In any drug or alcohol addiction treatment, group therapy will be part of the overall treatment program. Participating in group therapy is an essential component of any addiction treatment program, but it is not to be compared to group support meetings such as AA, NA or SMART Recovery.
Like a support meeting, group therapy is a form of collaborative effort among group members who share similar experiences. But in group therapy, a professional counselor leads a small group of people, usually six to ten, in sessions that last 75 to 90 minutes. This therapeutic group meeting is often gender-specific where male and female individuals are more comfortable sharing their challenges and successes with their own gender. In addition to gender-specific group therapies, some addiction treatment centers also offer general group meetings where both genders participate. In both cases, gender-specific and general group therapy the ultimate responsibility for the members' progress rests upon the therapist.
The philosophy behind group therapy is that human beings are raised within the social network of families or small groups, and live their lives in social groups at school and work. As a result, when individuals in recovery are able to share their difficulties they are more likely to learn new ways of operating and relating to others. Under the guidance of a professional counselor, group therapy helps participants improve their interpersonal relationships by improving their communicative skills and thus enhancing their lives. With a better understanding of how to interact with others, group members are often more comfortable sharing their feelings and learning from others' experiences. In an atmosphere built on trust, therapists encourage healthy ways of relating to others and encourage members of the group to talk directly to one another.
There can be role plays in some group sessions that provide examples of healthy and unhealthy ways of communicating with family members and loved ones. Roleplay can be an excellent way for recovering individuals to learn new and better ways of relating with authority figures and peers and loved ones.
Overall, group therapy has proven to be effective to show recovering individuals that they are not alone and there are others who have had their experience or are experiencing what they are going through at the time. Others' experience in how to solve or deal with issues that an individual is going through can be a powerful source for support. Since everyone deals with addiction in a different way, the overall experience of the group with all the different thoughts, and behavior patterns related to each individual's challenges in recovery, offer hope and strength to all members of the group. By observing one another and learning the positive behaviors of each, the recovering group therapy members grow emotionally and develop new problem-solving skills.
As a therapist wrote, “Many enter group therapy feeling unlikable and unlovable. Group therapy can be a powerful antidote to those feelings. It may be the first time the person feels understood and similar to others. Enormous relief accompanies the recognition that they are not alone.”
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