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Why is Group Therapy Used in SUD Treatment?


Group therapy has, over the decades, become kind of a pop culture cliche when it comes to portraying substance rehab. When we imagine rehab, tend to think of folks in a circle, discussing their experiences and feelings.

This particular cliche, however, rings more true than most. The use of group psychotherapy in substance use disorder (SUD) has become more and more popular over the years. Today, virtually all substance rehab programs include some kind of group therapy. This is true for residential and outpatient programs, including luxury programs and even ones overseen and funded by the state.

But why is that? Here we’ll explore some of the reasons group therapy has become universal in substance rehab centers across America. If you’re in Massachusetts and need rehabilitative care for you or a loved one, please get in touch with our team at Boston Drug Treatment Centers.

1.) It addresses fundamental problems with individual therapy.

Surely individual treatment can deliver similar or better results to group therapy?Well, yes and no. While individual therapy has some strengths, which we’ll briefly get into later, there are a few practical limitations that often makes group therapy more attractive in many cases. Additionally, group therapy is often used alongside individual therapy, where the time and budget of the program allow for both.

Individual therapy can and has been used successfully for treating SUD. It has the huge advantage of being able to be tailor-fit to a person’s needs.

The problem is that not people with SUD are immediately receptive to one-on-one sessions. The extremely strong stigma that comes with being a so-called “addict” can often cause individuals to close up and fear judgment from their therapist, preventing progress in their recovery.

Group therapy sessions, by contrast, offer “universality”, that is, a situation where the people in the group feel that they share something in common. This can allow recovering individuals to share things without fear of judgment. Often, gains made in group therapy will eventually help one’s individual counseling and therapy sessions as well.

2.) It is highly effective

Realistically, clinicians will at least consider multiple approaches to treat any SUD case. However, when comparing one approach to another, studies show that group therapy can be just as effective as individual therapy for a wide variety of mental health disorders. A study focusing specifically on SUD also shows the same results.

Admittedly, comparisons like this could be difficult, as different approaches can work better for different individuals. But given the comparative effectiveness shown by multiple studies, it’s plain to see why rehab centers have, over the years, started to implement group therapy as either the primary or only mode of psychotherapy.

3.) Group therapy costs less

For better or worse, this is likely the biggest reason why rehab programs are more likely to use group therapy these days. Given that it could be just as effective as individual therapy, why not?

Group therapy is generally much cheaper to implement, as patients can share in the cost of treatment. This makes group therapy far more accessible for lower-income individuals than programs that are entirely composed of one-on-one sessions. For this reason, you are likely to see lower-cost rehabilitation programs lean into group therapy somewhat more than they would individual sessions.

4.) Group therapy tends to be synergistic with other approaches

It would be a mistake to assume that the main value of group therapy is in the lower cost. As mentioned earlier, you are also likely to have group sessions even in luxury rehab settings. This is because group therapy tends to work very well when combined with other therapeutic approaches such as individual counseling and medication-assisted therapy (MAT).

Participants in group sessions often take their experiences and learnings and share them. This is especially useful for areas like trigger avoidance or anxiety relief that are especially important for people recovering from SUD. Likewise, the learnings people have in group sessions can be brought up in individual counseling or used when trying other therapies.

5.) Group therapy sessions can encourage continued interest in recovery

People who participate in group sessions will often end up bonding with the people they share sessions with, particularly if they joined a small group. This often makes participants feel accountable to each other for their recovery, and tapping into this feeling is often a major part of how some substance recovery groups are run.

Group sessions can also encourage continued interest in recovery in another important way. Participants can also see people with situations similar to theirs succeed at fighting their demons. People with SUD may feel demotivated simply because they don’t usually see a lot of people breaking their habits. Simply being around people who’ve succeeded at this can give recovering individuals the strength to keep at it.


Group therapy alone usually isn’t enough for everyone. Individual counseling and MAT is often critical for bringing about recovery, as well. However, for various reasons, it remains one of the go-to treatment approaches for all kinds of substance use disorders.

Being economical, it is often the primary treatment approach on many rehab programs and the only kind of aftercare treatment lower-income individuals have access to. Fortunately, when implemented correctly, it can also be quite effective.

Group sessions also and have a synergistic effect when combined with other conventional and supplementary treatments, making them worth considering in most scenarios.

Crucially, unlike many other treatment approaches, group therapy also offers a critical social dimension that is lacking in individual and medication-assisted therapies.

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