People are often wary of group therapy at first. The thought of talking about your problems with a bunch of strangers can be intimidating. However, many people are pleasantly surprised by how much they end up liking group therapy and how much they get out of it. Group therapy has become a staple in most quality addiction treatment programs. This is partly because it’s an effective way of treating more clients at less cost. Many studies have found group therapy is just as effective as individual therapy for many conditions including substance use disorders and most co-occurring mental health issues. [https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/11/power] Group therapy allows clients to benefit from more hours of treatment at less cost but there are also ways clients can benefit from group therapy more than individual therapy, including the following.
You learn you’re not alone.
It’s common for people with substance use disorders to feel isolated, depressed, and ashamed. Many addictions stem from a history of physical or sexual abuse, which victims may have hidden for years or even decades. Others may have done things they were ashamed of as a result of their addiction. Whatever the case, shame is isolating. It can make you feel alone and worthless. People participating in group therapy are often relieved to discover they aren’t alone. Others have had similar experiences and they can finally talk about it.
It helps you feel connected.
In addition to learning that you’re not alone in your suffering, group therapy helps you feel more connected to others. Feeling connected is one of the most important aspects of overcoming addiction. Substance use and the conditions that often underlie it, including major depression and anxiety disorders, are made worse by feeling isolated, unloved, and unsupported. Finding a genuine connection with the group can give you a sense of purpose and relieve stress.
That sense of connection has a more pragmatic benefit too. When you care about your group and consider how your actions affect them, you are more likely to treat the process seriously. You show up more regularly, show up on time, and respect the rules. It also creates a greater expectation of sobriety, since you don’t want to face the people who have listened to you and supported you and tell them you slipped up.
It helps you improve your communication skills.
Most of us assume we are good communicators but few of us actually are. Most of the time, we don’t listen well and we have no idea whether someone else has actually listened to us or understood what we said. Poor communication skills have consequences for every area of our lives, including our careers, personal lives, and random interactions. Interpersonal conflict is the biggest source of stress for most people. Group therapy improves your communication skills because you are all engaged in the project of listening and understanding. If you haven’t understood someone correctly, someone else will likely jump in. Not only will you sharpen your listening and empathy skills, but you will also see how others misinterpret what you say and you will gradually learn to communicate more clearly. This is not an opportunity we normally get in our daily interactions.
You get a broader range of feedback.
It seems like we should know ourselves better than anyone else but that’s almost never true. Our self-images are always distorted and we mostly understand ourselves through interacting with other people. In that respect, group therapy is a rare opportunity to understand yourself better. In some ways, it’s even better than individual therapy. In individual therapy, you have to rely on the feedback of your therapist, which you may disagree with. After all, therapists have their own biases and blind spots too. You may resist your therapist’s suggestions for what seem like rational reasons. However, in group therapy, you can get a greater variety of feedback. If several group members agree that you’re behaving irrationally in some way, you may be more likely to take that feedback seriously.
You can practice new skills.
Much of addiction treatment is about learning new cognitive and behavioral skills. For example, one important skill in many forms of therapy is recognizing and challenging distorted patterns of thought, such as overgeneralization or catastrophizing. Or you may have counterproductive social habits you need to work on. It can be hard to find opportunities to practice these new skills in real life because when we’re under stress, we tend to fall back into more familiar patterns. However, group therapy can be a sort of laboratory for experimenting with new ways of thinking and interacting. For example, if you’re a little too prone to defer to others, a group might be a good opportunity to practice being more assertive in a supportive environment. Some forms of therapy, such as dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, have this kind of practice built-in. DBT recognizes that working with uncomfortable emotions in social situations is central to overcoming certain conditions and that clients need a chance to practice in these situations if therapy is going to succeed.
The group lets the therapist see how you interact with others.
One major drawback of individual therapy is that most of the time, you are the therapist’s only source of information about your life. Most people don’t go into a session with the aim of deliberately deceiving their therapists but we all see the world through our own filters. We describe other people’s actions as we see them and not necessarily as they are. However, in group therapy, we are interacting with others in real-time. Your parent or spouse may not be part of the group but the way you interact with group members can give the therapist insight into how you interact with other people in your life.
At Fort Behavioral Health, we offer a safe, nurturing, and healing space for men and women to find recovery from the multifaceted disease of addiction. Our team believes in inspiring each client to face their challenges, discover the root of their problems, and reclaim their lives. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, call us today at 817-381-9741 or contact us through our admissions page.