Learn / Group Therapy in Rehab: How It Works and Why It Matters

Group Therapy in Rehab: How It Works and Why It Matters

Grace Ogren
 February 28th, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Addiction isolates you from other people. In a rehab program with group therapy, you can learn how to reconnect. This treatment invites you to build strong relationships with your peers. It also teaches valuable interpersonal skills that can help you navigate every stage of recovery.

What Is Group Therapy?

Group therapy brings together 6-12 patients1 for regular sessions, guided by at least one therapist. You might meet weekly, twice a week, or even daily. The exact frequency depends on your program.

In a rehab setting, this treatment helps you connect to other patients. Since you’ll likely be around the same people for 28+ days, it’s important to feel comfortable with them. Group therapy facilitates these relationships and aids in your recovery.

Most group therapy techniques come from styles of one-on-one therapy. Group therapists often use evidence-based practices like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and motivational interviewing techniques.

Types of Group Therapy

Groups often focus on a specific topic. You might learn anger management skills in one group, and talk about family dynamics in another. Some groups also hold space for clients with specific identities. For example, rehabs might offer a women’s group, a veterans’ group, or a group for young people.

Groups will likely be based on one of several group therapy models commonly used in addiction treatment:2

  • Psychoeducational groups to teach patients about addiction and related behaviors
  • Skills development groups to teach healthy coping skills
  • Cognitive-behavioral groups, which focus on making behavioral changes
  • Support groups to provide patients with emotional support as they experience the joys and challenges of recovery
  • Interpersonal process groups, in which therapists leverage group dynamics to help patients identify and change their patterns
  • Relapse prevention groups, where patients learn strategies for avoiding relapse

Your specific group could be open or closed. In open groups, people come and go as they enter and leave rehab. Closed groups only accept patients on certain dates, keeping the same set of people together until treatment ends.

At Paradigm Teen & Young Adults Treatment in Malibu, California, “peer community is a crucial aspect of recovery and healing.”

Group Therapy for Addiction

During rehab, you and your group will learn practical skills to support addiction recovery.1 These might include stress management and relapse prevention strategies. You’ll also learn how to identify common triggers. You might even role play triggering scenarios together, so you can practice ways to respond.

Depending on the group, you might also talk about your personal history of addiction. Sharing your story can be extremely validating, since your peers can offer unique insight into what you’ve been through. And by supporting them in return, you might even develop compassion for yourself.

What Happens in Group Therapy?

In most group therapy sessions, you’ll sit in a private room with your peers and your counselor. During the first session, you’ll probably make introductions. You might talk about yourself, get to know the other members, or learn some basic ground rules. Your therapist will also describe the group’s overarching goals.

Going forward, your conversations will probably follow a similar format in each meeting. That exact format varies between groups. You could go around the circle and check in, or reflect on what’s happened since your last session. Or, your therapist might teach you certain skills, almost like you’re taking a class. Many groups also have time for open discussions, so you can connect directly with your peers.

Sessions might last anywhere from 30-90 minutes. Some rehabs offer short but frequent groups, while others have longer sessions. In most programs, you’ll attend these meetings in addition to 1:1 therapy and complementary treatments, like art or music therapy.

A Safe Space to Make Mistakes

Group therapy is a dynamic experience. Your healing process can be an example for the people around you, and vice versa. In this context, you’re not the only person who can learn from your mistakes. So even emotional setbacks can be hugely valuable.

Because group therapy occurs in a protected space, you can try new behaviors on for size without fear of judgment. Programs like All Points North Lodge, for example, encourage patients to “practice these skills in a supportive environment with clinician guidance.”3 So your therapist might comment directly on your interactions with the group. Their feedback can empower you to grow, both personally and in relation to your peers.

The Role of a Group Therapist

In a rehab setting, group therapists understand the nuances of addiction treatment.4 Think of them as a guide. They’ll facilitate conversations and teach you practical skills. But they’ll also allow the group to communicate organically—while making sure each conversation stays respectful and on topic. Your therapist will give everyone a chance to be heard, and encourage you to support each other as equals.

