Group therapy sessions may involve the client’s significant others. In family therapy, spouses, partners, parents, or children join the counseling session. Significant others may be invited to private family sessions, or to open sessions or classes involving a group of peers. In group therapy, clients get together in a session led by a trained mental health professional. Sessions typically last approximately one hour, and clients are asked to observe time limits when speaking so that everyone who wants to talk may have the opportunity. In a residential treatment program, group sessions are typically held three or more days per week. Topics vary depending on the format of the meeting, but common subjects include:
- Education on addiction
- Managing stressful situations
- Managing anger, shame, loneliness, and other difficult emotions
- Coping with substance abuse triggers
- Coping with cravings and withdrawal symptoms
- Living with grief and emotional trauma
- Handling a relapse if it does occur
- Forming and maintaining healthy relationships
- Understanding codependency
- Managing medications
- Dealing with mental illness (depression, anxiety, social phobias, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric disorders)
Group therapy provides a safe, supportive environment where clients can discuss painful memories and emotions, celebrate their successes, and share their failures in recovery. These sessions reinforce one of the most important messages of rehab: that no matter what the outcome of treatment may be, the client is not alone in his or her experiences with addiction.
Types of group therapy
Group therapy is a versatile treatment modality, taking many forms according to the clients’ needs. There are several basic types of group therapy that are applied in many treatment programs:
- Support groups. Support groups provide mutual encouragement, feedback, and a safe environment to voice the frustrations of recovery. These groups can also help clients hone their communication skills, deal constructively with confrontation, and express their personal beliefs in a non-aggressive manner.
- Educational sessions. Addicts are frequently unaware of the neurological and psychological factors that drive the disease of addiction. Psychoeducational groups teach rehab clients about the nature of addiction and relapse. Family members and significant others may also take part in educational sessions.
- Cognitive behavioral groups. CBT is based on the premise that negative thoughts produce negative behaviors, and that by changing the way we think about ourselves and perceive the world, we can create healthier, more positive lives. Cognitive behavioral groups help clients identify their negative thought loops and substitute them with more constructive, self-affirming beliefs.
- Skills groups. Many addicts are so accustomed to turning to drugs or alcohol when they’re faced with a problem that they’ve forgotten how to resolve conflicts or manage stress effectively. Skills groups focus on acquiring new tools and strategies for dealing with day-to-day life. Some skills groups emphasize relapse prevention strategies, while others teach life skills like budgeting, shopping, or job-seeking.
- Experiential groups. Closely related to skills groups, experiential sessions take life skills one step further. Under the guidance of a therapist, clients practice their newly acquired coping skills through real-life experiences, like shopping, dining out at restaurants, and interacting with others in social settings. Many of these situations present triggers for the addict in recovery. Through the supportive presence of the group, clients can learn how to handle these day-to-day experiences in healthy, sober ways.
The therapeutic techniques for interacting with an individual client are different from the methods for leading a group. In order for group therapy to be effective, the leader must have specialized training in conducting group therapy sessions and managing group dynamics. Group therapy should be led by a licensed or certified mental health professional who is trained in substance abuse treatment. The leader may be a counselor, therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, nurse practitioner, or other credentialed specialist who has been trained in both substance abuse treatment and group therapy techniques.Group therapy is not the same as a self-help support group. In self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or
Narcotics Anonymous, meetings are led by a member of the community, with the goal of providing feedback, encouragement, hope, and motivation. The structure of these groups is usually less formal, and group members have more autonomy in their choice of format and subject. In group therapy, a trained professional directs the session in order achieve maximum benefits for all clients.