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Peer support helps people recovering from substance use disorder (SUD) find healthy ways to reframe their experiences and manage their symptoms. Self-help groups and group therapy are often used alongside other forms of treatment to ensure clients feel comfortable and confident in their sobriety before transitioning out of care. According to Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, supportive peers “promote hope and motivation for change by sharing their lived experience of recovery, establish[ing] a caring and collaborative relationship with their peers, support[ing] their recovery planning, and link[ing] them to available resources and supports.” Group therapy is different from community-based self-help meetings. However, both provide people in recovery with personal insights and information on local recovery resources. 

Why Is Peer Support Important During Recovery?

People in recovery benefit from engaging with peers who share similar experiences and a desire to achieve long-term sobriety. According to Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, “Historically, peer support has been shown to be a key component of many existing addiction treatment and recovery approaches such as the community reinforcement approach, therapeutic communities, and 12-step programs; the community reinforcement approach has demonstrated the importance of valued social roles in maintaining abstinence, which is the foundation of the peer support relationship.”

5 Ways Group Therapy Is Different From Support Groups

Group therapy and self-help groups share many features and goals. However, there are some distinct differences between the two. People in recovery often benefit from both group therapy and self-help meetings. Below are five primary differences between the two groups:

#1. The Format of Group Therapy Is Different From Self-Help Groups

In most treatment programs, group therapy follows a curriculum to ensure clients get the most out of each session. Each week may have a theme or goal, and the therapist guides clients through discussions about the weekly topic. The themes of each week often build off the session before, helping clients create a comprehensive set of skills and therapeutic tools to aid in their recovery. 

Self-help groups may be less formal. Some don’t follow any set format from week to week. Additionally, attendees may be asked to share aspects of their everyday lives or areas they want to improve. Often, the topics revolve around whatever issues are most pressing in people’s lives during the meeting. 

#2. Guidance From a Trained Recovery Expert

Recovery experts have decades of experience helping people from all walks of life cope with and manage SUD. Early recovery is a time when many people encounter unexpected challenges. At West Coast Recovery Centers, a mental health and addiction recovery expert guides the conversations during group sessions and provides essential insights using evidence-based therapies. 

Self-help groups, on the other hand, are often led by peers in recovery. Some groups may be directed by individuals with mental health or addiction recovery training. However, in most cases, the self-help meetings don’t have trained recovery experts guiding the content. 

#3. Group Therapy Is Different Because Sessions Are Personalized to Each Client’s Needs

Therapy sessions are structured and tailored to address specific issues affecting each client. Every person is given an opportunity to speak to their own issues. Clients receive personalized guidance from peers and a trained mental health professional. 

Self-help groups may not have the structure or capacity to address all issues affecting each meeting participant. Individuals with co-occurring mental health disorders may find it challenging to get the support they need from 12-Step or other self-help groups.

#4. Group Therapy Is Different Because It Has an End Goal

Rehabilitation programs offering group therapy aim to prepare clients to function independently after completing treatment. Each session is focused on ensuring clients develop the skills they need to manage their condition when they return home. Group therapy may involve weekly homework or goals for people to accomplish during each stage of their recovery to help them prepare for long-term recovery. 

Self-help groups are often open-ended and available for people to attend for as long as they need. People may attend 12-Step or other self-help groups every week for years or decades. The familiarity and routine help some individuals feel more in control of their recovery. 

#5. Group Therapy Is Different Because It Compliments Other Program Services

Individual and group therapy are only a few of the services offered by rehabilitation programs. Clients are encouraged to collaborate with the care team and take an active role in creating a treatment plan to address all active and underlying issues affecting their physical and psychological health. Multiple therapeutic methods are used in most cases, combining different aspects to ensure a personalized treatment experience. 

Self-help groups are an excellent source of support for individuals who have transitioned out of structured care. Some people use self-help groups as their sole source of continued support, while others may attend individual or family therapy in addition to self-help groups. West Coast Recovery Centers encourages clients to take advantage of any community-based services they feel comfortable with during aftercare to maintain positive routines and behaviors established during treatment. 

Group therapy and support groups have overlapping goals. However, both are distinct and provide different benefits. Self-help groups are an excellent way to retain peer support during aftercare and ongoing recovery. Many people continue to attend 12-Step and other support meetings for years after they achieve sobriety. The fellowship and connection people experience in self-help groups provide inspiration and motivation for long-term sobriety. West Coast Recovery Centers uses group therapy and support groups to ensure clients feel prepared for independent sobriety after treatment. The group sessions help clients feel more comfortable attending community-based support groups during ongoing recovery. To learn more about our services and programs, call us today at (760) 492-6509.