Psychoeducational Group Therapy

Recovering from addiction is not just a matter of willpower alone. It is classified as a complex and chronic disease that affects the mind, body and spirit. It can take a toll on your health, mental well-being and impact your relationships with friends and family members. A recent survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that over 23.5 million Americans alone struggle with an addiction to alcohol, drugs or prescription pills. To put this figure into perspective, that’s roughly one out of every ten Americans. 

The persistence of addiction can feel overwhelming as well. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), up to 60 percent of individuals living with a substance use disorder relapse at some point following abstinence. 

This figure demonstrates the need for evidence-based treatment that is highly individualized in order to produce the most successful outcome. Psychoeducational group therapy can play a key role in the recovery process and may be a useful addition to your treatment plan. Discover what it is and how it is used to treat substance use disorders to determine if you could benefit from it.

What is Psychoeducational Group Therapy?

Psychoeducational group therapy, also referred to as psychoeducational groups, is a type of group therapy that follows cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) methodology. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) identified four key elements pertaining to the behavioral roots of psychoeducation:

  • Educating clients about their illness
  • Problem solving training
  • Communication training
  • Self-assertiveness training

These goals clearly rely on client’s willingness to participate and progress, just like any other treatment method. Family involvement also plays a critical role in the psychoeducational process. Many programs incorporate loved ones into the therapeutic process to educate them about addiction and mental illness and teach them the skills they need to be a better source of support. Psychoeducational group therapy typically progresses through three distinct phases, during which the four goals are met. The first phase is known as “therapeutic interaction”. During it, therapists focus on building a relationship with clients in order to better treat them. Without a strong bridge in place, clients often feel unmotivated to actively participate in therapy.

The second phase is clarification. In this stage, cognitive techniques are heavily relied on. Talk therapy is most 

apparent during it. Lastly, enhancement of coping competence is the final phase of the psychoeducational model. It is here that behavioral therapy techniques such as identifying and replacing self-destructive behavioral patterns is taught.

The psychoeducational model is largely education-based as you may have inferred by the name. As such, it focuses on teaching clients everything they need to know about addiction as a medical disease. This factors significantly reduces stigmatization of individuals suffering from substance use disorders and is particularly beneficial for their loved ones. Through education, clients come to understand the true nature of addiction and may be more likely to release feelings of shame, guilt and helplessness and replace them with more empowering ones with guidance from a skilled therapist.

Format

Most psychoeducational groups take place in a classroom-like setting, although this can vary depending on the provider. Many inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment centers offer on-site group therapy to clients, but you can also find them through other means such as community mental health organizations. Group therapy is effective for the treatment of addiction or mental illness alone but is also valuable for co-occurring disorders, also known as dual diagnosis. This diagnosis is given to individuals who suffer from an addiction and mental illness, regardless of which diagnosis came first.

A typical group session lasts less than three hours and is led by an experienced and well-qualified therapist who specializes in the psychoeducational approach. This means that they have a strong working knowledge of the behavioral and psychotherapeutic models as well specific training in psychoeducation. Successful therapists exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Compassionate and nonjudgmental leadership style
  • Maintains the flow of session appropriately
  • Active collaboration with clients
  • Promotes client empowerment and self-accountability
  • Takes each member’s learning preference and current state of cognition into account

The most critical aspect of group therapy is direct client participation. Since many members are often present at once, it can be challenging to adequately involve each person. However, successful therapists are capable of accomplishing this task through time management skills and by incorporating group activities such as role playing, experience sharing and worksheets.

During a typical session, a therapist may start by encouraging members to actively socialize in a productive way through the use of predesignated topics. This element is useful for instilling hope and a sense of comradery among all members which allows them to feel more at ease and as a result, more likely to participate.

PsychCentral mentions that many psychoeducational groups involve mood checks and other questions to help members become more aware of their feelings. Afterwards, behavioral strategies may be employed. This can include the development of coping skills, identifying negative thought processes and behaviors, and ultimately replacing them with healthier alternatives. 

Positive reinforcement such as praise plays an important role in the group format because it encourages members to stay committed to their goal of achieving wellness. A therapist may separate members into smaller groups to work on activities more successfully. Many therapists also provide homework to each individual member, which typically targets their specific goals.

Most groups end with feedback and member input. Therapists rely heavily on this because it helps them better serve all members and ensure that they are actively engaged throughout the process. Overall, the group therapy process is highly collaborative and aims to ensure that each member is involved throughout the entire process.

Who Can Benefit From Group Therapy?

Before discussing the ideal characteristics of a group therapy participant, you should first understand this approach is not designed to replace other therapeutic models entirely. Rather, it is primarily used as an additional service in the recovery process. Not everyone may thrive in a group environment. Individuals who have not yet detoxed for example may not be successful in this environment. 

In addition to this, individuals who are not yet committed to recovering from addiction may not benefit. Ideal candidates will be able to relate to at least one of the following scenarios:

  • Are currently in treatment or have recently completed a treatment plan
  • Are motivated to maintain long-term sobriety
  • Accept their substance use disorder and are no longer denying its presence in their lives

Again, group therapy largely relies on each member’s willingness to improve. Some people may not be ready for this service yet and may be better off in individual therapy, CBT or another method until they feel capable of participating in a group format successfully.

How Does Group Therapy Compare to Other Options?

Group therapy is often paired with other services. The most common option is individual therapy, also known as one-on-one counseling. During it, clients collaborate with a therapist in a private setting without involvement from other people. The one exception to this rule is if the client chooses to allow a loved one to participate.

Individual therapy is so effective because it provides a safe space for individuals to express themselves without fear of judgement, gain valuable insight from a therapist and learn how to work through challenging feelings or situations appropriately. Individual therapy is built around the client-therapist relationship. If you do not feel comfortable with a specific therapist or do not like their approach, you should compare other providers. 

Since you will be working one-on-one with them for a period of time, it is in your best interest to find a therapist with whom you feel the most comfortable with. Individual therapy is useful for easing clients into therapy in general and may serve as a starting point to other services.

While psychoeducational groups offer unique benefits, they do have some flaws. One is that not all members may feel comfortable or like they get enough help from the therapist. This issue is seen in many group formats and is why it is best to not rely on the group approach alone. Combining it with other one-on-one interventions is the most effective way to treat addiction and mental illness alike.

A major benefit to psychoeducational groups is that they offer the most evidence-based methods of cognitive and behavioral therapies, which are widely recognized as the leading therapies in the treatment of addiction.

The cognitive approach focuses on thinking patterns. It aims to identify negative thoughts through talk therapy. It attempts to get clients thinking more positively about themselves in order to boost self-esteem and confidence. The behavioral aspect of group therapy introduces new thought patterns to clients and teaches them the skills they need to combat old, destructive behaviors that may lead to a relapse. Addiction is largely based on repetitive behaviors, making this approach critical for many people.

Another option worth considering is participating in community-based organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and SMART Recovery. These options may be used in addition to therapy as an extra source of support. They provide a safe pace for individuals in recovery to gather, socialize and share their stories. 

They are especially beneficial for anyone who lacks a strong support system during and following treatment. Community-based organizations may be used on an ongoing basis as well. This means that there is no limit on how often you can participate.

Participating in psychoeducational group therapy can be a useful addition to your recovery plan, regardless of where you are at in it. It can equip you with valuable tools that you need to combat cravings and triggers in the future. In addition to this, it will teach you everything you need to know about the disease of addiction so you can have a more active working knowledge of it. If you feel like you could benefit from participating in this type of therapy, don’t hesitate to get started.