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Group Therapy for Veterans Addressing Substance Use and Psychological Health Concerns

Last Updated: March 1, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Upon entering a program for substance use treatment, individuals can anticipate engaging in various therapeutic interventions, including both individual and group therapy sessions. For veterans on the path to recovery, group therapy sessions specifically designed to acknowledge their distinctive experiences and needs are crucial for their rehabilitation.

Group Therapy in Rehabilitation: A Nurturing Network

Group therapy offers therapeutic interventions in a group setting rather than individually. For veterans undergoing rehabilitation, group therapy often forms a key component of their daily regimen. Participating in these sessions, veterans find themselves in a nurturing network, gaining the chance to bond with peers facing similar hurdles, fostering an environment conducive to positive transformations.

Addressing Psychological Health in Group Therapy

Veterans enrolled in rehabilitation programs are likely to engage in group therapy to manage psychological health issues. Frequently addressed mental health conditions in such settings include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Dual diagnosis of substance use and mental health disorders

Research involving veterans with PTSD indicates that group therapy is equally effective as individual therapy in diminishing symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts. Another study highlighted its effectiveness in lessening the symptoms of both depression and PTSD.

Considering that 14–16% of veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from either depression or PTSD, the effectiveness of group therapy in treating these conditions offers a glimmer of hope.

Advantages of Group Therapy for Veterans

The Veterans Administration endorses group therapy for its benefits to veterans. A clinical psychologist with the VA outlines several advantages of group therapy for this group:

  • Enhanced social competencies: Engaging in group therapy aids in developing and refining healthy communication skills, thereby enhancing social competencies.
  • Emotional connectivity: Tackling the challenges associated with veteran life can lead to feelings of isolation. Group therapy fosters emotional bonds through shared experiences.
  • Improved coping mechanisms: Such sessions often serve as a platform for learning and honing new coping strategies.
  • Support network access: Fellow group members can offer significant support, helping individuals feel understood and less isolated.
  • Safe environment: Group therapy provides a secure space for veterans to share their stories, surrounded by peers who empathize with their struggles.
  • Exposure to different viewpoints: These sessions offer insights into how others manage mental and emotional health challenges, presenting new, potentially helpful perspectives.
  • Increased empathy and understanding: Listening to and supporting others in group sessions can enhance one's capacity for empathy.

Group Therapy Sessions: Themes Explored

The themes tackled in group therapy sessions vary with the therapeutic approach adopted. However, common topics for veterans include:

  • Navigating the transition back to civilian life
  • Enhancing family relationships
  • Managing everyday stress effectively
  • Understanding mental health disorder symptoms, like PTSD or depression
  • Strategies for mitigating mental health symptoms
  • Mitigating the negative impact of substance misuse
  • Prevention of substance use relapse
  • Altering detrimental thought patterns

Therapeutic Modalities in Group Therapy

Various therapeutic techniques are employed in group therapy, with some specifically tailored for veterans, such as:

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) for PTSD, facilitating the exploration of trauma's impact on thought processes to help veterans move towards healing.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), offered in a group setting to assist veterans in changing harmful thought patterns and building social support.
  • Present-Centered Therapy, focusing on educating about common PTSD symptoms and improving present interpersonal relationships and behaviors.
  • Mindfulness-based interventions, teaching stress management and relaxation techniques, encouraging present-moment awareness without judgment to alleviate negative emotions and stress.

Facilitation of Group Therapy Sessions

Qualified professionals, such as clinical social workers, counselors, or psychologists with veteran-specific training, should facilitate these sessions. For instance, clinicians at The Recovery Village leading our FORTITUDE program have undergone training in military cultural competency, ensuring an understanding of veterans' unique needs. 

Frequency of Group Therapy Across Treatment Levels

The frequency of group therapy participation varies with the treatment level. Inpatient and residential centers typically offer more frequent sessions due to the structured environment and on-site living arrangements. Partial hospitalization programs may provide daily group therapy, while intensive outpatient programs might schedule sessions two to three times per week.

Maximizing Group Therapy Benefits for Veterans

For veterans dealing with substance use and/or concurrent mental health conditions, engaging actively in group therapy is key to reaping its full benefits. This involves maintaining an open mindset and participating in discussions.

Encouraging openness and active listening within the group can lead to the acquisition of valuable coping strategies and insights from fellow veterans.

Despite the common apprehension about sharing in a group setting, such spaces are designed to be safe and supportive, enabling significant progress through shared vulnerability.

Exploring the FORTITUDE Specialty Track for Veterans

The Recovery Village offers specialized support for veterans through our FORTITUDE program, addressing substance use and co-occurring mental health conditions like PTSD and depression. Our Veteran Advocates are ready to assist with the intake process. Give them a call today. 

Sources

Resick, Patricia A., et al. “Effect of Group vs Individual Cognitive Processing Therapy in Active-Duty Military Seeking Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” JAMA Psychiatry, 2017. Accessed November 12, 2023. 

Lamp, K.E., et al. “Individual and group cognitive processing therapy: Effectiveness across two Veterans Affairs posttraumatic stress disorder treatment clinics.” Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 2019. Accessed November 12, 2023. 

Inoue, Catarina, et al. “Veteran and Military Mental Health Issues.” StatPearls Publishing, January 2023. Accessed November 12, 2023. 

Patín-Betancourt, Yahaira. “Benefits of Group Therapy Sessions for PTSD.” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, June 26, 2023. Accessed November 13, 2023. 

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “PTSD.” August 23, 2023. Accessed November 13, 2023.

Thompson-Hollands, Johanna, et al. “Alliance across group treatment for veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder: The role of interpersonal trauma and treatment type.” Group Dynamics, March 2018. Accessed November 13, 2023. 

Marchand, William R., et al. “Mindfulness-based interventions for military veterans: A systematic review and analysis of the literature.” Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, February 2021. Accessed November 13, 2023. 

Medicaid Innovation Accelerator Program. “Overview of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Care Clinical Guidelines: A Resource for States Developing SUD Delivery System Reforms.” April 2017. Accessed November 13, 2023.