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How Individual and Group Therapy Strengthens Addiction Recovery


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therapist holding patient's hand

Why do treatment centers like Into Action Recovery Centers use individual and group therapy? Isn’t it overkill?

There’s an old saying in Alcoholics Anonymous, “I’m the piece of garbage the world revolves around.”

Most alcoholics aren’t known for their humility when drinking. The disease of alcoholism thrives on selfish, grandiose behavior with little regard for the feelings of others. Throw in low self-esteem, dishonesty, depression, isolation, shame, plus a lack of self-awareness, and you have a perfect recipe for addictive behavior.

These aren’t moral failings. These are the painful symptoms of addiction.

The person you know and love is still there beneath all these symptoms. Navigating through the symptoms, however, takes skill and patience.

A good treatment center knows cracking into this thick armor of denial requires a multi-pronged approach. By using a combination of group therapy and individual therapy, treatment paves the best foundation for healing.

Benefits of Group Therapy For Substance Use

Research shows participating in group therapy strengthens the chances of an individual staying sober.

After all, no one knows a substance use disorder like someone else struggling with a substance use disorder.

Group therapy offers addicted individuals real-time feedback from other people in the same situation. Because alcoholics are good at lying, especially to themselves, participants can call a bluff when it appears someone is fooling themselves.

For example, consider the story of Jan, a recovering alcoholic with six months sober, who admitted in her aftercare group she had run into an old friend from her drinking days. The two exchanged numbers and talked about getting together for a hike.

Jan mentioned the situation casually in group and didn’t appear to have any misgivings about the meeting. The group was silent for a few moments after Jan spoke. First, fellow group member, Jeff, spoke up; he asked Jan if her sponsor was aware of the upcoming hike? She answered, “No, I didn’t think it was a big deal.”

After some more discussion, Jan admitted she and her friend had a former habit of drinking together while hiking. This situation could’ve easily turned into a slip for Jan, except her group saw the potential trigger. When the group facilitator asked Jan to dig a little deeper into what was going on and what made this hike so appealing, Jan was able to admit to herself how she’s missed her old drinking friends.

Jan was experiencing a normal transition in recovery; when the person in recovery must leave old habits and old friends in the past in order to heal. Shedding your old life for something new isn’t easy, but Jan was able to get the support she needed to stay on track.

Suffering in isolation is a death warrant for an alcoholic. The shame of addiction makes friendships difficult in early recovery. Group therapy helps speed things along by providing a sense of community within a short time frame. Group members develop close, supportive bonds in a safe environment with a group facilitator.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA) offers more information in its publication, “Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy.”

Benefits of Individual Therapy For Substance Use

The more people who spend time around a person in recovery, the better. Finding any potential cracks in recovery is much easier when a solid team of support surrounds the person healing.

Individual therapy gives recovering alcoholics time and focus. Working with one therapist over time means exploring issues in a deeper, more meaningful way. In the likely event, the addict is suffering from depression or other co-existing conditions, individual therapy also allows for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Sometimes the value of individual therapy comes in subtle ways.

Take, for example, Mike’s story.

In treatment, Mike was worried about his dog. The issue seemed too minor to Mike to be worth bringing up in group. Plus, Mike was shy to talk about himself with others. While other group members were discussing issues like divorce and parenting, he felt uncomfortable bringing up his dog. Still, it really worried him, wondering if the neighbors taking care of his dog were doing a good job. Was he being fed and loved?

In individual therapy, Mike was able to discuss his feelings. For someone not accustomed to speaking about his feelings, he needed some gentle coaxing from his therapist. Once he explained the situation, he felt his load lighten dramatically. In fact, his therapist made sure Mike was able to call his neighbors as needed.

It may sound like a small thing. However, for Mike, it was important to his recovery. Once he knew his pet was safe and cared for, he was able to focus on his own recovery.

The situation became a valuable starting point for Mike. He and his therapist began looking at how he had always taken better care of his dog than he had himself. Mike was able to acknowledge his value as a pet owner. Despite feeling deep shame about some choices in his life, Mike, with the help of his therapist, was able to see he wasn’t a terrible person. To his dog, he was the best person.

When someone feels hesitant to reveal themselves in a group, individual therapy has enormous value.

Webmd.com has more information on the benefits of group and individual therapy in the treatment of addiction.

Combining individual therapy and group therapy in treatment gives people in recovery a stronger chance to heal. The addicted brain can be cunning and baffling. The bigger your team and the more tools you bring to recovery, the better.

Addiction recovery specialists at Into Action Recovery Centers are available 24/7 to answer questions about treatment, therapy and more.

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