Empower Your New Year: The Transformative Impact of Group Therapy on Your Recovery Journey

Because people are naturally social, group therapy is a useful tool in treating addiction and supporting recovery. Maintaining sobriety can be a challenge. Any strategy that minimizes the risk of relapse should come into play during recovery. The New Year is a great time to try something new, like group therapy, to turn over a new leaf and make positive changes that support recovery.

Whether you’ve been in recovery for days, months, or years, you can benefit from group therapy. Therapy with your peers provides powerful benefits, like mutual support, shared experiences, inspiration, and accountability.

If you want to do something positive to support your recovery as a New Year’s resolution, group therapy is a great choice. Turn over a new leaf this year and do something good for your mental health. Unlike many resolutions made at this time of year, group therapy provides real, tangible, and lasting benefits.

What Is Group Therapy and How Is It Used in Addiction Treatment?

According to the American Group Psychotherapy Association, group therapy is a small group of people led by a professional therapist. The purpose for each member is to benefit from the group but also to help the others. A group therapy session should be supportive, safe, and cohesive.

Therapists lead group sessions for the help and support of all kinds of mental illness and for substance use disorders. The exact type of therapy used varies but include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This is one of the most common and effective types of therapy that is useful for all kinds of people. In a cognitive behavioral group, participants encourage each other to make positive, practical changes to support a sober lifestyle.
  • Interpersonal processing. In this type of group, participants share their past and current experiences. They help each other process these experiences and relate their tendencies to turn to substances.
  • Psychoeducational. Psychoeducational groups teach participants about addictive disorders, how they are treated, how to reduce the risk of relapse, and more.
  • Skills development. This is the most practical type of therapy group that focuses on skills needed to stay sober. Participants learn the skills, like socializing while sober and practice them with each other.

If you haven’t tried group therapy before, talk to your current therapist. They can guide your decision, help you find an appropriate group, and prepare you for what to expect.

Group Therapy vs. Support Groups

Many people associate the recovery process with 12-step programs related to groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. These groups can be helpful, but it’s essential to understand that they are not the same as group therapy.

A support group, like AA, is a more casual gathering than a group therapy session. Support groups bring people together with common experiences for mutual benefit, in other words, to support each other.

Support groups are useful because of the element of common experience. If you’re struggling with addiction, your loved ones care and want to support you. They can’t fully understand and empathize, however. It helps to be around other people who have similar struggles.

Unlike a group therapy session, support groups are not necessarily led by a therapist or trained mental health professional. There may be a leader, but it is less structured than therapy. Participants listen and may or may not share their own experiences.

The Benefits of Group Therapy in Recovery

Getting into a group with other people to share your experiences isn’t easy for everyone. It involves opening up to new people and sharing things that may make you feel vulnerable. So why should you do it? Group therapy, although it may seem daunting at first, has many benefits for your mental health and recovery:

  • It’s a built-in support system. Social support is essential for recovery. Few people can do this alone, and everyone is more successful when supported by others. A group can be useful as support for anyone but especially those with weak or non-existent outside support. If you feel isolated in your recovery, a therapy group can alleviate that.
  • Peer pressure can be positive. Peer pressure gets a bad rap for pushing people to make bad decisions. It is a powerful social force, but one that can be used for good. Group therapy is a commitment each participant is asked to make. There is a strong positive pressure to attend and comply with sobriety. Failing to do so lets others down by reducing the effectiveness of the group for everyone else.
  • You learn and take inspiration from others. By listening to participants in the group, you’re not just supporting them. You are also learning new skills and coping mechanisms. Hearing what other people do to avoid relapsing could help you in a difficult situation later. If you’re new to recovery, it can also be inspiring to see people who overcame a similar struggle and have been sober for longer.
  • Get honest feedback. A big part of therapy is learning to change your false and negative thoughts and behavior patterns. Even with a professional therapist, it can be difficult to recognize and change them. It’s easier to see them in others, so in a group setting, you benefit from multiple voices that point out your misconceptions and problematic behaviors. In the right group, this feedback is honest but not cruel. It should be productive and constructive.
  • Practice sober social skills. As someone who struggles with substance abuse, you developed a habit of socializing while impaired and turning to substances in difficult social situations. Changing those negative patterns is difficult. You can work on them in individual counseling sessions, but a group setting allows you to practice new skills. You’ll get in the habit of confronting the challenges you have with socializing but doing it while sober.
  • Participants coach each other. Practicing healthy social and coping skills in the safety of the group is one thing. Taking them to the outside world is different and more challenging. As part of a group, you’ll coach and encourage each other in tackling difficult situations for the rest of your life.
  • A therapy group provides needed structure. This is especially important if you are new to recovery. Having structure and routine in your life makes it easier to stay sober. Make a commitment to attend regular therapy sessions, and you’ll begin to learn how to live a structured, healthy lifestyle again.

All of these elements of a therapy group will help you have a more successful recovery. This may be most useful if next year is your first sober year, but even veterans in recovery can benefit from the support of a group.

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Is Online Group Therapy Beneficial?

Being able to meet with people in person is best for most people, but it isn’t always practical. If social anxiety is holding you back from trying group therapy, or if pandemic restrictions or location prevent your participation, try an online group.

The only difference between a standard and an online therapy group is the setting. It will be led by a trained mental health professional. You may use video conferencing, voice-only meetings, or online chat groups. Many groups use a mix of both. You can still get many of the benefits of an in-person group.

Keep in mind that you’ll also find a lot of online support groups and that, as with in-person groups, these are not the same. If you’re not sure you have found the right group, talk to your therapist or doctor about it. They can point you in the right direction.

This New Year, do something different. Prioritize your health and well-being with group therapy. It will support your recovery and provide valuable skills you can use all year.