Last Updated on October 31, 2022 by Dr. Alberto Solà

Many people think support groups and group therapy are the same thing, but other than including the word “group,” they are actually quite different.  While both (or neither) may be just what you need to support and move forward on your recovery, it’s important to know the differences between these two things in order to determine which will benefit you most at each stage in your recovery.

What is a Support Group?

A support group, simply stated, is a group of people that meets regularly to support one another through a difficult time or issue.   Although support groups for addiction are probably the groups with which you are most personally familiar in your recovery journey, support groups exist for all kinds of things.  There are support groups for addicts, alcoholics, friends and families of addicts and alcoholics, people suffering from all types of illnesses and diseases, single parents, people who have lost a loved one, victims of gun or domestic violence, people who have incarcerated family members, people with sick children, and so many more; the possibilities are endless, and there is likely a support group out there for any difficult situation you can imagine.

In a support group, members often come and go in a rather fluid manner.  Regular attendance is not mandatory nor expected, and some participants may attend for a few weeks, then not for a few weeks, then return later on when they need more support.  Minimal commitment is required, and the group composition may be very different from week to week.  Group size is usually rather small, in order to allow all who wish to participate to do so, but it fluctuates, and may be bigger for some sessions than others.

Support group facilitators can be anyone, really; no special license or even training is required.  The facilitator of a support group is there to do just that – facilitate.   He or she will keep the group organized and the conversation moving forward, and will seek out themes to help steer the group in a cohesive direction together.

The simple purpose of a support group is right in the name – support groups exist to help support people in a group setting.  It provides people with a support network, and a reminder that they are not alone.  Meeting with likeminded people who have had similar experiences can help individuals to cope with their own struggles by seeing the ways other cope with theirs.  Support groups help participants to identify healthy coping techniques and, with the support of others, helps them to move forward on their path or with their lives in general.

What is Group Therapy?

Group therapy, on the other hand, offers more than just support.  Although like support groups, group therapy involves a group of people meeting regularly, it also helps people work on their internal mental and emotional issues and helps them move towards change.  Rather than just offering support, group therapy is true therapy, just in a group setting.   Group therapy is often more affordable than individual therapy, and studies show that it is in many ways just as effective, if not even more effective, as it would be individually.

Group therapy also offers support to participants, but it is much more structured, and really focuses on the individual growth of each member with the help of the facilitator.  While a support group’s aim is to help you cope, group therapy’s ultimate goal is to help you change.  It is through group therapy that individuals are given the opportunity to work on their internal issues with others in a group setting, with the desired end result being deep personal change.

Unlike support group facilitators, who are necessary for group flow and organization but are not specifically trained or licensed, group therapy facilitators are usually licensed therapists or doctors or psychologists.  These leaders actually lead the group, rather than letting things unfold on their own as they would in a support group.  Group therapy facilitators educate group members, and use specific therapeutic interventions to help the group advance and grow as individuals, together.

Since the goal of group therapy sessions is growth, it’s important that all members are committed to participation and attendance.  Most group therapy groups require individuals to sign on for at least three months initially, if not more.  It takes time for participants to get to know one another, and it is once everyone is comfortable that the most effective work takes place.  If a participant chooses to leave the group, or if the leader feels that it is time, that member will often attend a few more sessions to say goodbyes and to close out of the group in a healthy way for all parties involved.  Also, group therapy groups tend to be a bit smaller than support groups simply so everyone has a chance to participate and can really have the opportunity to dig deep with just a few other people that they will come to know extremely well.

Which is Right for You?

It’s possible either a support group and group therapy is right for you, or perhaps neither is appropriate for your situation.  If you are someone who feels very uncomfortable in a group setting, you may benefit more from online support groups or individualized therapy, one on one with a therapist.  However, many people – even very shy people – report that they have been greatly helped by one or both of these types of group meetings.  Support groups can be helpful for almost anyone.  It is helpful to know that other people are going through similar struggles, and we can all benefit from hearing others’ strategies for coping.  Group therapy, though, may be challenging for some; the level of commitment and the intensity of the work may not work for everyone.  Talk to your individual therapist or rehabilitation facility staff to help determine which course of action is best for you.

At Clear Sky Recovery, we will be happy to help you decide what type of aftercare will be most supportive for you after your time at our facility.  At our clinic in Cancun, Mexico, we offer innovative ibogaine detox treatment to help you break free of your addiction.  Our intake specialists are standing by to answer your questions about this type of therapy and all that we can offer you in your individualized and unique situation.  Please call us today; we look forward to hearing from you, and to helping you take the first step on your recovery journey to a new, happy, and healthy life ahead.