You’ve probably heard this catchy phrase:
“Teamwork makes the dream work.”
It started as the title of a motivational book and has entered the popular lexicon. You hear athletes and coaches say it. You hear teams on reality and game shows say it. You might even have said it yourself.
The phrase has two key things going for it. First, as we’ve mentioned, it’s catchy. Second, it’s true. Working together really is a great way to collectively achieve goals. That’s true in athletics. It’s true on reality and game shows.
And it’s true for recovery from substance use disorders.
At first blush, that might sound odd. You might wonder who is on your “team” and what kind of collaborative work you could do to achieve a “dream.”
The answer? The people with whom you participate in group therapy are your team—and long-term sobriety is the dream.
Group Therapy – What It Is and How You Might Feel About It
Group therapy is just what it sounds like—a therapeutic approach in which a group meets together with a trained therapist to talk about and work through shared challenges. It is effective for addressing a variety of challenges, including:
- Substance use, eating, and anxiety disorders
- Traumatic experiences, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Depression (including major depressive disorder) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
For some, group therapy is appealing because it is a reminder they are not going through their challenges alone. They can hear from others who have had similar experiences and who are now trying to accomplish the same important—but often difficult—goal. That can be comforting.
For others, however, group therapy is not appealing at all. This might be especially true of those who are introverted and inclined to keep the details of their life to themselves. The notion of sitting in a room with other people and being asked to share how they are feeling and what they have experienced is enough to raise their level of anxiety.
But no matter how you feel about group therapy, it works. As a treatment method, it is an effective tool for those who are in recovery.
How Group Therapy Helps
Group therapy turns out to have two distinct benefits that may, at first, seem to be opposites but that work together to offer encouragement and a strong foundation for ongoing sobriety.
We mentioned the first benefit above: an encouraging sense of having a mutual goal. According to the American Psychological Association, group therapy allows for the development of a “common identity and sense of shared purpose.” Studies suggest that spending time in a therapeutic setting interacting with others who face similar challenges can go a long way toward lessening the feelings of stigma and alienation that are commonly experienced by those who have battled a substance use and/or mental health disorder. Building up a shared sense of accountability among the members of a group can help everyone stay motivated to achieve their recovery goals.
But while that commonality of purpose is important and helpful, there is a second benefit of group therapy that comes from diversity. While everyone in your group therapy sessions may be working to stay sober, you each have a different story and may be employing different strategies in response to your personal experiences. Hearing others talk through their unique personal experience can help you understand the varied ways to successfully approach recovery. The process can also build a sense of empathy that can serve you well in all areas of your life.
What You Can Expect in Group Therapy
If you are among those who find the notion of group therapy intimidating, it can be helpful to have a good sense of what you might experience. A little upfront knowledge can go a long way toward calming your nerves. Here’s a quick primer:
In most cases, group therapy sessions will include one or more therapists and between five and fifteen participants. Frequently, chairs are arranged in a circle, though the seating arrangements may vary depending on the therapist, the participants’ preferences, and the physical environment in which the meeting is taking place. The group may meet once or twice a week for as long as two hours per session (the length of the meeting is often a function of how many people are participating).
Sometimes, sessions will focus on a specific topic or on the development of a specific skill (coping with cravings, for example). Other times, the conversation may be more free-flowing, allowing people to participate to a greater or lesser degree as they feel comfortable that day.
Your group will have a shared commitment to confidentiality. It is important that you can trust one another, and the therapist will work to create an environment built on mutual respect. There may be aspects of your experience that you do not feel comfortable sharing, and in those cases, letting your therapist know what you are and are not willing to share is important. That conversation should happen one-on-one rather than in the group.
We should note that group therapy is not a replacement for individual therapy. In most cases, group therapy participants will also be participating in individualized therapy.
We’ll Help You Get Into a Group Groove
At The Aviary Recovery Center, we take advantage of the full array of options for addressing substance use disorders and any co-occurring disorders. That includes group therapy, a strategy shown to lead to positive outcomes. If you put us on your team, we will help you accomplish your dream—getting and staying sober.