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Monday, March 9, 2020

Diving Deeper: What Makes Group Therapy Successful?

Group therapy is a core component in recovery and essential to many treatment centers’ programming. This can be upsetting and nerve-racking to some who cannot imagine sharing their stories to a room of strangers! Although it can be frightening, there is a method and solid reasoning as to why groups are used so frequently as a tool in recovery, in addition to personal sessions.

Therapy groups have many beneficial elements that are stronger than individual therapy or are simply unique to the group experience. Dr. Irvin Yalom, an emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University, has done extensive work and research in the effectiveness of group therapy and he developed 11 Curative Factors that are often present in group counseling. These can be summarized in the concepts of “connection” and “healing” through “putting it into practice” and having a ready-made community for you to practice the skills learned throughout treatment.


The most notable difference with group therapy is the ability to connect with other people on a mutual journey. A comfort to some is experiencing this idea of the Universality of their struggle while sharing and hearing the stories of others. This means that group members are able to connect events in their life to similar ongoings in the lives of others and concretely experiencing the realization that no one is alone in their experience. Those in recovery soon learn that they are not alone and that their experience of cravings, resentments, and guilt are all relatable.
Benefitting from the lived experiences shared by each member also leaves room for Imparting Information to occur. Sharing knowledge can also be done by the facilitator where the group can discuss their new insights together.

These two factors can help build Group Cohesiveness, where there is a feeling of acceptance and a sense of belonging to the group.  This cohesion is the foundation for life-changing therapy to occur.


Group therapy additionally provides the opportunity for Catharsis when individuals begin to disclose challenges and pent up emotional wounds. Sharing with more than one person can provide an experience of relief when there is safety in the group.
The act of revealing oneself fully to another and still being accepted may be the major vehicle of therapeutic help.” Irvin D. Yalom, The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients
On the alternative end from sharing, is receiving and being open to the experience of others which can promote Altruism. This comes from helping other group members, oftentimes simply by listening. Giving space for others to feel accepted and supported can help both parties increase personal self-worth and value.
Being involved in a group is a real-life experience of being a part of something larger than oneself. Yalom suggests that Existential Factors are able to be explored in that space. These factors delve deeper into how we create meaning in our life, our acceptance of life’s inevitable suffering, owning our responsibilities to make our own choices, and many other philosophical concerns.
Seeing this healing process unfold and feeling a sense of connection additionally can foster an Instillation of Hope. Group members offer one another a chance to believe that life can change and that recovery is possible. Often in active addiction, people may feel like they cannot stay sober or wonder if it is even possible for them. Witnessing the stories of group members can give a sense of hope for others.

Putting it to Practice

Group therapy is able to work in the “here and now” so what you learn in individual sessions, or in the group can be applied almost immediately with other group members. A likely first step to this is Imitative Behavior. A group member is able to observe the lives of others and chose to mimic coping strategies or modify other helpful characteristics for their own recovery.

On a deeper level, sometimes different group members may remind you of your father, an earlier version of yourself, or someone from your past who was a part of a negative event and you may experience healing through Corrective Recapitulation. This gives space to ‘rewrite’ your experiences safely by having a healing moment with another group member under the guidance of the group facilitator.

In addition, having access to multiple other people makes it a great space to practice Socializing Techniques. There are scenarios in which a group member could learn tolerance for the actions of another, empathy for another’s pain, or conflict resolution in working through a disagreement.  

Overall, this connection gives the opportunity for Interpersonal Learning. Don’t we all wonder how we come across to other people? Group can be a place for members to provide feedback on another member’s relational traits. This presents an opportunity to explore patterns and practice new ways of relating to others within the safety and support of other group members. This is invaluable knowledge to take into real-world relationships.

Taking the Plunge into Group Therapy at the Haven

Participating in a therapy group is a courageous leap of vulnerability. There may be times where the work is uncomfortable or that you are unsure of what to do next, but that is a part of the learning process. There is true power in group interactions to be a space for learning and healing in real-time. 

Groups offered at the Haven are an important aspect of treatment, in nearly all phases of treatment. Contact us today to learn how group therapy fits into your individualized treatment plan!