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Group Therapy for Addiction Recovery

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

November 17, 2023

Table of Contents

If you’ve decided to become substance-free, that’s an important step to take. The next significant step on the recovery journey is committing to strive for a healthy new life. This is especially challenging and you will need to utilize all of the resources available to you. Part of your treatment may include group therapy, individual therapy, or both.

This may sound daunting. Many people would rather share their thoughts, feelings, and emotions on a one-to-one basis. After all, addiction often drives people to do things they would rather no one knew about.

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However, research has shown that group therapy has a profoundly positive impact on a person’s ability to stay substance-free. We want to reassure you about this modality.

So that you know what to expect when you come to Renaissance Recovery we explain what group therapy is, what to expect, and the powerful ways it can strengthen you.

What Is Group Therapy?

Group therapy is typically conducted by one or more psychologists who facilitate a group of between five to fifteen patients to address a shared problem.

It’s standard for groups to meet for one to two hours a week.

Groups tend to focus on a specific problem such as depression, anxiety, social anxiety, substance use, or pain.

Some groups may focus on more specific issues such as grief, anger management, overcoming shyness, or improving social skills. The type of group therapy you receive will be determined after your assessment.

Is Group Therapy Effective?

2001 review of studies on group therapy found that group therapy for depression has a significant effect on levels of depressive symptoms.

People tend to feel intimidated by the prospect of sharing personal details in a group but it is typical for people to be pleasantly surprised at the positive effects of group therapy. The reason that group therapy is so powerful is that hearing stories from others in a similar situation helps to put your problem into perspective. Sometimes, hearing how people manage in much worse circumstances than yours can be humbling and inspiring.

Group therapy is also a bonding activity. As you all share a similar problem you can support each other and learn to solve problems. As a group, you can create ideas for specific solutions to problems. When groups consist of people with diverse personalities and backgrounds, they often have a wide range of solutions to problems you may not have thought of.

When group therapy is facilitated by a trained psychologist, it can help a person to feel free to express themselves, develop healthy relationships with others, and get support from their peers.In many cases, group therapy can be more effective than individual therapy.

Types of Group Therapy

There are five main group therapy activities that are considered successful in treating people with a substance use disorder:

  • Psychoeducational groups
  • Cognitive-behavioral and problem-solving groups
  • Skills development groups
  • Support groups
  • Interpersonal process groups

Each type of psychotherapy targets certain types of problems and solutions such as anger management, trauma, psychodynamic, life skills, gender-specific, meditation, and family therapy. Different types of group therapy overlap in the problems they treat.

Each type of therapy is delivered in varying ways. With some group therapy, the facilitator may have more involvement with leading the group. With other groups, the psychologist may step back and let the group self-lead.

Cognitive Behavioral Groups

Every person can benefit from cognitive behavioral groups because they address needs that are universal to every human being.

This type of therapy group is so powerful in transforming self-esteem. Cognitive behavioral therapy encourages a person to identify the root causes of their negative thought patterns. Negativity is the source of addiction. A person typically turns to a substance to escape difficult emotions.

Cognitive behavioral groups have the power to transform a person’s opinion of themselves.

The most common negative thought patterns include: “I’m a failure”, “I’m not strong enough to quit”, “I’m unlovable”, and “I’m a bad person.”

Cognitive behavioral therapy groups have the power to transform these integral aspects of a person’s character into solid, genuine, and positive self-belief.

The stigma of addiction weighs heavily on the shoulders of the addicted person. Their inner voice is programmed to tell them that they are not worthy. So they use substances to numb the pain.

With cognitive behavioral groups, the facilitator engages the group with a structure where the group members examine their negative core beliefs that lead to addictive behavior.

The group atmosphere has profound benefits on each member. Every member helps each other to set goals and solve problems. By working together as peers, this creates an enormous amount of value to each attendant.

There is so much power in people working together to help each other rather than a person standing at the front dictating what people should do.

Every group member has useful advice and tips on how to deal with certain circumstances. When it’s shared amongst peers, every person is inclined to act on it.

How much involvement the group leader has on the session will depend on the nature of the group.

In established groups, members may be able to discuss situations freely without much intervention.

With newer groups, a group leader may structure the sessions with group activities that are designed to stimulate a discussion.

How Group Support Works

In a group environment, members help each other to solve practical life problems. This could be anything from how to sort a leak in the bathroom to metaphysical questions about why recovery is necessary.

Ultimately, the group environment works because of connectedness. Members no longer feel they are alone in the situation, and it relieves feelings of isolation.

This type of therapy has a positive impact on members’ self-esteem, self-image, and confidence. Eventually the support of the group is able to make people feel worthy and inspired to continue strong in their recovery.

Which Type of Group Therapy is Right For You?

People with a substance use disorder will be at different stages in their recovery journey. For instance, the first stage to recovery is classed as the ‘precontemplation’ stage. This refers to the stage where an addicted person doesn’t feel they have a substance use disorder and aren’t considering stopping.

Subsequent steps include:

  • Contemplation
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance
  • Recurrence

A person may be recommended any type of group therapy that is appropriate to their problem, type of substance use disorder, the stage they are at, their gender, and any other factors.

Other Types of Group Therapy Activities for Substance Use Disorder

The three other types of group therapy that are specifically intended for substance use disorders include:

  • Relapse prevention treatment groups
  • Communal and culturally specific treatment groups
  • Expressive groups such as art therapy, dance, or psychodrama

What To Expect From a Group Therapy Session

When you enter a group therapy session you will most probably be sitting in a circle with other participants.

The session may be open to anyone, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, or it may be closed to specific people.

A group therapy session typically kicks off with each group member agreeing to several ground rules such as confidentiality, not coming to sessions intoxicated, not pointing blame at others, and knowing when to speak, or when to stay quiet.

Typically, each person will introduce themselves to the group if it’s the first meeting. In subsequent meetings, participants may share their progress with the group.

The session may take the form of a free-flow discussion initiated by the facilitator, or it may consist of a structured sequence of group therapy activities.

Recovery Group Therapy Activities

Group therapy activities help people to loosen up and become more open with each other. They also stimulate discussion and encourage people to consider certain topics.

Icebreakers such as ‘Two Truths and a Lie’ and ‘Fun and Games’ where certain questions are asked such as a person’s favorite TV program are fun lighthearted activities that don’t probe a person too deeply and help people to find common ground.

Cooking is an activity that encourages people to work as a team and build a rapport with each other.

‘Fear In a Hat’ is a group activity for an established group. Each member writes a fear on a piece of paper which goes into a hat. Each person draws a ‘fear’ and has to guess whose it is.

Gratitude Mapping involves the group being split into smaller groups that map out on a whiteboard things they are grateful for with colored pens.

These are just a few examples of the many types of activities you may do during a group session. People tend to enjoy these sessions and often develop new and healthy relationships with other participants.

The rapport you gain with other members will provide you a safe space to share your hopes, worries, and fears. The benefits that transpire often go above and beyond group therapy. People often gain a sense of an increased connectedness with others, get support with problem-solving, and relief that they are not alone in their suffering.

What To Do Next

If you’re struggling with addiction to drink or drugs, help is at hand the moment you decide to take action. That moment could be right now if you call Renaissance Recovery team at 866.330.9449 to learn more about recovery groups and how we can help you stay sober



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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