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Group therapy is a type of therapy that is delivered by a mental health professional to a room of patients
Just like in one-to-one therapy, the sessions are interactive, so it is not a case of the therapist lecturing and the participants listening.
Plenty of different activities are included in group therapy, so patients can identify how their addiction is affecting them, and how they can start to overcome it.
There is also an opportunity for patients to discuss their struggles in recovery without being judged. Though this can also be done in the individual therapy process, discussions are crucial to group therapy, as they set the precedent that addiction is not something to be ashamed of.
There are different forms of group therapy, which means the overall purpose can vary, as well as the activities that are offered and the discussions that take place.
Some common types of group therapy include:
The main goal of this type of addiction therapy is to equip patients with tools to manage their substance use disorder.
Without these strategies, patients would struggle to know how to resist the temptation to fall back into addiction.
Some examples of strategies that may be taught are:
It goes without saying that certain personalities will respond better to this type of group therapy, so it is not something that will be hugely successful for everyone.
However, it is vital for people with substance use problems to develop coping skills in a supportive environment, as this will instil them with the confidence they need to manage their addiction symptoms in less friendly settings.
This is one of the most common types of group therapy, and the one that we often see in the media.
Support groups aim to bring people together in a non-judgemental environment, promote vulnerability and offer guidance to people who are at risk of relapse.
At these groups, there is generally a vague plan that the therapist follows, but with plenty of space for spontaneous discussion.
The most important element of these sessions are conversations between the participants, as this helps people in the recovery process to bond, and to therefore to feel less isolated.
One potential criticism of support groups is the fact that they are ever-changing.
Most of these groups are open, which means people are free to come and go as they please.
As wonderful as this can be in terms of making people feel welcome, it leads to a setting that is not very structured, which could be off-putting for someone hoping to establish a healthy routine.
In terms of positives, support groups are extremely diverse, which means there is something for everyone.
Many groups allow family members to attend, which means people who would usually avoid this type of therapy get to experience it with a loved one by their side.
If these issues are targeted directly, there is less chance that the patient will use alcohol as a coping mechanism.
It is well known that we often project past experiences onto the present, so when we think we are battling a current issue, we are actually still processing something that affected us a long time ago.
Interpersonal skills can help with this, as participants are encouraged to unpack their past traumas and reflect on how these are currently affecting their behaviour.
As this type of group therapy is so personal, there is a possibility that some patients will not feel comfortable engaging with the sessions – especially if they are not bonding well with other members.
Therapists have to encourage openness by reinforcing the fact that the purpose of the sessions is not to judge one another.
Often, people make discoveries in the interpersonal process that are completely unexpected.
For example, they may realise that their father’s relationship with drinking caused them to view alcohol as a friend, and this triggered the start of an addiction.
Another group member may find that their communication skills were damaged as a result of their alcoholism.
While this can happen in one-to-one therapy, group therapy opens up the opportunity for patients to share their own experiences, which could inspire another patient to address a similar issue in their own life.
CBT is an evidence-based practice that is mostly focused on the present. In CBT group therapy, patients will look at the way they think, feel and behave, and how this has led them down the path of addiction.
As there are common unhealthy thinking patterns that are linked to substance use, patients often find that they feel less alone when they realise the whole group has been affected by dysfunctional thinking.
There is a level of accountability in CBT group therapy that is essential to patients staying sober.
When they have to discuss how they are feeling and how their mind works every week, it is likely that they will be assessing this outside of sessions, so that they can tell the group they have been managing their behaviour successfully.
For people with severe trauma, CBT group therapy may be too disconnected from the past. These patients may find that they are struggling to benefit from the therapy, as they need to address the trauma before focusing on the present.
However, this type of therapy can work very well when paired with a trauma therapy, as it is important for people with alcoholism to strike a healthy balance between analysing the past, and managing the present.
This is one of the most structured types of group therapy.
It works to educate the patient (and sometimes their loved ones) on their addiction, based on the belief that knowledge is power.
Too many people in recovery are still not well-informed on the consequences of substance abuse on the mind, body and life.
This can cause people to delay seeking treatment, to blame themselves for their problem, or to deny abstinence as a successful path to sobriety.
However, when individuals attend psychoeducational group therapy, there is no shying away from the devastating impact of using addictive substances. This is not designed to shame the patients, but to emphasise the importance of sobriety, and the dangers of relapse.
One potential downside to this form of treatment is that there is not a significant focus on building interpersonal relationships.
For patients who feel lonely and would like to connect with other people on the same path, sessions could feel too clinical.
That being said, some people are hesitant to open up in other group therapy sessions, and psychoeducational group therapy may help them to get to know other patients in a less pressured setting.
What’s more, there is plenty of room for vulnerability in individual treatment, whereas education on addiction is less likely to occur. This makes it all the more important for psychoeducational group therapy to be offered, as there could otherwise be a gap in knowledge for patients.
Group therapy was first used by Joseph Hersey Pratt in 1905 as a treatment for patients with pulmonary tuberculosis.
When participants had the opportunity to discuss their similar problems, their emotional state improved.
