I was a veteran of many years of private therapy before I reached rehab, so I expected addiction treatment to be individualized therapy, one-on-one with a counselor.
I was wrong. My counselor didn’t provide therapy as much as she assigned homework and checked up to make sure I did it (which was iffy at best before I became willing).
There were instances where I had to meet with staff individually. Most often it was to be called on the carpet for some specific transgression or my generally bad attitude. But besides those occasions, all therapy was group therapy.
When I asked why, I was told it was because 12-Step programs are designed to be done communally, not alone. They also said group therapy helped form bonds between the members that were explicitly intended to assist us in building a sober support group.
It worked. We started out as a small group of random people but we became fast friends, closer to a family, really. Forged in the heat of mutual suffering, we supported one another through the physical and emotional torment of rehab. My rehab mates became my micro-community within the broader hospital support network, a small cluster united by the hand-to-hand combat we engaged in together every day with our mutual addictions.
Another reason therapy was in a group setting was because it’s much easier to see someone else’s irrationality than one’s own. Hearing about other peoples’ powerlessness over drugs and alcohol, their denial, the lies they told others and themselves, and their addict insanity forced us to see and reflect on our own.
Group therapy also highlights the similarities among addicts, no matter what drugs they used, and that we weren’t alone. We were all travelling down the same road, led by trained professionals who’d already arrived at the sober destination we were trying to get to.
Like at AA meetings, honesty is contagious in group therapy. When you’re new to the group and hear others grappling candidly with their deepest fears and watch as they are met with understanding, compassion and support, that same honesty begins to seem possible for you too. When hard truths have to be faced, it helps to do it with others who are facing similar challenges. And, since everyone in the group including the counselors leading them all shared the same addict pathology, they’re equipped to confront those who aren’t being honest, sometimes not at all gently. As the saying goes, “You can’t bullshit a bullshitter.”