Mental illness and substance use disorders (SUDs) are common in the U.S. That’s the conclusion reached in two separate studies, the first of which comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). It revealed that an estimated 61 million Americans used illicit drugs in 2021. For reference, 61 million is approximately 21% of the U.S. population. The second study is from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and it found that nearly 10 million Americans have a severe mental illness. Sometimes, there is an overlap between addiction and mental illness. Another SAMHSA study revealed 9.2 million American adults were diagnosed with a co-occurring disorder in 2021. While these statistics are alarming, there is some good news. Many people are taking advantage of group psychotherapy offered in most licensed rehab facilities to help them get their lives back on track, especially those struggling with a co-occurring disorder.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is a Co-occurring Disorder?
- 2 What Causes a Co-occurring Disorder?
- 3 One-On-One Psychotherapy vs. Group Psychotherapy
- 4 When Group Psychotherapy Might Be Worth Considering
- 5 What Kind of Group Psychotherapy Is Available to Individuals With an Addiction Problem or Co-occurring Disorder?
- 6 Experiential Therapy
- 7 Benefits of Group Therapy: Finding Strength in Numbers
- 8 How Effective Is Group Psychotherapy?
What Is a Co-occurring Disorder?
In short, a co-occurring disorder is a clinical term that denotes the existence of a substance use disorder alongside a mental illness. An example of such a disorder would be someone who struggles with an opioid addiction while simultaneously battling depression. But that’s only one example. An addiction to any known illicit substance combined with any of the following mental illnesses can constitute a co-occurring disorder:
- Social anxiety, social skills, and mood disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Personality disorders
The substances individuals with a co-occurring disorder abuse the most include alcohol, hallucinogens, marijuana, opioids, and stimulants.
What Causes a Co-occurring Disorder?
Like substance use disorders, co-occurring disorders can sometimes be genetic. If an individual has an immediate family member with an addiction and mental health problem, they are at an increased risk of being met with the same fate at some point in their lifetime. Some people with an existing mental illness turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and, as a result, fall victim to addiction. Some develop mental health disorders due to changes in brain function and brain structure brought on by years of drug or alcohol abuse. Both of these cases constitute a co-occurring disorder. Irrespective of causation, overcoming a co-occurring disorder requires undergoing traditional addiction recovery treatments and some form of counseling to regain control over one’s life. Most licensed rehab providers use group treatment to treat multiple people struggling with the same or similar mental illnesses when addiction is a factor.
One-On-One Psychotherapy vs. Group Psychotherapy
According to an American group psychotherapy association – the American Psychiatric Association (APA), one-on-one psychotherapy involves mental health professionals working with someone individually to help them cope with or overcome addiction, mental disorder, or an emotional challenge. Group psychotherapy is a type of group therapy that entails a mental health counselor working with a small group of people with similar experiences/similar issues, typically 6 to 12, to help them collectively cope with or overcome addiction, mental illness, or an emotional challenge through a specialized treatment intervention to improve patients’ mental health care, self-esteem, and well-being.
Most rehab facilities that treat individuals with a drug or alcohol problem alongside a mental illness, which is, by definition, a co-occurring disorder, offer integrated treatments that include traditional addiction recovery, including detox assistance, combined with one-on-one or group therapy with a licensed mental health counselor. The same applies to emotional challenges and mental illnesses that do not include addiction.
When Group Psychotherapy Might Be Worth Considering
Studies show group psychotherapy is highly beneficial for anyone who needs help overcoming a co-occurring disorder. While there is truth in that, they are not the only ones who can benefit from such therapy sessions. Group psychotherapy can also benefit someone new to mental health or addiction recovery by helping them to feel less alone. That said, group therapy doesn’t always mean being surrounded by strangers or others battling an addiction or mental health problem. It can comprise counseling sessions with family members. Because of the emotional toll addiction and mental illness can take on an individual’s loved ones, many mental health counselors will encourage family members to join in on therapy sessions. Individuals and families in these or similar situations should consider group psychotherapy.
What Kind of Group Psychotherapy Is Available to Individuals With an Addiction Problem or Co-occurring Disorder?
