Skill Development Group Therapy for Substance Abuse

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Last Edited: December 28, 2023

Reisto Belovich

Clinically Reviewed
Jim Brown, CDCA

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

What is Skill Development Group Therapy for Substance Abuse?

When pursuing recovery in treatment, it is likely that your treatment plan will possess several methods to best accommodate for your individual needs. While many forms of psychotherapy and other groups possess intellectual prospects in the therapeutic process, there are some groups that specialize on the application of knowledge. Skill Development Group Therapy is an effective way for members to develop, hone and practice skills to function in the outside world and be able to handle stressors and avoid potential relapses. Combined with adequate knowledge, these groups equip members with the capability of applying their knowledge into a successful recovery.

Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing. – Dr. Rollo May

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 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 history of group therapy could be considered to be more unconventional, as the elements surrounding the formation of the group environment was formulated unintentionally. Also, group therapy was not initially utilized in the field of psychology, instead it was used in a medical capacity.

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.

Beneficiaries of Skill Development Group Therapy.

When examining the uses skills development therapy, it would benefit one to consider how learning new skills would benefit you specifically. While skill developments groups generally benefit most members, some particular individuals generally benefit the most with new-found skills and tools:

  • Individuals who are needing to develop new coping skills regarding directly to substance abuse and addiction. Examples of these skills would be dealing with cravings, avoiding relapse triggers, or refusing to take drugs or alcohol when encouraged by others to use.
  • Individuals who need to develop skills indirectly related to substance abuse and addiction. Examples of these skills would be anger management, relieving and managing stress, or effectively solving problems.
  • Individuals who need to develop life skills to function in society drug-free. Examples would be managing finances, home-owning responsibilities, self-care, and other important skills.

People help you, or you help them, and when we offer or receive help, we take in each other. And we are saved. – Anne Lamott

Techniques in Skill Development Group Therapy

While many individuals may solely consider the teaching of skills and tools for therapeutic purposes, there are other techniques that competent group leaders need to employ in order to ensure the best quality care for each member. While the skills may vary depending on purpose of the group or the group leader, but several elements often remain the same.

  • The process of learning and practicing new skills can be difficult for some members, especially if they’re still new to recovery and still experiencing a shift in brain chemicals.
  • It is vital for group leaders to be sensitive to members who have been passive or non-assertive throughout his/her life. Individuals may be in a fragile state while learning to stand up for him/herself. Group leaders can support and encourage members by holding positive expectations for progress and change, and not demeaning or shaming members who appear to be overwhelmed by the change.
  • Group leaders should also be mindful of the ramifications of behavioral changes in each group member. Many behavioral alterations that appear to be straightforward may possess powerful impacts at a deeper level of cognitive and emotional functioning. For example, assertiveness may evoke some feelings of shame and unworthiness. Some individuals who are beginning to express new assertive competence may experience conflicts with deep feelings of inadequacy or low self‐esteem. Later down the line, that member may learn a new behavior, but not be able to effectively incorporate it in a skill-set of positive action.
  • Group leaders will often have members who may encounter boredom at times. While this prospect may not always be commonly identified or even considered, many members may become disinterested in the content of the sessions. In order to retain energy within the group, leaders can switch topics to more interesting subjects, or even cover multiple topics within each group.
  • An individual’s feedback from other members regarding his/her progress is vital in increasing the effectiveness of implementing the new skills. This interaction may bring about new insight to these new skills, as well as provide encouragement that members are indeed making progress.

Strengths in Treatment

  • Skill Development Group Therapy is proven by evidenced-based research to be an effective form of treatment.
  • Skill Development Group Therapy is capable of being used in combination with other therapies for a more holistic treatment experience.
  • Skill Development Group Therapy is capable of being utilized after treatment is completed for additional information support to avoid possible relapses.
  • Skill Development Group Therapy present financial efficiency, as several people are receiving treatment at the same time.

Conflicts in Treatment

  • Some individuals are not mentally capable of participating in Skill Development Group Therapy, or unable to find them helpful.
  • Facilitators and leaders have to be certified and competent, groups that lack a legitimate facilitator may actually damage a group rather than help it.
  • If you are very worried about the possibility of violated confidentiality, individual therapy would be a more viable option for self-disclosure.

If you think you would deal better with other therapies or groups, click here to view additional 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: