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Mental Health Awareness Month

8 Substance Abuse And Recovery Group Activities

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a substance abuse and recovery metnal health provider serving as a therapist and leading a group therapy activity.

Group therapy is an excellent alternative or addition to individual sessions because it offers a different kind of therapy approach with the added benefit of social support. People recovering from substance abuse feel supported, and working with other members can be motivating. As group members share their experiences, every person feels listened to, understood, strengthened, and less alone on their journey towards wellness. Here are popular substance abuse group therapy activities providers can consider.

1. Checking In 

There are several problems that come with belonging to a group or joining one for the first time. Conversations may lack direction and others taper off as soon as they begin. Talkative members tend to outshine others, while quieter members feel left out. And, starting substance abuse group therapy activities on the right foot is important for their overall effectiveness. One way to tackle communication and inclusivity issues during group therapy is to conduct check-ins.  

A check-in happens at the beginning of a group therapy session. Members take turns introducing themselves and sharing their struggles, failures, accomplishments, questions, and dilemmas. Check-ins cultivate vital social skills, including empathy for others and awareness of personal feelings.  

As the therapist, you may lead the check-in activity by preparing a list of subjects each member can speak on. As every member expresses themselves, they become emboldened and open and learn how to express themselves. Each member offers ideas and questions which you can tackle together.

2. Meditation 

The ability to be self-aware of one’s actions and habits and practice self-regulation is one that strengthens over time. Mindfulness is not easy. Set your clients up for success by holding a group meditation session.  

A meditation session at the beginning of group therapy sets a calm and thoughtful tone. Guided meditation is an excellent ice breaker and provides an opportunity for lesson learning. You can read a passage and ask the members to take a silent moment to reflect on its insight. What’s more, you can encourage your members to take up meditation in their private time.  

As group members learn to work on their stress and anxiety by calming their minds and decluttering their thoughts, every person can reflect and consider decisions that improve their lives.  

Meditation Class

3. Music Therapy 

Ah music. That ancient source of community and comfort. Music offers relief, joy, expression and motivation for many of us. Music therapy is an excellent substance abuse group therapy activity because it provides a soothing environment for members to experience healing. There are several ways to use music therapy to deliver exceptional behavioral treatment.  

First, music provides a rhythmic meter to act as a metronome during breathing exercises and stretches. It’s an excellent addition to a group meditation session as it gently guides participants without distracting thoughts. You can play the music in the background to help clients reflect while listening to music.  

Another approach to music therapy is to encourage members to write songs and play them on an instrument. It could be a guitar, piano, flute or even the maracas or tambourine (which don’t require any musical ability). You can organize a sing-along or organize a favorite song show-and-tell. On the thought of writing songs, you may find those who are struggling to verbalize their thoughts and feelings can use music as a tool to help them express the complexities within themselves. Art therapy can be effective as well.


 4. Working The 12 Steps 

The 12 Steps guiding principles were created for alcohol addiction recovery, but they can be helpful with all forms of substance abuse therapy. The core idea behind the 12 Steps is the acceptance of powerlessness in order to embrace support from something bigger than ourselves.  

Practicing the 12 Steps helps your patients accept their weaknesses while identifying the opportunity for growth in recovery. While the original steps have their foundation in spirituality, they’re helpful for all. Members enjoy the support of the group in dealing with their substance abuse and recovery. These steps are especially comforting for members who need a guiding hand to support them through their change. 

5. Reflecting on Highs and Lows 

How can you decide if your plan or decisions were effective? How can you learn from past actions? Reflection is essential because it helps you look back on your past and learn from it. In group therapy, encouraging members to reflect and share their thoughts can help improve their future habits.  

However, not all members of your reflection circle may feel comfortable speaking up immediately. Therefore, guiding the reflection session ensures that learning happens. As the therapist, you may choose to kick off the session by asking members to share a story.  

Each participant shares an experience and goes into the specifics events that led to the situation. After understanding the “what”, guide the participant to share lessons learned. What feelings were involved and what is the meaning of the experience shared? Lastly, ask the participant to place themselves in the big picture and explore the “Now what?” What have they learned, and how can they apply the lesson to future situations? 

Another approach is to focus on one person’s questions or requests during the session. The entire group can then reflect on the topic and share their views. You can discuss relationships, triggers, mental health, recovery beliefs, relapse, frustrations with particular treatment models, or challenging social situations. If the group is too big, you can split members into small circles or have them pair up and reflect on a list of questions together.  

6. Group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 

Under your guidance, the group can use cognitive behavioral therapy to overcome a challenge together. As with any CBT session, the goal is to take members through guided talk therapy to reveal negative thinking patterns, view a situation clearly, and take a different approach.  

As each member participates, they can break the damaging thinking patterns that afflict patients undergoing substance abuse treatment. You can help participants work through emotions, feeling, situations, and actions that trigger substance use. Each member has a chance to confront previously invisible feelings, emotions, beliefs, and thoughts that came from a trigger.  

Through group support, each member can challenge thoughts, processes, and beliefs that are not only false but detrimental. With better insight and fresh perspective, individual members are better equipped to handle triggers and face issues confidently, instead of seeking temporary escape.  

Young woman gesturing during mental group therapy

7. Role-Playing 

This is an activity where participants act out situations to achieve catharsis and gain new perspective. As with any play, you guide the members to act out a proposed situation as realistically as possible, based on the protagonist’s instructions. The protagonist in this situation is one of the participants. The acting fosters trust and confidence in the group because they share crucial details to replay a real-life problem. The protagonist also receives encouragement and support from the group.  

At the end of the play, the protagonist confronts adverse responses to a problem and establishes productive ways to handle a crisis. It also resolves emotions and provides relief for participants within a safe and accepting circle.

8. Sharing Joyful Memories and Visualization 

Many clients come to group therapy unhappy and distraught. Jogging a patient’s memory to remind them of happy moments brings joy and hope into their lives. You can ask each participant to share a time in their life where they experienced genuine joy. What was the participant doing at the moment, and who were they with, what did that happy moment feel like?  

You can accompany a joyful memory session with visualization. Ask the members to visualize happy images such as a family trip to a lighthouse on the bay. Provide paper and paint or colored pencils and ask the patients to express their vision through art. The activity inspires hope, support, and a feeling of companionship that comes with sharing, all of which are essential for overcoming the challenges of substance abuse disorders.  

Siblings walking Maltese Dog

Improve Patient Outcomes with Group Therapy 

Group therapy is an excellent addition to your treatment toolbelt and we hope you’ll give some of these substance abuse group therapy activities a go. Make sure your organization is set up for success by streamlining your administrative processes so you can focus on client care. Procentive helps you secure modern, efficient, and practical solutions that help you provide more effective and efficient treatment. Schedule a demo today.  

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