Psychoeducational Group Therapy For Substance Abuse

Last Edited: September 30, 2020

Patricia Howard, LMFT, CADC

Clinically Reviewed
Jim Brown, CDCA

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and certified by an addiction professional.

What is Psychoeducational Group Therapy for Substance Abuse?

When going through rehab, it is likely that your treatment plan will include a few different methods to best facilitate your healing. One generally accepted approach to recovery is called Psycho-educational Group Therapy. Psychoeducational, as the title suggests, Indicates the inclusion of informative and instructional elements in the group process. This type of therapy can either come in the form of a classroom setting, or more of an interactive group setting. These groups give the addicted person the education needed to understand addiction and its processes. Knowledge is power, and giving addicted people that power allows them to better participate in the rehabilitation effort.

Tough love and brutal truth from strangers are far more valuable than band-aids and half-truths from invested friends, who don’t want to see you suffer any more than you have.” – Shannon L. Alder

Therapeutic Factors in Group Therapy.

Irvin Yalom was credited with presenting eleven therapeutic factors that are generally only found in the group therapy environment.

  • Instilling Hope: This concept is prevalent and effective in many groups, as many group members may be making positive progress in recovery, providing extra encouragement for other members.
  • Universality: This concept provides an element of support, as members in group will find that they are not the only ones struggling with issues.
  • Imparting Information: This concept consists of members gaining new information on the nature of addiction from group leaders through direct instruction.
  • Altruism: This concept consists of members gaining more and more self‐esteem by helping other groups members.
  • Corrective Recapitulation of the Primary Family Group: This concept suggests that groups offer a family‐like environment where long-lasting and unresolved issues are able to be revisited resolved in a healthy manner.
  • Developing Socializing Techniques: This concept consists of group members providing feedback. Other member’s impressions can give insight into one’s ineffective social conduct that might inhibit relationships.
  • Imitative Behavior: This concept allows members to imitate behavior of others for constructive purposes and additional insight.
  • Interpersonal Learning: This concept consists of groups as a whole correcting any distorted perceptions or beliefs of others.
  • Group Cohesiveness: This concept suggests that groups provide a safe environment for people to be honest with each other.
  • Catharsis: This concept suggests that groups help people in learning to express their feelings in a healthy manner and reveal deeper issues.
  • Existential Factors: This concept posits that groups can aid people in coming to terms with hard truths, such as unfairness in life and other hard realities.

History of Group Therapy

The development of group therapy can be considered to be a more unorthodox discovery, as factors surrounding the formation of group testing was formulated unintentionally. In addition, group therapy was actually utilized in the medical field before psychologists ever thought of utilizing it in psychotherapy.

strataThe main individual responsible for noticing the medical benefits of group therapy was Joseph Henry Pratt. Pratt initially worked in a tuberculosis ward. Since there was not as much room in the hospital room, many patients had to be in the same room together. Pratt then witnessed that the patients who were interacting with one another saw a reduction in negative psychological symptoms associated with the disease. Since then, Pratt began to advocate for the use of group settings for psychological reasons.

People Who would Benefit Most from Psychoeducational Therapy.

When considering the possibility of group therapy, it would benefit one to take into account how groups would specifically benefit you. While psychoeducational groups benefit most of its members, there are particular individuals who generally benefit the most:

  • People who are either in denial about their use, or are considering that substance use is a problem but hasn’t made the commitment to recovery yet.
  • People are new to recovery and need to learn more about the nature of addiction to ensure a more positive treatment outcome.
  • Families of an individual in recovery who want to learn more about addiction in order to further assist and support their loved ones.
  • Clients in recovery that want to learn more about additional outside resources to assist in recovery.

Indeed, the evidence supporting the efficacy of group therapy, and the prevailing sentiment of the mental health profession, are sufficiently strong that it would be difficult to defend the adequacy of the inpatient unit that attempted to operate without a small group program. – Dr. Irvin Yalom

Techniques in Psychoeducational Group Therapy

While many individuals consider the delivery of information for educational purposes, there are numerous techniques that a competent group leader would need to employ to ensure the best possible care for each member’s needs.

  • The leader should and create and maintain an environment of support and direct involvement. The leader should strongly promote active participation, rather than more passive note taking and other anti-social means of acquiring information. To help with this concept, the group leader would need to seek to limit the amount of time in the group sessions where he/she gives a lecture, and dedicate more concentration on facilitating discussion within the group. Members who are withdrawn and don’t say much should be encouraged to speak their thoughts and feelings to create a more inclusive environment. Specific examples and exercises often include role playing, structured experiences and group problem-solving exercises to generate active learning.
  • The leader should promote the prospect of group participants taking responsibility for their own learning, instead of passing on informational responsibility to the leader of the group. Leaders can help implement this philosophy of learning by letting members set their own agreements and social boundaries. The leader can also implement this idea more effectively by de-emphasizing the role of the leader, and promoting open, respectful and honest communication between members.
  • Group leaders should be aware of learning preferences for each member. According to learning theories, people usually respond best to either visual learning, auditory learning, or kinesthetic (actively doing a task or project) learning . Since everyone may either learn effectively in a particular area, or do not learn well with a particular area, leaders should be able to employ auditory lectures and vocal interactions, visual aids and documents to read, and group activities to maximize the learning efficiency of the group.
  • Leaders should take into account the psychological and cognitive states of group members, especially members in early stages of recovery. Due to chemical imbalances in the brain, newly recovering group members may have some difficulty taking in and processing new information. Therapists and group leaders should be aware of these potential impairments and take extra measure to ensure more comprehensive learning strategies.

Strengths in Treatment

  • Psychoeducational Group Therapy has been proven by research to be an effective from of treatment.
  • Psychoeducational Group Therapy can be used in conjunction with individual therapy for a holistic treatment process.
  • Psychoeducational Group Therapy can be administered after the treatment process for additional support to prevent potential relapses.
  • Psychoeducational Group Therapy can be more cost effective as multiple people are simultaneously receiving treatment.

Conflicts with Treatment

  • Some people may not be mentally competent to participate in group therapies, or find them to be helpful.
  • Group leaders must be competent and certified, any groups that do not have legitimate mediators may cause more harm to members than good.
  • If you are overly concerned about your own privacy, individual therapy would be a more viable option for self-disclosure.

If you would prefer other individual therapies, or other groups, click here to view more options.

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2005. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 41.) 5 Stages of Treatment. Available from: