The Power of Group Therapy in Residential Addiction Treatment

By: Heather VanHouten, RN

“Alone I drink, together we stay sober,” is an Alcoholics Anonymous slogan that my patients recovering from addiction discover as truth. I am a nurse at the Pine Rest Birch residential unit, treating people who have gone through detox from alcohol or another drug but are not ready to go home just yet. In my job, I see miracles happen!

Every day, patients arrive at Birch ranking 10 on a scale of one to 10 for anxiety, depression and cravings for their substance of choice. Days or sometimes weeks later they leave with a smile on their face telling me they are experiencing zero anxiety, depression and cravings. Much of this healing occurs through group therapy which provides social support, reduces isolation and decreases stigma.

Gaining community and belonging

Many patients share that isolation played a big role in their addiction and that they have social anxiety. The community of staff and recovery patients understands and is very welcoming and supportive.

When patients first arrive, they feel anxious because they don’t know what to expect. I tell them with confidence that most people feel this way at first but when it is time to leave, they will want to stay longer because they learned what it feels like to be part of a community of recovery-minded people where they laugh and have fun without drugs and alcohol—sometimes for the first time.

I sometimes see friend groups made here at Birch attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings who tell me they regularly attend meetings together and stay in touch.

Discovering assets and resources

At group therapy, patients listen and learn from each other and the staff that they are much more than their disease and that have many positive attributes that can be a resource in their newly sober life.

I had a patient tell me recently, “When I am talking with the staff and other patients, I realize that my addiction doesn’t define me. There is so much more to me than the ‘bad’ things I did under the influence of my addiction. When I am here with other addicts, they understand me because they are just like me. Through my stay, I have realized that I am ok just the way I am, with strengths and weaknesses just like anyone else. When I talk to other addicts, I realize that through my struggles I have gained empathy and humility which have made me a better person.”

Practicing skills to stay sober

Recovery coaches at the Birch unit work daily with patients to help them get ready to stay sober when they go home through group therapy exercises. The recovery coach understands that addiction wants its victims to isolate and use substances, making many patients vulnerable to social anxiety. Through group therapy exercises, patients meet social anxiety head on.

Many will need to learn how to be vulnerable and open up to a sponsor in Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous (AA/NA) in order to work their 12-step program. Patients get to try this in a safe setting at Birch, which will give them the confidence to do this when they leave.

Social anxiety is only one of many subjects that are touched on. Other subjects include coping skills, refusal skills, self-care and more.

Working together for miracles

As a witness to the power of group therapy I understand what Helen Keller meant when she was quoted saying, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

Heather VanHouten, RN, is a registered nurse at the Pine Rest Birch Residential Treatment Unit.

You are not alone! We can support you or your loved one at every step of recovery.

Related Articles

The Latest Newsroom content delivered to your inbox

Subscribe to Mental Health Matters

Subscribe Today

Mental Health Matters!

Stay informed through news, stories, interviews, resources and more.