Why is Group Therapy So Commonly Used to Treat Addiction?
One aspect of addiction treatment most people are familiar with is group therapy. Every film or TV show about addiction and recovery will have a scene where a character either goes to a 12-Step meeting and shares or participates in a group therapy session in rehab. For many people considering treatment, this might seem a bit intimidating. It’s a bit too much like public speaking and on top of that, the subject of conversation may include your worst thoughts, memories, and emotions. It’s no wonder that people are often hesitant to participate. However, group therapy is a staple of addiction treatment for good reasons. What’s more, once people get started, they usually find group therapy helpful, rewarding, and even enjoyable. Here are some reasons why group therapy is so common in addiction treatment programs.
You’ll See You’re Not Alone
Shame, stigma, alienation, and isolation are among the biggest barriers to recovery for people with substance use disorders. Trauma is perhaps the single element that people with substance use issues have most in common. This could be in the form of childhood abuse or neglect, domestic abuse, sexual assault, or some traumatic event. By some estimates, half of people with substance use disorders also have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Addiction is commonly the result of trying to cope with shame. Most people’s instinctive reaction to shame is to try to hide it, bury it, or push it away, but that only makes shame more powerful. The best way to deal with shame is to open up about it in a safe environment, such as individual or group therapy. What makes group therapy especially good for healing shame is that group members quickly learn that they are not alone. Whatever they experienced in childhood, whatever they did during active addiction, there are almost certainly other members of the group who have had similar experiences. Being able to open up about these experiences and know you’re not alone is liberating.
Group Dynamics Give the Therapist Insight into Your Behavior
One of the limitations of individual therapy is that, for the most part, you control what information your therapist has. Even if you aren’t deliberately distorting events that you relate in therapy, you necessarily see things through your own perspective. That limits the information your therapist has to work with. However, in group therapy, the therapist can see how you interact with others. Maybe you have a tendency to be defensive or critical without realizing it. Maybe you are friendly to women but not to men. Maybe you believe you’re hopelessly awkward but in fact are charming. These are things that are far more obvious in real interactions than in the privacy of an individual session.
You Enjoy Social Support
Feeling socially connected is one of the most important parts of a strong addiction recovery. For many people, drugs and alcohol are a way to try to fill a void, which is often caused by a lack of belonging or purpose. There are many different reasons people feel this way and you are likely to find in the group some people who understand.
There are also more concrete reasons social support matters. For one, it creates a greater sense of accountability. People are more likely to show up to sessions, and show up on time, and be engaged if they know other group members are depending on them. In other words, it matters that group therapy is about helping as well as receiving help. Having a connection with the group also makes people a little more reluctant to slip up because they know they will have to tell the group.
Social support has benefits outside of the group as well. One challenge a lot of people face early in recovery, especially as they transition back to regular life, is that they have to distance themselves from friends who drink or use drugs. Sometimes there is stress within the family and they have to work on maintaining boundaries. These kinds of behaviors are easier when you feel like you have people supporting you, even if they aren’t physically with you at the moment.
You Get Many Different Perspectives
Another particular advantage of group therapy over individual therapy is that group therapy gives you many different perspectives. As an expert, your therapist’s perspective may be well informed but your therapist is still just one person. The group will have had many different experiences and will have many different ways of thinking about things. These will sometimes be surprising and illuminating. Problems that seem intractable to you might seem easy to someone else and being open to other perspectives can expand your repertoire of solutions.
You can also get different perspectives on your own behavior. Part of the challenge of resolving interpersonal conflicts is that it can be hard to tell whether we are acting reasonably. Getting feedback from the group is one way to orient yourself and better understand if your attitude is fair. It can also help you understand someone else’s perspective. For example, if you’ve been arguing with your spouse, it’s possible that your spouse can’t explain themselves well and perhaps someone in the group could be a better advocate with less emotional investment.
You Can Practice Vital New Skills
Recovering from addiction is, at its core, about learning a lot of new skills for managing emotions, thinking, and behavior. It’s one thing to know, rationally, how to do these things and another thing entirely to be able to use these skills when they matter. For example, if you tend to explode when you are criticized, that will lead to a lot of unnecessary stress and conflict but it’s also hard to practice responding better in real time. The group is the perfect time to practice these kinds of skills in a safe, moderated environment. If someone gives you feedback you don’t like, for example, it’s a perfect time to practice, perhaps with the help of the therapist, using your strategies for responding more constructively. This is why modalities like dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, specifically include group therapy rather than relying solely on individual therapy.
Group therapy can be intimidating at first but most people end up finding it helpful and they even enjoy it. The sense of connection you can find in group therapy is one reason so many people say they’ve met their best friends during addiction treatment. Group therapy heals shame and isolation, it gives your therapist extra insight, it provides social support, and gives you a valuable opportunity to practice new skills. At The Foundry, we use a variety of evidence-based methods, including group therapy and DBT, to provide clients with individualized, holistic treatment. To learn more about our programs, call today at 1-844-955-1066.