When trying to overcome a co-occurring or run-of-the-mill mental illness, some treatments work better than others. Most of the over 14,500 licensed rehab facilities in the U.S. are mindful of this. For that reason, many offer various forms of psychotherapy to help individuals get their lives back on track, some of which include
Commonly referred to as CBT, cognitive-behavioral therapy is a structured and goal-oriented form of psychotherapy that can change specific behavior by changing someone’s thought patterns. Individuals in group CBT sessions learn how to deal with challenges in healthier and more constructive ways when they arise. Most sessions last 8 to 16 weeks, depending on group size, the age of the participants, and the presenting issue. According to a study published by Frontiers, a publisher of peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journals, CBT has proven effective in helping 74% and 78% of people suffering from anxiety and depression, respectively. Such findings are noteworthy since anxiety and depression are the two mental illnesses most closely associated with co-occurring disorders. Along with addiction, anxiety, and depression, CBT can help people overcome or better cope with eating disorders, insomnia, personality disorders, and chronic pain.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy
According to the Cleveland Clinic, a non-profit academic medical center in Cleveland, Ohio, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is ideal for those who find controlling intense, negative emotions challenging. DBT sessions with a licensed mental health counselor typically last 5 to 6 months, and they teach individuals how to use mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness to cope with triggers that can give way to mental illness, addiction, or both. According to a separate study from Stony Brook Neurosciences Institute, this particular form of psychotherapy can also help individuals overcome or better cope with the following:
- Eating disorders
- Overwhelming emotions
- Physical or emotional trauma
- Relationship-based conflicts or arguments
- Substance use disorders
- Suicidal ideations
Experiential therapy is one of the more unique forms of psychotherapy some rehab facilities use to help individuals overcome addiction, co-occurring disorders, and mental illnesses absent an addiction component. For those unfamiliar with it, experiential therapy entails using role play, props, music, art, and other activities to process negative emotions. Studies show this particular form of psychotherapy can benefit individuals suffering from a major depressive disorder (MDD) or a co-occurring disorder where depression is a component. And that’s because it enables individuals to forgive and be more compassionate to themselves. Along with depression and addiction, experiential therapy can help individuals overcome or better cope with the following:
- Anger management
- Anxiety disorders
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Chronic pain
- Eating disorders
- Grief and loss
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Personality disorders
- Relationship and family issues
- Shame and guilt
- Emotional trauma
Benefits of Group Therapy: Finding Strength in Numbers
Both one-on-one and group psychotherapy sessions can help people break free from addiction, overcome mental illness, and go on to live an immensely fulfilling life. What makes group psychotherapy the more appealing choice for some is the power of shared experiences it offers. Indeed, a unique healing experience comes with being surrounded by others equally committed to getting their lives back on track after struggling with mental illness or addiction for months or even years. But there is more to group psychotherapy than that alone. Additional benefits that come from choosing group psychotherapy over individual therapy sessions include
Combats Feelings of Vulnerability
For any form of therapy to be successful, individuals have to let their guard down and allow themselves to be completely vulnerable. And that’s not easy, especially in one-on-one therapy sessions with a mental health counselor. Group psychotherapy allows people to open up in ways they ordinarily wouldn’t. When one person in group therapy sessions opens up about their struggles with addiction, mental illness, or both, others often feel compelled to do the same. In short, the group dynamic allows individuals to find strength in numbers.
Creates a Sense of Community
In addition to encouraging individuals to open up and make themselves more vulnerable than they have probably ever been, group psychotherapy sessions with a licensed therapist can create a sense of community. And that’s important; studies show people in group psychotherapy environments naturally want to bond with others. That bond gives them someone to lean on when things get rough. And they will invariably get rough. According to a study from SAMHSA, close to or more than half of the people in an addiction recovery program relapse before completing the program. Having someone or an entire group of people, you can turn to for support groups when temptation, cravings, and other triggers rear their ugly heads can help keep you on the straight and narrow.
Reduces Feelings of Isolation
One thing that most people who struggle with addiction or mental illness can relate to is feeling isolated. And that’s true whether that feeling of isolation is self-imposed or the result of people turning their backs on them because they have a mental health or addiction problem. Either way, it lends itself to a lonely existence. Group therapy helps eliminate feelings of isolation because individuals are in a safe, supportive environment with others working toward a shared goal.
Widens Perspective and Provides First-Hand Evidence of Improvement
Although individuals in group psychotherapy are all working to achieve a shared goal, they each have a unique story. That means everyone in group therapy can see things from different perspectives and discover coping skills or strategies they would have otherwise never known about. In doing so, they get to witness firsthand the successes and failures of others and then use that information to guide them through their addiction recovery journey.
How Effective Is Group Psychotherapy?
Because of the many studies showing its effectiveness, group psychotherapy has grown in popularity over the last few years. That is interesting since group therapy accounts for only 5% of counseling sessions with a licensed mental health counselor in the U.S. Many studies also show the dropout and relapse rate among individuals in group therapy to overcome addiction, mental illness, or both is much lower than that of individuals in one-on-one counseling sessions with a licensed mental health counselor. In terms of the effectiveness of one-on-one and group psychotherapy counseling with a therapist, both are about the same. In addition to lower dropout and relapse rates, group psychotherapy is far more cost-effective than individual or one-on-one therapy. That’s the conclusion reached in an American Psychological Association study, which found that if more mental health and addiction recovery programs offered group therapy instead of individual, one-on-one counseling, it would save the U.S. roughly $5.6 billion in mental health costs.
In summary, addiction and mental illness are common in the U.S., but rehab facilities staffed with licensed physicians and addiction experts are equally common. The same applies to facilities offering group therapy with a licensed mental health counselor. All that to say, there are places individuals can turn to when they are ready to conquer their demons and better their lives. To learn more about group therapy and why it’s becoming a go-to for helping people overcome addiction and mental illness, consider contacting Miracles Recovery Center, a premier drug rehab center in Port St. Lucie, FL, specializing in mental health and substance use disorders.
When is group therapy not appropriate?