In the United States, group therapy (sometimes called group psychotherapy) is a go-to treatment for all kinds of mental issues, including substance use disorder (SUD). Today, virtually all substance rehab programs in America include some form of group therapy as a standard treatment. This is even more true for publicly-funded or low-cost rehab programs.
The popularity of group therapy as an approach to treating SUD and other mental illnesses has grown over the years. Some programs, particularly those following 12 Steps and similar methodologies that reject or discourage drug replacement as a practice lean heavily into group therapy as a rehab approach.
As with anything that becomes popular, fair criticism has been leveled against group therapy. Below we’ll examine the reasons for its popularity as well as some of the benefits and drawbacks of this standard treatment approach.
When implemented correctly, group therapy is undoubtedly effective. Multiple studies have shown that group therapy is beneficial for people with SUD and other diseases that tend to co-occur with it, like anxiety. It seems that for many conditions — including those related to substance use disorders — group therapy can be just as effective as one-on-one sessions.
However, the main driver for the popularity of the treatment approach appears to be its low cost. After all, a single therapist can treat multiple patients through group therapy, which implies a more efficient use of time compared to one-on-one sessions. While group therapy can have as few as 3 participants, 6 to 12 is now the norm, with much larger groups not unheard of.
Indeed, given the high cost of healthcare and the shortage of mental health professionals, the cost savings made possible by group therapy are, perhaps, causing some rehab centers to rely on it more heavily than in the past.
Most people who participate in group therapy for SUD experience several benefits. These include but are not limited to the following:
Group therapy can be beneficial for most people, but it is not a surefire treatment by any means. Some of the pitfalls of the approach include the following:
Despite its downsides, group therapy is and will likely remain an important part of substance rehab. Virtually every person in rehab will have regular group sessions, and most are likely to benefit from it.
However, it is far from the only approach that could be used for treating SUD. There are many scenarios where group therapy would not only be inappropriate, but outright detrimental to the individual.
If the individual has a choice in their treatment, they need to try a selection of different approaches. As with all mental health issues, SUD is not something that responds in the same way for everyone. If group therapy does not seem to be working for you or a loved one, work with your physician to find a more effective combination of treatments.
Good luck, and be well!