are allowed to bring up any topic they would like to discuss, and the group listens to the issue and discusses possible solutions or offers support. The therapist is present to step in and provide feedback on any issues that might arise during this discussion.

The therapist might also prompt quiet members to add to the conversation, but if these members don’t feel like talking, they are not pressured to do so. The therapist will recognize that each group consists of different personalities.

One of the reasons that therapy is an effective form of treating substance use is that humans are inherently social creatures. People relate to one another’s experiences and naturally respond to people better in person and in groups than dealing with problems on their own.

Is Group Therapy for Me?

Group therapy is often a great experience for most people, especially if a person displays the following characteristics:

  • Loneliness.
  • Isolation.
  • Shyness
  • Fear of social situations.
  • Lack of trust.
  • Lack of intimacy.

Group therapy can also help individuals cope with the changes they experience as a result of being in addiction recovery. Members of the group can help each other stay hopeful and optimistic about handling difficult moments.

Benefits of Group Therapy

Benefits of group therapyIn group therapy, individuals are provided a valuable opportunity to learn about addiction and methods of coping with urges or cravings that may occur during and after treatment. Group therapy allows them to learn and practice ways to handle recovery with others in the group. A person might be in a group with other people who have gone through treatment and they may have helpful tips about ways to handle things such as cravings or avoiding people who enforce unhealthy behaviors.

Instead of learning these lessons from just one person, people have the opportunity to learn from a large number of teachers. Some of the members in the group may be further along in the healing process, meaning they might be able to share what they’ve done in the past in order to help cope. An individual might learn useful lessons, and they might find these group members inspiring as they explore a new phase of life.

Group counseling sessions are unique because they provide a space for a person to understand their own emotions and safely communicate their feelings with others. As a person begins to recover from addiction, they might find that the ways they talked to other people in the past isn’t the way they want to talk to people in the future.

For example, perhaps they have become accustomed to keeping their ideas to themselves, and never responding unless they are spoken to. Perhaps their therapist has told them to practice being assertive and speaking their mind. In group sessions, individuals can practice speaking up while learning how to express their opinion without seeming angry or upset.

Group therapy might also help people develop addiction coping skills. Group members can help each other learn ways to cope with their substance use by sharing how they deal with the same issues. If people are able to share stories of how they both manage cravings and temptations and can share in that experience together, they may feel more supported during their recovery journey.

Getting the Most Out of Group Therapy

Following these steps can help ensure that the group experience is as positive as possible:

  • Try to attend every meeting. Group members need to trust each other, so the more consistently someone attends meetings, the more that trust will build.
  • Be expressive. People use group therapy as a way to express themselves. This is a safe and open space for them to speak their mind. They will probably be experiencing a lot of fears, concerns, and thoughts during recovery. It is OK to talk these out with people who genuinely care about them. Holding back ideas or emotions may not help a person to grow. Group therapy encourages members to speak up and speak out.
  • Use therapy as a time to confront issues in a healthy way. When someone is addicted to substances they may fall into a routine of lying or hiding parts of themselves because they feel shame or guilt. Being in a group can help a person confront their own issues as well as help other members of the group to confront theirs.
  • Be honest and genuine. Do not be scared to tell the truth. This may be the first time in a person’s life that they can honestly speak about events in their past, especially as they relate to substance use. It can be easy to embellish a story to make a point or create a white lie to spare embarrassment. But these tactics can backfire because the truth is likely to come out in later meetings.
  • Ask for feedback. For example, if an individual is trying a new communication style, he or she can ask the group to tell them how the technique did or did not work.
  • Be patient. The results of group sessions may not be immediately apparent, but that doesn’t mean that the therapy is not working or worthwhile. Individuals should not drop out of therapy without talking to their counselor first.

Modifications to Group Therapy

Modifications to group therapySome therapists provide tailored forms of group therapy in addiction programs to help people who struggle with both drug or alcohol addiction and mental illness (dual diagnosis). These group meetings can be remarkably effective. If a person has a mental illness as well as an addiction, they might feel very isolated and alone. They might feel that no one could possibly understand them and the issues they face. In their group meetings, they may meet people who are going through similar experiences, which can help them feel part of a larger community.

Despite the potential benefits of participating in group therapy, research shows that people with dual diagnoses might not be referred to 12-step groups as often as people with a single diagnosis. Additionally, research shows that people with certain specific dual diagnoses may exhibit lower attendance rates when it comes to non-specialized 12-step programs.

Certain therapy groups are designed specifically to meet the needs of people with dual diagnoses. An example of this is a group called Double Trouble in Recovery (DTR), a dual-diagnosis group therapy program started in 1989. One study showed that individuals who participated in DTR had lower substance use and better coping skills during recovery.

People who have drug addiction and bipolar disorder sometimes benefit from a specialized form of group therapy known as integrated group therapy. Here they are provided with a significant amount of information about both diseases and asked to practice specific skills related to managing both diseases.

Integrated group therapy has been proven remarkably effective. A study found that people who participated in integrated group therapy had significantly fewer days of substance use compared to people who did not receive this form of therapy. This is a significant outcome because bipolar disorder is often considered difficult to treat. If a person has bipolar disorder, integrated group therapy may be very helpful for them.

Starting Group Therapy

Group therapy is a common part of many addiction treatment plans, but depending on how a person feels about talking to others, it can be frightening to think about.

The rewards of participating in group therapy can be great, from decreased isolation to helping others on their journey to recovery. Through group therapy, individuals may be able to treat not only substance abuse or addiction, but underlying issues such as depression, isolation, or other mental health issues as well.

For more information about group therapy or for help finding an addiction treatment program that incorporates group therapy, call 1-888-744-0789 Who Answers? to speak with a qualified representative to learn what options are available. Reach out today for help getting started on the road to recovery.

Sources

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  9. Magura, S., McKean, J., Kosten, S., & Tonigan, J.S. (2013). “A novel application of propensity score matching to estimate Alcoholics Anonymous’ effect on drinking outcomes.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 129(1), 54-59.
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