Therapeutic groups: a lever in addiction treatment

5 min read
Louise halimi

Managing issues related to the use of addictive substances is a major public health concern. While individual therapy has long been considered the cornerstone of addiction treatment, therapeutic groups have proven to be effective complementary tools to help patients recover and maintain their abstinence. Today, group practices are firmly established in the field of psychotherapy. This article examines how they function and the benefits they bring.

Group therapy provides a collective framework where individuals can explore and share their experiences with others facing similar difficulties.

Therapeutic groups are used to address a variety of addictions, whether it's alcoholism, smoking, drug dependence (opioids, cocaine, cannabis), or addictive behaviors like pathological gambling and sex addiction. They are also used for compulsive disorders such as eating disorders. They can be integrated into outpatient or residential programs and are often used in conjunction with other therapeutic interventions.

Session structure

Group sessions are typically led by one or more therapists experienced in addiction treatment. The dynamics of the exchanges vary: some groups focus on problem-solving, while others may encourage free expression and emotional support. Various activities may be offered, such as sharing personal testimonies, thematic discussions, role-playing, or situational exercises.

In a spirit of non-judgment and active listening, each person has the opportunity to express themselves freely, respecting confidentiality and authenticity. A participant might talk about recent challenges, feelings of guilt or shame, small victories, or techniques to resist the urge to consume. Others listen, offering empathy, and when appropriate, share their own strategies to overcome similar obstacles.

These interactions strengthen social and communication skills while giving group members the opportunity to identify with others, promoting mutual learning.

The facilitator's role in a therapeutic group is to encourage personal expression, support constructive interactions among members, and intervene if necessary to ensure fair participation. They also ensure the therapeutic and emotional safety of the group, fostering the sharing of experiences and collective reflection while maintaining a climate of respect.

Measured benefits for patients

Group therapy supplements individual therapy, increasing the patient's support time. Group therapy reduces the isolation and shame often associated with addictions. It shows patients that they are not alone in their struggle by offering a network of support and accountability.

Clinical studies report positive contributions, including:
- Better adherence to treatment and reinforced motivation
- Opportunities for learning through observation and social interaction
- Ongoing support, a key element in preventing relapses
- Increased self-confidence and autonomy

Research reports highlight that participants in therapeutic groups often experience a higher recovery rate compared to those solely undergoing individual therapies (Lopez and al, 2021).

The impact of therapeutic groups has been studied very little compared to individual therapies, but initial studies suggest that the social connections and mutual support experienced in groups could be powerful factors in long-term abstinence maintenance. Therapeutic groups tend to create a safety network for people in recovery, potentially reducing the risk of relapse.

Facing the challenges of addiction, therapeutic groups provide a conducive space for patient healing. Their complementarity with individual therapy allows an approach that capitalizes on the strengths of group work, such as cohesion, support, and peer learning. Initial study results tend to confirm the potential of therapeutic groups to strengthen the resilience of individuals grappling with addictions.