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What Happens in Group Therapy?

While you are in drug addiction treatment, you will probably have both group and individual therapy. Usually, you attend group sessions more often than individual ones. Participating in group therapy is not the same as attending group support meetings such as Narcotics Anonymous or Smart Recovery – though both group therapy and support groups can be essential components of a drug addiction treatment program.

Support groups help people cope with drug addictions through sharing successes and challenges with others who are facing the same problem. But in group therapy, a professional counselor leads a small group of people, usually six to ten, in regular sessions that last 75 to 90 minutes.

Like support meetings, group therapy is a form of collaborative effort among group members who share similar situations. However, the ultimate responsibility for the group and each member’s progress in group therapy belongs to the trained therapist. Some studies have shown that group therapy can be as effective as individual therapy in helping people improve interpersonal relationships and the overall quality of their lives.

The theory behind group therapy is that human beings are raised in families or small groups, and live their lives in small groups at school and work. Most people bring the difficulties they have from one group to the next. However, under the direction of a trained therapist, the members of an organized therapy group can learn new ways of operating and relating to others within small groups.

Sometimes group therapy can be a way of learning what it would have been like to grow up in a healthy family. The therapist becomes either a mother or father figure, and the group operates like a family. This way, the members can unlearn the unhealthy ways of relating that may have been common in their families of origin, and can adapt new healthy ways of dealing with authority figures and peers.

In a group therapy setting, the therapist’s job is to create an atmosphere of trust so that members can speak openly about their feelings – although no one is forced to divulge their innermost thoughts and secrets. The therapist also models healthy behaviors and ways of relating to others, and encourages members of the group to talk directly to one another.

Through group therapy, people begin to understand how they interact with others. They learn how to feel free to relate openly and honestly with others. They find out that they are not alone and that someone else may have already worked through a problem that is confronting them now.

Together, group therapy members can share and work on any number of problems and issues. Although everyone will be dealing with addiction, everyone brings different strengths, and thoughts, and behavior patterns to the group. By observing one other, members grow emotionally and develop new problem-solving skills.

As one 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.”