Written By Sophia Scholtes, BSc
Sharing thoughts and feelings with a group of strangers. It sounds a little intimidating doesn’t it? As a professional who has been in group therapy sessions, I can tell you that group therapy has many benefits. Having people listen to your problems or feelings can seem intrusive and perhaps, overwhelming at first, but you really don’t know the power of a group therapy until you’ve partaken in it.
Participating in group therapy will offer you a sense of hope as group members can support you by sharing their personal experiences and struggles with you. You learn how to rely on others for help, a habit which is crucial beyond treatment. Self-reliance leaves room for dysfunctional thinking. In group therapy, people identify unhealthy behaviours in others often what is not obvious in themselves. As people are in different stages of treatment their participation offers a richer therapeutic experience and more therapeutic traction than one to one therapy.
Group therapy offers a safe space for you to work on your problems and emotional struggles. By listening and sharing between people with different backgrounds and personalities, you’ll gain insight into how addiction affects everyone’s lives. In making these interpersonal connections, a perspective is also offered on how your disease is affecting your present behaviours and thinking. The group helps explore these thoughts and behaviours, which have festered in addiction, relating them to their own experiences. People then give feedback on what they are hearing and seeing from each person.
Some behaviours fall outside your own awareness, which is why feedback from a group is essential. Not only can they provide you with a source of second-hand information, but the group allows you to learn about how they react to them and how they can relate to you.
The concept of using group therapy as a tool to help you makes a lot of sense. Notoriously prone to excruciating bouts of insecurity and over-reactions to day to day life situations, addicts are often deemed anti-social. So group therapy work can help you get more comfortable being around people. That offers an alternative to isolation – that all-too- often deadly cousin of relapse.
Lauren Melzack, MSc, CAC, a long time addictions counsellor at Edgewood Treatment Centre in Nanaimo, British Columbia, says group therapy is an invaluable tool for her staff. Patients at Edgewood’s residential centre attend group therapy almost every day for at least an hour.
“Group therapy is particularly helpful for those who deluded themselves into thinking they can do it on their own. One addict does not have the power to fight this disease, neither does one counselor,” says Melzack.
Given that it is a basic human need to belong and function within a network of people, working on relationships and communication in a group is essential in your recovery process. People affected by addiction often grow isolated and disconnected from friends and family. The reality is that you need to learn how to become honest and open in communication. By doing so, you’ll begin to take ownership for how unmanageable your life has become.
Of course that level of honesty is not always easy. It might be difficult for you to discuss your thoughts and feelings openly and trust your group, but group therapy obviously offers a valuable opportunity to overcome your inhibitions. It allows you to practice healthy relationship dynamics. Group, therefore is beneficial to everyone, as attitudes and behaviours are confronted and challenged.
Working through your emotions such as guilt and shame, the group works as an emotional support network for you and everyone else there, while also holding each member accountable across sessions. The group provides a space of understanding and acceptance, rebuilding a lost sense of self-worth. The group therapy environment is a place of emotional healing from trauma or adverse life circumstances. Moreover, as uncomfortable feelings arise in the moment an alternative experience of coping with them is made. The discomfort in those feelings you’re experiencing has often been regulated by drugs, alcohol or unhealthy behaviours and driven addiction in the past. In support of the group, you can learn to express, recognize, and work through the underlying issues at hand.
Melzack says having a qualified facilitator is crucial when it comes to leading group therapy.
“The role of the group facilitator is to avoid traumatizing group members with the information shared. The group is about confronting feelings rather than exploring details of trauma,” she says.
And group is helpful not just for those doing the talking. As you begin to hear about the experiences of others it will become clear that you are not alone. This produces a sense of compassion and empathy, while creating a sense of community and belonging.
Is group therapy suitable for everyone? Arguments could be made either way. The only way for you to find out is if you show up with a willingness to get well and participate in the process. While everyone have their own needs and backgrounds, each is equally valuable in their contribution to the learning process.
Group Therapy is an important part of Edgewood Health Network’s inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. We offer guided group therapy for open honesty in a safe, supportive environment. To learn more about our programs click here or give us a call.
Sophia is a student from Leiden University currently doing her Clinical Psychology practicum at Edgewood Treatment Centre. She is set to earn her Master’s degree in February 2016.