Group therapy is a powerful therapeutic tool for treating substance abuse. The natural propensity of human beings to congregate and share their triumphs and struggles makes group therapy just as helpful as individual therapy, and sometimes more successful. One reason for this efficacy is that groups intrinsically have many rewarding benefits—such as reducing isolation and enabling members to witness the recovery of others—and these qualities draw clients into a culture of recovery. Another reason groups work so well is that they are suitable especially for treating problems that commonly accompany substance abuse, such as depression, isolation, and shame.
Although many groups can have therapeutic effects, the group therapy employed at Spark of Hope concentrates only on groups that have trained leaders and that are designed to promote recovery from substance abuse. Great emphasis is placed on interpersonal process groups, which help clients resolve problems in relating to other people, problems from which they have attempted to flee by means of addictive substances.
Why do we join groups?
The lives of individuals are shaped, for better or worse, by their experiences in groups. People are born into groups. Throughout life, they join groups. They will influence and be influenced by family, religious, social, and cultural groups that constantly shape behavior, self‐image, and both physical and mental health.
Groups can support individual members in times of pain and trouble, and they can help people grow in ways that are healthy and creative. However, groups also can support deviant behavior or influence an individual to act in ways that are unhealthy or destructive.
Because our need for human contact is biologically determined, we are, from the start, social creatures. This propensity to congregate is a powerful therapeutic tool. Formal therapy groups can be a compelling source of persuasion, stabilization, and support. Groups organized around therapeutic goals can enrich members with insight and guidance; and during times of crisis, groups can comfort and guide clients who otherwise might be unhappy or lost. In the hands of a skilled, well‐trained group leader, the potential curative forces inherent in a group can be harnessed and directed to foster healthy attachments, provide positive peer reinforcement, act as a forum for self‐expression, and teach new social skills. In short, group therapy can provide a wide range of therapeutic services, comparable in efficacy to those delivered in individual therapy. In some cases, group therapy in substance abuse treatment can be more beneficial than individual therapy.
Group therapy and addiction treatment are natural allies. One reason is that people who abuse substances often are more likely to remain abstinent and committed to recovery when treatment is provided in groups, apparently because of rewarding and therapeutic forces such as affiliation, confrontation, support, gratification, and identification. This capacity of group therapy to bond clients to substance abuse treatment is an important asset because the greater the amount, quality, and duration of treatment, the better the client’s prognosis.
The effectiveness of group therapy in the treatment of substance abuse also can be attributed to the nature of addiction and several factors associated with it, including (but not limited to) depression, anxiety, isolation, denial, shame, temporary cognitive impairment, and character pathology (personality disorder, structural deficits, or a non-cohesive sense of self). Whether a person abuses substances or not, these problems often respond better to group treatment than to individual therapy. Group therapy is also effective because people are fundamentally relational creatures.
The Benefits of Group Therapy in Treating Substance Abuse
- Groups provide positive peer support and pressure to abstain from substances of abuse. Unlike AA, and, to some degree, substance abuse treatment program participation, group therapy, from the very beginning, elicits a commitment by all the group members to attend and to recognize that failure to attend, to be on time, and to treat group time as special disappoints the group and reduces its effectiveness. Therefore, both peer support and pressure for abstinence are strong.
- Groups reduce the sense of isolation that most people who have substance abuse disorders experience. At the same time, groups can enable participants to identify with others who are struggling with the same issues. Although AA and treatment groups of all types provide these opportunities for sharing, for some people the more formal and deliberate nature of participation in process group therapy increases their feelings of security and enhances their ability to share openly.
- Groups enable people who abuse substances to witness the recovery of others. From this inspiration, people who are addicted to substances gain hope that they, too, can maintain abstinence. Furthermore, an interpersonal process group, which is of long duration, allows a magnified witnessing of both the changes related to recovery as well as group members’ intra‐ and interpersonal changes.
- Groups help members learn to cope with their substance abuse and other problems by allowing them to see how others deal with similar problems. Groups can accentuate this process and extend it to include changes in how group members relate to bosses, parents, spouses, siblings, children, and people in general.
- Groups can provide useful information to clients who are new to recovery. For example, clients can learn how to avoid certain triggers for use, the importance of abstinence as a priority, and how to self‐identify as a person recovering from substance abuse. Group experiences can help deepen these insights. For example, self‐identifying as a person recovering from substance abuse can be a complex process that changes significantly during different stages of treatment and recovery and often reveals the set of traits that makes the system of a person’s self as altogether unique.
- Groups provide feedback concerning the values and abilities of other group members. This information helps members improve their conceptions of self or modify faulty, distorted conceptions. In terms of process groups in particular, as specific themes emerge in a client’s group experience, repetitive feedback from multiple group members and the therapist can chip away at those faulty or distorted conceptions in slightly different ways until they not only are correctable, but also the very process of correction and change is revealed through the examination of the group processes.
- Groups offer family‐like experiences. Groups can provide the support and nurturance that may have been lacking in group members’ families of origin. The group also gives members the opportunity to practice healthy ways of interacting with their families.
- Groups encourage, coach, support, and reinforce as members undertake difficult or anxiety‐provoking tasks.
- Groups offer members the opportunity to learn or relearn the social skills they need to cope with everyday life instead of resorting to substance abuse. Group members can learn by observing others, being coached by others, and practicing skills in a safe and supportive environment.
- Groups can effectively confront individual members about substance abuse and other harmful behaviors. Such encounters are possible because groups speak with the combined authority of people who have shared common experiences and common problems. Confrontation often plays a part of substance abuse treatment groups because group members tend to deny their problems. Participating in the confrontation of one group member can help others recognize and defeat their own denial.
- Groups allow a single treatment professional to help a number of clients at the same time. In addition, as a group develops, each group member eventually becomes acculturated to group norms and can act as a quasi‐therapist himself, thereby ratifying and extending the treatment influence of the group leader.
- Groups can add needed structure and discipline to the lives of people with substance use disorders, who often enter treatment with their lives in chaos. Therapy groups can establish limitations and consequences, which can help members learn to clarify what is their responsibility and what is not.
- Groups instill hope, a sense that “If he can make it, so can I.” Process groups can expand this hope to dealing with the full range of what people encounter in life, overcome, or cope with.
- Groups often support and provide encouragement to one another outside the group setting. For interpersonal process groups, though, outside contacts may or may not be disallowed, depending on the particular group contract or agreements.
At Spark of Hope, our trained clinicians employed five models of group therapy in substance abuse treatment:
- Psychoeducational groups, which teach about substance abuse.
- Skills development groups, which hone the skills necessary to break free of addictions.
- Cognitive–behavioral groups, which rearrange patterns of thinking and action that lead to addiction.
- Support groups, which comprise a forum where members can debunk each other’s excuses and support constructive change.
- Interpersonal process group psychotherapy (referred to hereafter as “interpersonal process groups” or “therapy groups”), which enable clients to recreate their pasts in the here‐and‐now of group and rethink the relational and other life problems that they have previously fled by means of addictive substances.Get Help Now