When you’re in recovery, you will likely experience many different forms of treatment, including individual therapy, family therapy, drug counseling, and most likely support groups. One common example of a support group is the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) community that provides 12-step meetings. Those who attend meetings are recovering addicts and there are rarely any “experts” in the room. Instead, the experts are the 12-step model, the Big Book, and perhaps stories of others who have long been sober. Peers are those who are struggling with the same issue and so therefore can relate to the new recovering addict who might be desperately looking for support.
A support group is a form of treatment in which a collection of people gather together to discuss a particular topic. Typically, that topic has to do with something in life that each of the participants is struggling with. The point of the group is not to commiserate but rather to discuss ways that each person is handling the situation they are in.
Support groups differ from group therapy in that there is no expert in the room. In other words, with group therapy there is one or more therapist, psychologist, social worker or other mental health professional facilitating treatment for the group. Participants of group therapy usually experience the same diagnosis or life challenge, just as with support groups. However, with group therapy, the mental health professionals in the room may or may not have personal experience with the struggle being discussed.
Despite this difference, both support groups and group therapy can be incredibly useful for a variety of reasons. What’s great about support groups and group therapy is that a participant can hear from others what he or she may not be able to express himself. For instance, someone in the group might be feeling incredibly sad, and then someone else in the circle might say, “Gosh, it’s been so hard, and I feel so sad that my family is breaking up and some of it has to do with what I put them through when I was using.” For the people listening, it could feel like a great weight has been lifted, recognizing that it’s okay to feel sad and that someone else in the same shoes feels the same way. Plus, hearing this might give you the freedom to finally say what has been hard for you to express. And finally being able to say what you couldn’t up until now can also be incredibly healing.
With group therapy the benefits arise from not only the relationship with the therapist, as in individual therapy, but also from the other participants in the group. And similarly, with support groups, the benefits of the experience arise from the relationships with the other participants, as well as the quality of the discussion about the topic. Frequently, when discussing recovery, for instance, someone might share an experience about how they managed to stay sober in the first few weeks of their recovery that might be incredibly useful to a person who is just starting out with their sobriety.
There’s no question that the greatest part about support groups is the community. In a community of others who are struggling with the same life challenge, men and women can find support, love, friendship, and safety. In the community of a group, someone might be able to make it through the challenges of early sobriety because they have the support of those who have been there. Additionally, those members in the group who have been sober for a longer period of time serve as models that getting and staying sober is possible.
Support groups are incredibly advantageous for anyone who is struggling with a difficult life challenge. Getting sober is challenging, but in a group of supportive people, anything is possible.