At All Points North Lodge in Vail Valley, Colorado, patients use group sessions to practice new skills “in a supportive environment with clinician guidance.”

The Benefits of Group Therapy

The unique lessons of group therapy can be an important part of recovery.

Interpersonal Skills

As one researcher notes, “people are fundamentally relational creatures.”5 Connecting with peers in therapy lets you practice building healthy relationships. And relationships can inspire emotional growth. That’s true in both individual friendships and more complex communities.

For example, connecting with a group can break down the stigma of addiction.1 It’s powerful to watch other people grapple with the same issues you’re facing. And by sharing mutual support, you can become a part of something greater than yourself.

Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

Addiction often co-occurs with other mental health issues.6 So if you’re healing from more than one diagnosis, you might attend rehab for co-occurring disorders. For example, some programs treat patients with both addiction and depression, or addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In these programs, group therapy treats more than addiction.4 It might also address your other symptoms. And healing alongside people with similar diagnoses can help you commit to recovery.

Positive Peer Pressure

Peer pressure isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it can even be helpful. In group therapy, you’ll spend time with other patients who share similar goals. And connecting with them can encourage you to abstain from drug use.7

Your group can also hold you accountable. If they know you well, they’ll be able to catch warning signs you might miss in your own behavior. And you can do the same for them. With each other’s support, all of you can keep moving toward your goals.

Support for Teens in Recovery

The social aspect of group therapy is particularly helpful for teens and young adults. According to experts at Paradigm Teen & Young Adults Treatment, mental health issues and addiction can distance teens from their peers.8 Because of this, the “willingness, openness, and courage to actively re-engage in their peer community is a crucial aspect of recovery and healing.”

Group therapy teaches teens how to be vulnerable. And opening up to each other in session can help you build friendships outside of therapy. This skill is valuable at any age, and in any phase of recovery.

Limitations of Group Therapy

This treatment doesn’t work for everyone. For some clients, it can even be counterproductive.

Certain diagnoses make individual treatment more effective.9 Some trauma survivors, for example, might not feel comfortable sharing their experience in a group. And patients in active psychosis may struggle to communicate in this setting. So people in treatment for schizophrenia and addiction might benefit more from 1:1 therapy than group sessions.

No matter what your symptoms are, group therapy still might not be a good fit. For instance, many high-profile clients prefer the privacy of 1:1 treatment. While group therapy offers social support, it blurs the lines of confidentiality. If you’re concerned about your story getting out, you might have a hard time engaging in this treatment.

Working Toward Recovery as a Team

Recovery is a deeply personal process. But it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. During treatment, you can start to redefine what you want out of relationships. Group therapy invites you to do that in practice. By connecting with your peers in rehab, you can prepare to build a new community after rehab.

Explore rehab programs with group therapy to compare pricing, amenities, customer ratings, and more.

Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod

  1. Group Therapy in Substance Use Treatment. (2021). SAMHSA. https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/SAMHSA_Digital_Download/pep20-02-01-020.pdf [] [] []
  2. 2 Types of Groups Commonly Used in Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US), 2005. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64214/. []
  3. Individual and Group Therapy – Treatment, Recovery. 14 Feb. 2022, https://apn.com/methods-of-care/individual-and-group-therapy/.
  4. Wendt, D. C., & Gone, J. P. (2017). Group therapy for substance use disorders: A survey of clinician practices. Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, 12(4), 243–259. https://doi.org/10.1080/1556035X.2017.1348280 [] []
  5. Groups and substance abuse treatment. (2005). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64223/ []
  6. “Substance Use and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders.” National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/substance-use-and-mental-health. Accessed 28 Feb. 2023. []
  7. Groups and Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US), 2005. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64223/. []
  8. “Group Therapy for Teens and Young Adults.” Paradigm Treatment, https://paradigmtreatment.com/treatment-approach/group-therapy/. Accessed 28 Feb. 2023. []
  9. Karsberg, Sidsel Helena, et al. “Group versus Individual Treatment for Substance Use Disorders: A Study Protocol for the COMDAT Trial.” BMC Public Health, vol. 21, no. 1, Feb. 2021, p. 413. BioMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-10271-4. []

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