The Value of Group Therapy for Substance Use Treatment

While people do benefit from individual therapy for substance use disorder, group therapy is proving to be an essential component of treatment for more meaningful patient outcomes. Narcotics Anonymous’ popular slogan, “an addict alone is in bad company”, speaks to that truth. Along with a 12 Step Program that can be used to combat addiction, group therapy is helpful for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, patients need to be able to share experiences with others who know what they are going through and understand how they feel. 

The Communication Aspect of Group Therapy

People seeking help from friends and family oftentimes feel like nobody is listening, usually because their support network simply doesn’t understand or empathize with the condition. This is where group therapy is beneficial. Group therapy allows an individual to gain broad and specific insights about their own issues. It helps them develop a greater understanding about what led to their addiction, and why they continue to maintain the behavior associated with the addiction. It also helps the person gain better self-awareness in general, which is achieved by speaking their truths honestly and openly, and by listening to others who have similar problems. 

By encouraging communication through shared experiences, group therapy sessions also improve skill sets that individuals have either neglected or lost during the course of their addiction, including interpersonal skills, social skills, and communication skills. One of the more difficult parts of group therapy for substance use patients is receiving honest feedback and perspectives from others. Doing this in a group session allows it to be done in a safe and controlled way. It prevents the patient from lashing out and getting personal, as is sometimes the case with family and friends. 

Group Therapy Sessions & Activities

Group sessions are generally led by trained therapists specializing in addiction therapy, who actively direct group discussions though the use of prompts. They are able to pick up on individual issues that need to be discussed as a group or in one-on-one therapy. Typically, each participant brings along a book they use to note their thoughts and feelings during the session. They are also assigned simple homework activities such as writing down what they are grateful for each day, or tracking the triggers that cause their cravings.

Much of the focus centers around mindfulness, identifying triggers, lifestyle changes, gratitude, and self-care. Exploring these concepts in a group setting makes it much easier to brainstorm ways in which someone can make necessary changes in their lives. Research has shown that group therapy offers the comfort of affiliation, the reality of confrontation, support, gratification, and identification of one’s own problems by seeing it in others. Humans are social creatures, and gaining insight from others is how we learn and maintain behaviors, so it’s only logical that having a support structure that encourages recovery is beneficial. 

Groups Have a Therapeutic Effect

A trained therapist can design group therapy sessions in a way that truly promotes recovery from substance misuse and addiction. Although an emphasis is always placed on the interpersonal process, groups offer significant value to the recovery journey in the following ways:

  • Positive peer support and pressure to abstain from substances
  • A decreased sense of isolation
  • The opportunity to witness the recovery and success of others
  • Encouragement, support, reinforcement, guidance, and a family-like experience
  • A safe space to relearn social skills and coping mechanisms
  • Groups provide individuals with structure, discipline, and accountability

Addiction is never clear-cut, and should always be approached with a good understanding that not everyone is the same. However, many people find that group therapy is a strong foundation that helps begin the healing process.

The Role of an EHR in Group Therapy

Since patient records at substance abuse treatment centers tend to require special considerations in order to remain compliant with administrative and government mandates, it’s critical that accurate records are maintained. Automating this process with an Electronic Health Record (EHR) not only ensures you meet these requirements, it also has a tremendous impact on client care as well. Detailed patient records need to be documented during all patient encounters–including group therapy sessions–which can cause logistical problems as it relates to notes and charting. A flexible, behavioral-health specific EHR can simplify the process because it offers an easy way to record notes for each person participating in group therapy. A standard note that applies to all participants can be noted once, but applied to each individual within the group, significantly reducing documentation time. An EHR also allows a therapist to quickly find unique information about each individual attending a group session, ensuring all patient needs are being met. 

The role of the therapist in a group session is to prompt discussions and encourage everyone to participate. At the same time, they are responsible for noting any individual patient issues that arise or recur in these sessions. By observing patients during group sessions and keeping good notes, therapists are able to choose more suitable activities for a session. This ensures that treatment measures are suitable for the group as a whole, but also for individual members who may need some extra help in their recovery process.

Group therapy, and the associated activities provided during these sessions, are a valuable part of substance abuse treatment methods. Properly and efficiently documenting these activities with an EHR allows a skilled practitioner to focus on improved clinical outcomes and enhanced patient care–the overarching goal of all behavioral health care.

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