Humans are social animals. We evolved to hunt as pack animals (alongside dogs, seriously, check out the history of the intertwined evolution of dogs and humans, it’s fascinating). Around 9,000-8,000 BC, when we finally got around to discovering agriculture we began congregating in larger cities and became even more socially intertwined. Nowadays, human society is more intertwined than it has ever been thanks to us developing things like boats, the internet, and aircraft.
So why am I telling you the most over-simplified story of human evolution ever? Because today’s article revolves around something related to our natural need for social interaction: group therapy. Group therapy can provide an incredibly valuable source of comradery, the exact same way the rooms of AA and NA can.
In this article, we’re going to discuss the benefits of group therapy, and how it can help during addiction recovery.
What is Group Therapy?
Group therapy is a pretty simple concept. A group of people attending a therapy session. I have personal experience with group therapy, from both inpatient and IOP. The groups can number from 5-15 patients, led by one or two counselors. Some people who attend group therapy also have individual sessions with therapists and psychiatrists.
The format of the group depends on what the focus is. A group for people who are experiencing depression is going to have some differences from a group centered around addiction. Here at Oregon Trail Recovery our groups are centered around recovery from addiction. Along with individual therapy, our programs feature a minimum of 10 hours of weekly group therapy sessions.
Our group sessions feature the following:
Identifying potential triggers for relapse and healthy ways to navigate through them.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is centered around behavior change. It looks at thoughts and behaviors related to relationships, surroundings and life, then changing behaviors and developing healthy coping mechanisms
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
DBT is a specific type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, centered around identifying and changing negative thinking patterns and creating positive behavioral changes.
Development and Maintenance of life skills
Basic life skills can go by the way while in the midst of our addictions, our sessions help develop long-lasting healthy life skills.
A group filled with people who have the same crazy addict/alcoholic brain, all with the same goal, getting and staying sober. All of this being led by an addiction expert.
In conjunction with group therapy sessions, clients start attending 12-step meetings. Our group therapy sessions won’t last forever, and when they graduate from the program, we want to make sure they have a firm foothold in AA/NA/other outside support groups.
Meditation and Mindfulness
A great skill to have in recovery, the ability to slow down racing thoughts and simply live in the moment.
The Guiding Principles of Group Therapy
The same way there are traditions of AA (why it works) there are a few guiding principles of group therapy programs. The principles include:
You don’t go around telling people who aren’t in the group everything you hear during group therapy. Group therapy is a time for healing, not gossip.
The room is a safe place where you can share very personal struggles without judgement. No one in those group settings I going to hurt you are make fun of you.
You don’t get in good shape by going to the gym and watching people work out (you shouldn’t do that anyway because that would be creepy), you get in good shape by actually working out. The same principle applies to recovery. You don’t get recovery by sitting around and watching other people work the program or take advantage of group sessions, you get recovery by actually participating and doing the work. The entire point of group therapy is that it’s interactive. A lecture session with life advice lead by that teacher from Ferris Buehler’s Day Off wouldn’t be very effective.
The Benefits of Group Therapy
The feeling of loneliness often follows mental illness and addiction. Oftentimes, our fear of discussing these issues, combined with our tendency as addicts/alcoholics to hide our drinking/use, makes us feel completely alone in our suffering. This is where support groups come in. One of the benefits of programs like AA and NA is being able to meet others with the same condition as you, with the same experiences as you, all meeting with the same goal.
That social benefit, the elimination of isolation, applies to group therapy too. Some of the notable benefits of group therapy include:
A healthy perspective is critical to recovering from addiction and other mental health disorders. Group therapy can give you other people’s perspective ands help you contextualize your own problems.
Adding to the point about AA and NA helping us exit the all-encompassing loneliness we experience in the midst of our addictions; group therapy can provide another way to escape that all-encompassing loneliness. When you enter group therapy, you enter it with a group of people who all have the same goal in mind: trying to solve their mental health issues. This can provide great camaraderie for those who are struggling.
Watching other people grow can give you hope that it’s possible for you to do so as well.
When you’re in group therapy, you get to know the people in your group fairly well. Over time, this can develop into friendships that last outside of the rooms. If you’ve been isolated due to your disease, think of these rooms as practice for socializing without drugs or alcohol. When I was in Inpatient and IOP, I ended up becoming friends with some of the people in my groups.
Can act as a warmup for other recovery groups
In recovery-based group therapy, it is often recommended that people begin to attend AA/NA meetings and get a sponsor. There’s a pretty easy-to-understand reason for this. If you’re trying to quit using drugs or alcohol and you don’t have any plans for after your group sessions end, there’s a chance you’ll go back to old habits, which is dangerous for addicts/alcoholics. These groups not only give you motivation to go to the rooms, but they also give you people to go into the rooms with. This can help with the fear of going into a room alone with a bunch of people you don’t know.
Getting The Most Out of Group Therapy
Like any healing, whether from a recovery support group or a mental health therapy group, there are tips for getting the most out of it. These include:
Finding the Right Group
The same way you need to find the right AA/NA meeting, finding the right group is important. Ideally, you want a group full of people you trust and can relate to, with counselors that you trust.
Go at your own pace
This isn’t a competition to see who can heal the fastest or who can get through therapy the quickest. In fact, this isn’t a competition at all. Focus on healing and growth at your own pace.
Take a pledge
Promise yourself you’ll take this group session seriously and listen to the advice of others
Learn to give and receive feedback
Remaining teachable is critical in these settings. You’re there to change aspects of your life that are not working anymore. Being able to change requires you to be able to handle feedback, even if it’s negative feedback. At the same time, learn to give constructive feedback to others. Be honest, but don’t insult people.
Focus and participate, leave behind the distractions
Don’t spend the entire time your phone looking at reddit and snapchat. Or spend the entire time on your phone watching Tik Tok videos with the sound off. Or spend the entire time on your phone on Instagram. Or spend your time on your, well, okay you get my point. Actually focus and pay attention during the sessions, don’t drift off and daydream or play on your phone. When you enter group sessions, take your phone and put it in your purse or pocket.
Pay attention and participate in your own recovery.
Set an intention and be open
Enter group therapy with an open mind.
Respect the group and people’s boundaries
The very nature of group therapy and treatment necessitates the establishment of boundaries. Respect people’s boundaries and if you overstep them be prepared to make an amends.
Listen to others and find pieces in their story you can relate to. In all likelihood, since you’re all there for the same reason, there are going to be a lot more similarities than differences.
How can you heal from past trauma and change your habits without being honest? Honesty is an incredibly important part of any program.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable
Related to being honest, the ability to be vulnerable in these group settings, be it an AA/NA meeting is critical in recovery. A lot of us, be it through teaching or a means of survival in our addiction, come into the rooms thinking that being vulnerable means being weak. When we enter the program, we realize the importance of being vulnerable for growth.
OTR Can Help
Our group sessions can give you a strong foothold in recovery. Contact Oregon Trail Recovery today to learn about our detox and addiction recovery programs.