Up close and interpersonal

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Read the full article in DDN Magazine

Interpersonal group therapy has huge potential to help people in their recovery. However, ongoing supervised practice and support are critical in training effective facilitators, says Dr Tim Leighton.

Anyone going to a residential or day rehab will almost certainly be asked to participate in some form of group therapy, and there is also a place for this kind of therapy at other stages of change. Participating in group therapy can be scary but it can also be exhilarating and life changing. However, it’s vital that the staff who run the therapy know what they are doing, and have the skills to help each member get what they need from the group to build and strengthen their resources for change.

Yet there is very little training available in group therapy in this country, particularly when it comes to models suitable for people with addiction problems. At Action on Addiction we have offered introductory training in interpersonal group therapy for many years, both as part of our University of Bath degree course and as standalone CPD, and while many people have found this training invaluable, it is only introductory. To master a therapy, particularly a complex group therapy model, it takes more than a week’s basic grounding, no matter how well practitioners understand the model and its application, and no matter how enthusiastic they feel about what they have learned. What is needed is ongoing supervised practice, training and support.

Many of us who work in this field are expected to practise models of counselling and therapy with fairly minimal training in the specialist interventions, and while we may have generic counselling qualifications which form a vital foundation for the work, most of this training does not include group therapy facilitation. Our cash-strapped field seems not to be able to afford to train our practitioners to the level and for the duration required to produce really skilled, confident and qualified therapists. There is a huge amount of talent and vocational energy in the field so there are beacons of good practice in many areas, but we also know that sometimes standards fall short.

We feel that practitioners deserve more, and it has long been our ambition to create and develop a proper clinical training for people working therapeutically in the field of addiction. Our new intermediate course in interpersonal group therapy is our first offering – it’s designed to be accessible, and it will be very much practice-based. Attendance at the training group each month will focus on collaborative learning and skills building, while the academic knowledge required will be built with guided distance-learning between the sessions.

Why go for interpersonal group therapy? We believe this model has great potential to help those who are on the journey of recovery understand the way they relate to other people and learn to build fulfilling relationships that meet social and emotional needs. In problematic drug use or addiction, relationships are often impaired, and relating to others without the use of drugs can be a challenge. However, trusting relationships with others and participating in a rewarding social network are some of the strongest predictors of durable change. Feelings of belonging, and receiving and giving support to others, have been for many people the cornerstone of a recovery of confidence and self-worth.

Dr Tim Leighton is director of professional education and research at Action on Addiction
Dr Tim Leighton is director of professional education and research at Action on Addiction

The course is designed specifically for those working with people who have alcohol, drug, gambling and related issues. It takes a great deal of skill, understanding, perseverance and confidence to facilitate therapy groups that are safe, trusting and lead to lasting change, and we hope that this course will make a contribution to the more widespread provision of this excellent model.

More information at www.actiononaddiction.org.uk

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