Recovering from substance abuse typically requires two phases. Initially, a substance abuser will deal with the physiological aspects of the addiction in the rehabilitation phase. Group therapy is then used to deal with the psychological aspects, where it’s more about the “why”.

Group therapy offers social support to a group of people who are experiencing similar issues at the same time.

There are advantages of sharing your experience and listening to others who feel similarly to you and can better understand and relate to your story. Group therapy sessions are led by licensed therapists – sometimes one therapist, but often an entire team with various skill sets.

Why bother?

Group therapy allows people at any stage of recovery to meet other people who have dealt with or are dealing with similar issues. This can be especially helpful for someone who doesn’t truly believe they have a problem.

Members of a therapy group will quickly learn that they are not alone in their journey. As the group begins to share experiences and information with each other, everyone starts to realize that they are not as unique as they originally thought – at least not in this aspect of their life. Having the knowledge that you’re not the only one with this issue can greatly help with recovery.

The most effective aspect of the group dynamic is possibly that members can learn tried and true coping techniques from others when facing difficult situations. Members can learn how to avoid destructive behavior simply by paying attention to what others have already tried. They will learn new and healthy patterns to help avoid the old ones.

Main Types of Group Therapy

A professional will often assist an individual to find and enroll into the right group – Here is an overview of the types of substance abuse group therapy most commonly available:

  • Support Groups – Most are familiar with this type of group. A support group typically focuses on preventing behavioral relapses and providing help if a relapse does occur.
  • Psychoeducational Groups – These groups help members better understand their feelings. Focusing on topics like anger management, health and wellness, and dealing with family dynamics, among other things. The group’s support crosses the educational threshold to help individuals apply information and knowledge directly to their situation.
  • Cognitive Behavior Groups – Learning innovative approaches is the focus of this type of group. Acquiring anger management and conflict resolution skills is commonly part of the agenda of any cognitive behavioral group.
  • Skills Development Groups – In skills development, therapists will build on cognitive skills and add other techniques into the mix, such as mediation and life skill sets.

There are several types of group therapies that provide support to an individual through their recovery period and well into maintenance mode.

What happens in a therapy session?

There is no simple answer as to how any given therapy session will play out, but some standard elements are often considered commonplace. For example, members will typically start a session by introducing themselves and stating why they are present.

Update sessions are often held where members give a summary of how they’ve been progressing since the last session gathered. The therapist may facilitate a discussion on a chosen topic or may opt to let the discussion flow in any open direction that the members wish.

The Therapist

It is important to ensure that the session leader possesses the skills and credentials to run a successful group session. Qualified therapists should have a relevant degree in counselling and/or psychology. They must also be licensed to practice in the proper capacity. Many states require certified therapists to pass a state exam before working in any given state.

Having experience in the field is also extremely important. New therapists will usually work alongside an experienced therapist until they are adept at handling similar group dynamics.

Does it work?

The American Psychological Association, among other things, reports on the effectiveness of group therapy sessions.

One of the aspects that this association has taken note of is that they’ve found that a general healing spreads through these groups rather quickly. As one member improves, others tend to experience a positive effect as well. Members see that their colleagues are getting better and it endorses the belief that they can too.

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