Process Groups – What Are They and How Do They Work?

Process groups are a form of group therapy that comprises an essential component of addiction treatment therapy. They allow people to learn the skills needed to navigate social networks and stress, and reduce the inducements to use mood altering substances again.

Learning the skills offered from process groups can be a long progression, but the benefits are worth it.


What Happens in a Process Group?

In a process group, 5-10 individuals meet face-to-face and share their struggles and concerns in the presence of a trained group therapist. The first few sessions in group therapy involve establishing trust. At the direction of the therapist, everyone usually gives an introduction and states his/her present concerns. After a few sessions, everyone should be comfortable enough with each other so that they can open up, share their feelings, and start developing meaningful relationships.

In these meetings, participants regularly express their emotions and discuss current problems with the group, who then agree or disagree with the thoughts or actions of the person leading the conversation. Members are provided the opportunity to receive perspectives, support, encouragement, and feedback from multiple people in a safe and confidential environment. Group members often gain a deepened self-awareness regarding their relationships with others, and leave group therapy feeling empowered.


What Does the Group Leader Do?

The group leader is the facilitator. They set up the group and establish the flow of conversation in the beginning, but for the most part they try not to direct the conversations or react to the ongoing discussion. The group members are in control of directing their own conversations and expressing their opinions of other group members’ thoughts and behaviors.


What Are the Rules of a Process Group?

What happens in process group stays in process group. Confidentiality is the basis of trust established in group therapy and must be retained. Another element important to keeping trust is honestly sharing personal feelings. To do this, people must explore their emotions to make sure that what they say is accurate. Participants must allow themselves (and others) to openly express joy, anger, fear, and shame.

It is frowned upon during group therapy to give people “advice” and tell people what theyshould or should not do.” It is more appropriate to give “feedback” and use “I” language and tell people, “If I were in your situation, I would…” instead. An individual can only speak for himself/herself and should not attempt to make decisions for the other group member. Establishing this boundary makes it clear that what’s right for one person may not be right for another and that respecting others is vital to the healing process.


Hands held in support


Feedback should be constructive, not hurtful. For example, it is not constructive to tell someone that their opinions are “stupid” without offering concise, specific suggestions and explanations as to why the individual’s logic is perhaps unsound. This method of constructive criticism helps the individual see the error of their ways without feeling picked on or personally victimized. Every group member should show each other respect and try to listen with genuine interest.

Process group discussions are supposed to be focused on the problems occurring in the present because these are the topics that a person is most capable of resolving. Topics related to past events can be mentioned, but they must be brought to the present. For instance, members may talk about their current feelings about past experiences and then go on to talk about what they are going to do about those feelings in the present. Discussions should not be focused on the cause of the problem, but instead on how to fix them. Group members should avoid focusing blame, and instead accept responsibility for their thoughts, feelings, and actions. Saying words/phrases like “maybe,” “perhaps,” “might,” and “don’t know,” allows for diversion of the issue, so using them should be avoided.


Types of Process Groups

The main types of process groups used for treating drug addiction are psychoeducation, skill development, cognitive-behavior, supportive, and interpersonal therapies. Psychoeducation involves watching videos about addiction and discussing feelings that the video elicits. Cognitive-behavior therapy involves focusing on understanding one’s own thoughts and resulting reactions. Interpersonal therapy focuses on how one’s thoughts and behaviors affect personal relationships.

Although process groups can focus on any of these five topics individually, one process group may tackle multiple topics. Some of the methods Two Dreams therapists engage in include anger management, cognitive behavioral, conflict resolution, early recovery, health and wellness, life-skills training, meditation, psychodrama, psychoeducation, relapse prevention, substance abuse education, supportive, trauma, and 12-step psychoeducation.


Maximize Your Benefit From Group Therapy

As with any type of therapy, you get out of it what you put into it. In other words, the more you share and open up to the group, the better the results. To get the most out of therapy, define your goals for attending group therapy and focus on achieving them. Actively participate in discussions, identify your self-destructive behaviors, and develop new strategies for reacting and dealing with stress. Changing the way you act is difficult, but it is the only way to progress and conquer the challenges of drug addiction.


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