Individual and group therapy have been used for decades in the treatment of substance use disorders. Both therapy styles have decades of evidence supporting their effectiveness in helping clients break free from addiction.
Therapy for Substance Use Disorders
Even though substance use disorders can physically affect your brain and body, the biggest challenge in overcoming them lies within the mind. Unsurprisingly, the best treatment for these disorders comes from specialised talk therapy programmes.
Psychotherapy for substance use disorders comes in two main forms: individual therapy, where people meet one-on-one with a licenced therapist, and group therapy, where a therapist leads a discussion with a group of people who are all struggling with similar problems.
Both therapies are highly effective in helping guide people towards the path of recovery, but the benefits of group therapy and the benefits of individual therapy lie in different domains.
Benefits of Individual Therapy
Individual therapy is what most people think about when they visualise a therapy session. You sit one-on-one with your therapist in a quiet room, discussing your personal challenges and how to overcome them. Individual therapy has a long history of helping people overcome their mental health challenges and can play a pivotal role in your path to recovery.
1. The Greatest Depth Therapy Option
More than any other style of therapy, individual talk therapy provides depth in the recovery process. Rather than simply focusing on what symptoms you’re experiencing or new skills to try in your everyday life, working with an individual therapist can help you drill down to the root causes of your symptoms and how they affect you today.
Individual therapy provides this depth because your therapist has the time to do so. They are focused exclusively on you during your treatment and don’t need to split their attention across several group members.
2. Individualised Treatment
The one-on-one nature of individual therapy also allows your treatment to be truly personalised. There’s no better place to understand what your unique challenges are and develop specific strategies to overcome them than in an individual therapy session.
For example, you may have a trigger for substance use that doesn’t seem to affect other people. Bringing this up in group therapy may not get you much helpful support. However, an individual therapist can help you create a plan to resist temptation if this trigger ever occurs.
3. Broad Treatment for Several Challenges
Most people with a substance use disorder have more difficulties in their life than substance use alone. People commonly struggle with other personal challenges, such as:
- Relationship issues
- Co-occurring mental illness
- Trouble at work or home
- Low self-confidence
- Lack of direction or purpose in life
Not all of these challenges necessarily fit into a group therapy environment. But in an individual therapy session, whatever challenge you face today is the most important topic of discussion, meaning you can get professional support for many personal difficulties.
4. Multiple Styles of Therapy to Choose From
Individual therapy contains a multitude of different therapeutic styles. An individual therapist may be trained in diverse specialisations, such as:
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy
- Dialectical behaviour therapy
- Acceptance and commitment therapy
- Motivational interviewing
- Interpersonal therapy
Each of these therapeutic modalities is geared towards treating different mental health concerns, and some styles may work better for you than others. You can choose a therapist who is trained in the therapeutic modalities you think would be best suited to meet your needs. Feel free to ask your therapist about their qualifications and training.
5. A Professional Perspective
Individual therapists have years of education and experience in helping people with all types of mental health disorders. This experience means they can provide expert insight into what’s holding you back in recovery, where you can improve, and how best to approach you feeling better.
Benefits of Group Therapy
Group therapy is a staple of substance use disorder treatment. It was originally developed as a cost-saving approach, allowing one therapist to treat many clients at the same time, thereby making therapy more affordable in the process.
However, the first group therapists quickly realised that group therapy often produced much better results than they could accomplish in individual therapy.
Treating substance use disorders was just one of these cases where group therapy was often much more helpful than individual therapy alone. But the benefits of group therapy don’t end there. They include:
1. True Peer Support for Recovery
People who have lived through addiction have a truly unique set of experiences that can often leave them feeling misunderstood by people who don’t know what substance use disorders are like. But in group therapy, you are surrounded by people who share a common problem and truly understand the effects that living with a substance use disorder can bring.
This fundamental understanding is the bedrock of an effective group therapy programme. True peer support helps people understand that they are not alone, that they don’t need to be embarrassed or ashamed of their actions, and that other people have gone through a similar set of experiences.
The peer support found in group therapy can often evolve into lasting friendships and support networks vital for long-term recovery. Peer support is a vital tool for a recovery that lasts, and it can begin in the group therapy room.
2. Proof That Recovery Is Possible
When you’re living with an addiction, it can feel like achieving sobriety is an impossible task. Perhaps you’ve tried to quit on your own before and found yourself back to drinking or using within a day or two. Or maybe you have cravings that feel impossible to resist and don’t see how you can make it to months or years of sobriety.
Group therapy for substance use disorders proves that it is, in fact, possible to achieve recovery. Most group therapy programmes have participants with a range of sobriety lengths, from those who have only been sober for a couple of days to those who have achieved months or years of recovery.
When you meet someone with a common problem who made it through to the other side, you may find yourself thinking, “If they can do it, I can, too.”
3. Solving Problems Together
Part of the power of group therapy comes from people helping each other with their problems. Group therapy is reciprocal. People who are new to a therapy group may have more pressing challenges to deal with and can receive advice and support from those who have more experience in recovery.
But as you continue through group therapy and make it through the difficult first stages of sobriety, you become the expert who can give back to the newcomer. Not only does this help new members of the group, but it helps you solidify what you’ve learned, think about how you can do better, and continue on your own path in recovery.
Having a supportive therapy group brings along a certain level of accountability. If you say you’re going to do something, your group members and therapist will hold you to it. If you’re starting to slip in your recovery routines, your group members will let you know. It’s your responsibility to do the same for them.
This accountability can be incredibly valuable in recovery from substance use disorders, as it keeps everyone working towards their common goal and builds camaraderie within the group.
5. Diverse Perspectives
While sometimes you want an expert’s opinion, sometimes you want to get multiple different perspectives on something you’re struggling with. Since group therapy brings people together from a number of different backgrounds and experiences, you can look at your problems from new perspectives you haven’t considered before.
In recovery, these challenges are commonplace, and having multiple approaches available means that you can pick the one that you think fits best for you.
Group vs. Individual Therapy: Which Is Best?
The benefits of individual therapy vs. group therapy are clearly very different, but choosing which one is best depends on a number of factors. Ultimately, the best choice that you can make is to find a substance use treatment programme that offers both styles of therapy as well as adjunctive treatments that can help you on the road to recovery.
Choosing a comprehensive programme, such as APN London’s addiction treatment options, means you get the best of both worlds. When you need depth, you can meet with your one-on-one therapist. When you need support, your therapy group will be there to help you along.
To hear more about the wide variety of therapies and treatments that APN London uses to help our clients overcome substance use disorders, reach out to our team using the live chat function on our website or fill out our online contact form.
- NIDA. “Drugs and the Brain.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 22 Mar. 2022, https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drugs-brain Accessed 23 Dec. 2023.