Group therapy is a central component of nearly every addiction treatment program. In fact, the original AA format is similar to a group therapy session in that people share their struggles and triumphs in a supportive and confidential setting. Unfortunately, many people are wary of participating in group therapy. This is perhaps understandable. After all, you have to discuss difficult personal topics with people you hardly know. Although it can seem intimidating at first, most people end up getting a lot out of group therapy sessions and even enjoying it. The following are ways in which group therapy is especially effective for overcoming addiction.
You see you’re not alone.
Addiction can be a terribly alienating experience. One reason is that it tends to lead to physical and social isolation. People with substance use issues often go to great lengths to hide the fact, which may lead to secretive or deceptive behavior. People often isolate themselves to protect their drinking or drug use time, blowing off plans with friends and family.
Addiction is alienating in a psychological way too. Many people who struggle with addiction feel like they’re uniquely burdened. They don’t see other people having the same problems they’re having. What’s even worse, many people who develop substance use disorders have also experienced challenges such as trauma, sexual abuse or assault, and childhood abuse or neglect. They often have a deep sense of shame as a result of these experiences and that shame drives their addictive behavior.
Part of the power of group therapy is that when you get a group of people who have had similar experiences together, they start sharing and they discover they’re not alone after all. Many people have suffered the same abuse and reacted in similar ways. Many people have done things they aren’t proud of as a result of their substance use. Discovering you’re not alone is liberating and it’s when shame starts to heal.
Groups provide social support.
There are mainly two reasons social support from the group can aid therapy. First, it helps keep you engaged. People tend to be a little more motivated to show up on time and participate when they know others in the group are depending on them. Greater engagement leads to greater outcomes.
Second, the group can provide moral and emotional support. A lot of what you have to do in recovery is hard to do on your own. For example, you may have trouble maintaining boundaries with family members or friends who still drink or use drugs. Your group can support you and assure you that you’re on the right track. You also feel a sense of connection and belonging in the group that you might not get elsewhere. For many people, this sense of support helps them heal and find a greater sense of purpose.
You get different perspectives.
One of the great things about group therapy is that you get a lot of different perspectives on your problems. A drawback of individual therapy is that your therapist can only offer one different perspective. Sometimes you end up feeling like, “Well, that’s just your opinion.” In group, you can get a range of perspectives, including that of your therapist. You are more likely to believe something about yourself when several people tell you the same thing, especially if it’s something you don’t really want to hear. However, diverse perspectives aren’t just about your behavior. They can open you up to different ways people see things in general. For example, if you hate conflict, it might shock you to discover that some people in your group just see it as a normal and inevitable part of life and not something to be feared and avoided. That kind of insight can change your view of life outside of therapy.
Group is a better approximation of life.
When you’re in individual therapy, you are able to control the narrative about your life. You get to characterize other people’s words and actions and your therapist is left to speculate about how honest you’re being. In group, it’s much harder to control the narrative because your therapist can see how you interact with other people in real life. For example, if you are overly defensive or critical, that will soon become apparent in the way you interact with the group. Since many of our social habits are fairly general, it doesn’t matter so much that the other people in the group aren’t actually family, friends, or coworkers.
You improve your social skills.
Related to the point above, group therapy is also a chance to practice new behaviors and social skills in a safe environment. Some therapeutic methods, like dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, incorporate group therapy for this specific reason. DBT was developed to help people with borderline personality disorder but is now used for all kinds of difficult conditions, including addiction. People with borderline personality disorder tend to have a lot of relationship problems because of how they interpret other people’s behavior. Group therapy is an opportunity to put new social skills into use before you have to use them out in the world. It’s an especially good way of learning to hear constructive feedback without getting angry or defensive and give feedback without being mean or critical. Improving your social skills is one of the best ways to strengthen your relationships and reduce the amount of stress in your life.
It’s more cost-effective.
No one likes to hear that their therapy is cost-effective because it sounds like another way of saying “cheap.” However, according to the American Psychological Association, group therapy has been found by more than 50 clinical trials to be as effective as individual therapy for treating a range of conditions, including substance use disorders and common co-occurring mental health issues. If you are in an intensive addiction treatment program, you are likely getting both individual and group therapy and group therapy increases the number of hours you can spend in therapy each week without a commensurate rise in cost.
Group therapy can help you see that you’re not alone, it can provide support, show you different perspectives, and help you increase your social skills, all for a lower cost than individual therapy. Although it’s normal to be hesitant at first, you will probably derive a lot of benefits from group therapy and feel good about the experience. Foundry Treatment Center’s vision was formed through personal experiences and continues to grow through the dedicated compassion of the Foundry team. We share a commitment to provide a comprehensive, whole-body treatment program that encourages each to seek their values and beliefs through innovative and evidence-based treatment modalities. For more information on how we can help you or a loved one, call us today at 1-844-955-1066.