Once it was established that group therapy led to emotional improvement, it was only logical to start to apply group therapy to psychological issues. It was next used in WW2 to help soldiers, though this was partly due to a lack of resources available to treat patients individually.
Over the years, group therapy has evolved, which means it is no longer viewed as one form of therapy. We now use different therapeutic models within group therapy, as well as having both open and closed sessions, and providing inpatient and outpatient treatment.
Most of us feel better after sharing a problem with a loved one, a professional, or even a stranger.
This is no different when it comes to group therapy; people enjoy the relief they feel when they vent about an issue, as well as appreciating the validation they get, and benefitting from advice from their fellow group therapy patients.
The end result of sharing vulnerable experiences time and time again is often friendship, or at least a level of interpersonal bonding.
These connections can help patients to get through their time at rehab, and some patients hold onto the friendships formed in therapy for many years.
Another reason group therapy is effective is that there is a mental health professional present, who can prevent unhelpful advice from being shared, and intervene to teach useful coping skills.
This distinguishes group therapy from a casual conversation between friends, as it is monitored for the good of the patients.
Finally, role-playing is a common activity in group therapy, and this cannot be done on the same scale in one-to-one sessions.
When patients get to act out complicated family discussions, or take on the role of their addiction and encourage other patients to relapse, they get to see their alcohol addiction from a different perspective.
Having this new perspective is crucial to developing more empathy for oneself and others. It is more likely that patients who are capable of adopting various perspectives will be able to have healthy relationships in the future, as they will be less dismissive of others’ feelings.
Some people argue that group therapy is not as effective as individual therapy, as it was only ever created due to the high demand for one-to-one therapy.
In some scenarios, this could be true; patients who don’t open up much in group therapy will not benefit as much as they would if they had a private therapist.
However, we begin to realise the importance of group therapy when we stop comparing it to individual sessions.
It should not be a replacement for a private session with a therapist, but an excellent addition to the patient’s experience of therapy.
It succeeds independently with its ability to encourage friendship, embrace vulnerability, and provide practical support for addiction recovery.
Another drawback of group therapy is that there is less confidentiality.
If someone has gone through a traumatic experience, they may not want to reveal this to a group of people that they do not know.
However, this could reduce the effectiveness of group therapy for them, as they are holding back a crucial part of their story.
Fortunately, therapists will discuss confidentiality with the group, and make it clear that private discussions should not be shared without everyone’s consent.
Though there is never a guarantee of this, there is much more privacy than there would be if an individual discussed their issues with a group of people outside of group therapy.
To make the most of group therapy, get involved with all of the activities.
Even if you feel slightly embarrassed, or you don’t think they will be effective, it is worth engaging with the session as much as possible before judging its effectiveness.
Just as successful recovery doesn’t happen overnight, one group therapy session isn’t going to magically prevent you from relapsing for life.
The more you get involved with group therapy, the more strategies you will develop to maintain your sobriety.
Another tip is to not be afraid of oversharing. Group therapy is the perfect place to talk about your past trauma, your current mental health struggles, and anything else that is impacting your addiction recovery.
Though you need to be mindful that others need a chance to share their story, you should also know that you deserve some time to get things off your chest.
Finally, show an interest in other group members. At first, you may do this to be polite, and to help everyone feel encouraged to open up.
However, there is the added bonus that you could feel inspired by others’ stories when they have the confidence to share them. They may also offer tips that help you through the early stages of recovery from alcoholism.
Alternatively, we can find an outpatient group therapy programme for you.
There is also the option to attend self-help meetings, which does not require signing up to a treatment programme.
This is much more flexible, though it is less effective, so we recommend going to self-help sessions as part of your rehab aftercare.
Below, we provide answers to common questions about group therapy:
Group therapy that is offered as part of a rehab treatment plan or an outpatient programme comes with the cost of the treatment programme.
Self-help groups are also free of charge, so there are many ways to access group therapy without paying a penny.
Yes, you can go to group therapy for substance use for as long as you want to or need to. At rehab or an outpatient clinic, sessions will end when the treatment plan ends, which is usually after 28 days.
Self-help meetings take place every day around the country and online, so you would be able to go for the rest of your life if you wanted to.
Some people worry that attending self-help groups for a long period of time implies they aren’t as strong as people who manage to stay sober without these groups.
We completely disagree with this assumption. Relapse can happen to anyone, so there is nothing wrong with making sure you have as much support as possible in your sobriety.
If that means going to fellowship groups every day at the beginning, it is perfectly reasonable.
No, group therapy is not just offered to people with a substance use disorder.
However, most groups will be specific to one issue, so you would need to find a group that was suitable for you.
At Rehab 4 Alcoholism, we know that addiction is not a choice.
We also know that every individual is different and that it is ok for recovery processes to take as long as they may need.
Group therapy can be a vital part of recovery from any addiction, providing both professional and social support for one of the most difficult challenges an individual can face.
If you think that group therapy could be essential to your recovery journey, then be sure to contact our expert team today on 0800 111 4108.
We are ready to help you leave addiction behind for good.