By Dr. Tracey Bassett
In deciding what to write about this month, I drew from Dr. Glazer’s most recent post in which he said, “I now understand that my most important role as a physician and therapist for alcoholism and addiction is to help provide a safe space, a trusting, mutually respectful relationship where I can help guide a person through their own recovery process.” I could not agree more. One of the things that I think makes our practice so unique is that when we meet with a client for the first time, we conduct an assessment for what the client really needs. Which therapist will they work best with? Which modality of treatment will they respond the best to? What do they feel like they need? We then take all of these factors into consideration and make a treatment plan that works for them. We try to create a plan in which the individual client is getting what they truly need in an environment in which they can feel respected, connected, and supported.
In working to identify key aspects in recovery, we started to see a gap in treatment. A majority of clients seeking substance use treatment report something similar- feelings that no one in their close circle quite understands what they are going through. As a result, they often feel alone in the process. As doctors, we try to validate and normalize these common feelings. Sometimes this is enough, but a lot of times it is not.
In addition to individual therapy, some clients work well with twelve step or other peer led recovery programs as part of their recovery process. For example, twelve step meetings can be a really great place for social support and validation, which subsequently reduces isolation, guilt and shame. This is one of the reasons that these programs can work to support sustained recovery. However, I have found that a lot of clients want the peer support that meetings provide, but they are turned off by other aspects of the program that they feel are too “all or nothing.” In starting to research alternative options that provide peer support, I’ve found that there are not a lot; small cohesive group work in a private practice setting for high functioning clients is missing from the treatment landscape. As doctors, we are able to provide a safe supportive environment in our office, but what about an environment in which peers can support each other through mutual experiences?
So why is this so important? Among other things, groups are helpful in providing positive feedback and support, decreasing isolation, sharing useful coping mechanisms, challenging self judgement and negative self talk, giving the opportunity to witness recovery of others, and providing support to members should they stumble in recovery. A cohesive group can be a very powerful tool in recovery.
I, along with my colleague Dr. Gottlich, have had the pleasure of seeing the benefits of cohesive group work first hand. After a lot of thought and planning, we started our first group at the practice in September 2019. After six months, the group is going strong. We have been witnesses to the type of unconditional support, and subsequent rewards, that a group can provide. Although Dr. Gottlich and I are able to provide the space, it is truly the work of the group members that provide a safe and supportive space to navigate the ups and downs of recovery. I feel lucky to be a part of the process and I hope that we can continue to build group work as a larger part of the practice, as it is a powerful tool that allows a lot of people know that they are not alone in their recovery.
Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy (2005). Retrieved From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22514847