Group Therapy in Addiction Counseling

Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has extensive experience as a prosecutor and legal writer, and she has taught and written various law courses.

Group therapy is just one of many methods used in addiction counseling. There are several different types of group counseling. This lesson explains the use of group therapy in addiction counseling, including various approaches.

What is Group Therapy?

Let's say you have a friend or family member undergoing addiction counseling. What do those counseling sessions look like to you?

Addiction counseling is a type of therapy that focuses on the symptoms of drug or alcohol addiction and on the patient's recovery. Addiction counseling uses self-help techniques and patient participation, and is most often discussion based. The look and feel of these sessions might surprise you. For the most part, the sessions are no longer one-on-one events with the patient lying on a couch and the therapist taking notes.

Most addiction experts prefer group therapy. This type of counseling involves at least three patients who are dealing with the same or similar addiction issues. The group meets together, at least weekly, to share experiences and discuss recovery plans. The group is moderated by one or more therapists, but the patients do most of the talking. Through discussion, patients lend peer support to one another.

How is Group Therapy Used?

Group therapy is used in mental health clinics, community centers, hospitals, addiction treatment centers and in private practices. It is used in both inpatient and outpatient settings. It can be used alone or in combination with other types of therapy.

Group therapy is used to treat a wide variety of addictions, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Stimulants
  • Opiates
  • Antidepressants
  • Other prescription medication
  • Hallucinogens
  • Other illegal or recreational drugs

Let's look at an example. Let's say your friend is undergoing treatment for her addiction to opiate pain medication. She is undergoing an inpatient detoxification program at an addiction treatment center. Detoxification is a therapeutic treatment, where her body will be weaned off the opiates. In order to lessen her withdrawal symptoms, she is given medical treatment. This treatment includes medication, called methadone, which is designed to help her body adjust to life without opiates. It's a temporary treatment.

While undergoing the detoxification and medical treatments, she is also participating in counseling. She meets with a group of several other patients each day who are also recovering from opiate addiction. Her therapist guides the group in hour-long discussions and offers advice regarding future steps toward recovery. Through the discussions, your friend has realized that she is not alone in her struggles. She feels less ashamed, and more confident that she can overcome her addiction. She finds strength and support from those who are a bit farther down the recovery trail than she is. She's been able to ask practical questions like how best to handle drug cravings once she is home and how to handle stressful situations without turning to the drugs.

How Does Group Therapy Work?

Notice that group therapy is peer based. That means the patients receive information and share experiences with people who have lived through a similar set of circumstances. Experts believe peer interaction is important because it provides patients with:

  • Coping capabilities
  • Communication skills
  • Friendship
  • Trust-building techniques
  • Real life examples

However, many patients progress through most of the six steps of therapy before realizing the full benefits of group therapy. These steps include:

  • Pre-contemplation, when the patient does not believe he or she has a serious addiction problem, and so the patient is not actively contemplating changing his or her behavior
  • Contemplation, when the patient begins to consider decreasing his or her drug or alcohol use based on what the patient is hearing in therapy
  • Preparation, when the patient is still abusing drugs or alcohol but recognizes the dangers and plans to quit
  • Action, when the patient actively makes lifestyle changes in an effort to quit using drugs or alcohol
  • Maintenance, when the patient works with the group in an effort to remain drug or alcohol free
  • Recurrence, if a patient relapses he or she will regress to one of the previous stages and work forward again with the help of the group

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