Group Therapy for Veterans Addressing Addiction and Mental Health Concerns

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Updated 03/01/2024

Entering a substance use treatment program, individuals are introduced to a range of therapeutic interventions, encompassing both one-on-one and group therapy sessions. For veterans embarking on recovery, group therapy sessions that are specifically catered to their distinct experiences and needs play a pivotal role in their healing process.

Group Therapy within Rehabilitation: Cultivating a Supportive Environment

Group therapy provides therapeutic interventions within a communal setting, as opposed to individual sessions. For veterans undergoing treatment, group therapy is frequently a staple of their rehabilitation schedule. Engaging in group therapy allows veterans in recovery to access a supportive environment, offering them the chance to form connections with others who are navigating similar challenges, thereby facilitating positive transformation.

Mental Health Management through Group Therapy

Veterans participating in a rehabilitation program will likely take part in group therapy aimed at addressing mental health concerns. Common mental health conditions addressed through veterans’ group therapy include:

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

Research on veterans with PTSD has demonstrated that group therapy is as effective as individual therapy in mitigating symptoms of depression and thoughts of suicide. Another investigation revealed its efficacy in alleviating symptoms of depression and PTSD.

Given that between 14–16% of veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq are affected by depression or PTSD, the efficacy of group therapy in addressing these conditions is promising.

Group Therapy Benefits for Veterans

The Veterans Administration has acknowledged the benefits of group therapy for veterans. As noted by a VA clinical psychologist, group therapy offers numerous advantages to this demographic:

  • Enhanced interpersonal skills: Participation in group therapy facilitates interaction with others, fostering the development of healthy communication patterns and enhancing interpersonal skills.
  • Emotional connectivity: Facing the adversities of veteran life can often lead to a sense of isolation. Group therapy enables emotional connections with individuals who understand the shared experience.
  • Refined coping strategies: Group therapy sessions serve as a venue for learning and refining coping mechanisms.
  • Support network: The communal aspect of group therapy provides a vital support network, offering empathy and reducing feelings of solitude.
  • A safe space: Group therapy offers a secure environment for veterans to share their experiences with peers facing similar struggles.
  • Diverse perspectives: Through group therapy sessions, veterans gain exposure to varied coping mechanisms and perspectives, which can be beneficial.
  • Enhanced empathy: Offering support and listening to others in the group enhances one’s empathy towards fellow participants.

Group Therapy Session Topics

The content of group therapy sessions can vary depending on the therapeutic approach employed. Nonetheless, topics frequently addressed in veterans’ group therapy sessions include:

  • Adjusting to civilian life
  • Enhancing familial relationships
  • Managing daily stressors effectively
  • Understanding symptoms of mental health disorders, like PTSD or depression
  • Strategies for managing mental health symptoms
  • Addressing substance misuse
  • Preventing relapse into substance use
  • Modifying negative thought patterns

Group Therapy Techniques

A variety of therapeutic techniques are utilized in group therapy, with certain methods being particularly beneficial for veterans, such as:

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) for treating PTSD, which aids individuals in examining how trauma influences their thought processes and moving towards recovery.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) delivered in a group setting, which helps veterans alter negative thought patterns and foster social support networks.
  • Present-Centered Therapy employed in group settings to educate about common PTSD symptoms and assist veterans in improving current interpersonal relationships and behaviors.
  • Mindfulness practices offered in group sessions, teaching veterans techniques for stress management and relaxation, and encouraging a non-judgmental focus on the present moment.

Leading Group Therapy Sessions

Group therapy sessions should be led by a licensed mental health professional, such as a clinical social worker, counselor, or psychologist, with expertise in working with veterans. At The Recovery Village, for example, group leaders in our FORTITUDE program are equipped with military cultural competency training, ensuring they are well-versed in the unique needs of the veteran population.

Group Therapy Frequency Across Treatment Spectrums

The frequency of group therapy participation depends on the level of care provided. Typically, inpatient and residential treatment centers offer more frequent group therapy sessions due to the structured nature of these programs and the residential setting. Partial hospitalization programs might include daily group therapy, whereas intensive outpatient programs could schedule sessions two to three times a week.

Optimizing Group Therapy Outcomes for Veterans

Group therapy proves highly beneficial for veterans grappling with addiction and/or mental health diagnoses. Maximizing these benefits requires active engagement in the process, including maintaining an open mind and participating in discussions.

By embracing vulnerability and actively listening to the experiences shared within the group, veterans can acquire invaluable insights and coping strategies from their peers.

Although sharing in a group may initially provoke anxiety, the supportive and confidential nature of group therapy encourages meaningful progress through collective vulnerability.

Discovering the FORTITUDE Specialty Track for Veterans

The Recovery Village stands ready to support veterans through our specialized FORTITUDE program, designed to address addiction and co-occurring mental health issues such as PTSD and depression. Our team of Veteran Advocates is available to facilitate the start of treatment and support throughout the recovery journey.

View 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.


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