Liven up your treatment schedule with these tried-and-true substance abuse group topics.
If you’re a certified or licensed substance abuse counselor, your event schedule likely involves process or themed groups for those recovering from drug or alcohol addictions. While individual counseling is crucial in someone’s recovery, attending substance abuse groups can prove healing for other reasons. Listening to and learning from peers who are traveling the same difficult journey and also committed to sobriety brings an entirely different element into the counseling process.
Group therapy creates a deeper sense of self-reflection and also teaches participants how to relate to others, challenge their perceptions, and build relationships, which they may have had trouble doing while struggling with addictions. The key to facilitating intelligent conversation is mixing up the substance abuse group topics regularly.
Another option is to switch back and forth between process groups and themed groups. Themed groups, also known as structured groups, are usually led by a facilitator on a particular topic, such as anxiety. The session will often begin with a brief lecture, followed up by group discussion and activities. Only one theme is covered in each scheduled theme group.
Process groups are usually less structured, though a counselor will still act as a facilitator to lead conversations or reign them in if necessary. Process groups can focus on one or many themes, and participants are encouraged to address any issues they feel are important with the group. The key element of a process group is interaction and shared feedback between attendees. Both process and themed groups work well with clients on the road to recovery, as long as the substance abuse group topics challenge them and interest them enough to participate.
8 Substance abuse group topics to implement in your practice
Sometimes, the toughest part group therapy is just getting participants to open up. Anxieties are high for new groups, and even those that have been together for a while can go stale and need something to shake up the atmosphere. Icebreakers at the beginning of any group help to break the tension. One example of an icebreaker is asking each participant to share two truths and one lie with the group, and have the other members guess which “fact” is untrue.
One of the most significant substance abuse group topics is triggers. It will be addressed many times in a process group, but the topic is so important, you can plan an entire themed group around it. Yes, individual attendees will all have different triggers, but by listening carefully, they may identify secondary, smaller triggers in another member’s list that they hadn’t considered in their own lives.
3. Stay-busy activities
Encourage participants to keep a list of things they can do when they’re confronted with triggers or are feeling vulnerable or anxious. Cravings can come on at any time and in any situation, so pass out index cards, pens, and let the group take notes on distractions and coping methods, such as phoning a friend, going for a jog, cooking a healthy snack or meal, listening to healing music, or writing in a journal.
4. Prepare a speech
If your clients had the opportunity to speak to a group of middle-school children about staying away from drugs, what would they say? Ask them to consider what stories would be appropriate or not appropriate to share. If the conversation is intense, challenge them to discuss whether their speech would change depending on the demographics of who they were speaking to. What would they say to high schoolers or college students?
5. Challenge perceptions
Everyone perceives experiences and interactions differently. For this topic, give each person a card detailing a situation or conversation, and have them read it to the group and explain what they think is happening or how they think the characters on their card feel. Then, have the group follow up to discuss whether they agree or disagree with the reader’s perception and why.
6. Role models
Every group member should discuss who their role models are or were, and what about their behavior or personality they admire. If they bring up a person who was, but no longer is, a role model, make sure they address why their opinion changed. As the facilitator, you can ask follow-up questions such as, “Do you think you could emulate these traits?”, “Do your heroes have faults?”, and “How do their flaws make you feel about them?”
7. A history lesson and planning for the future
Discuss the Prohibition and changes in the legality of certain drugs. Did you know that Sigmund Freud’s first major publication “Uber Coca” suggested that cocaine could be used to cure morphine and alcohol abuse? Instruct participants to take turns discussing the recent U.S. states to legalize marijuana, and share their feelings on how these changes will affect addiction presently and in the future.
Ask the group, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if you were to use drugs or alcohol again?” Since everyone has their own experiences when using, this is bound to bring up different answers. Then, follow up by asking how they plan on caring for themselves to prevent relapse. Self-care means different things to different people, and your clients are going to need the help coming up with ways to take care of themselves and stay away from drugs and alcohol.
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Do you facilitate any substance abuse group sessions? What topics or activities have you found helpful? Share your ideas in the comments.