A mutual support group is a gathering of nonprofessional people who share a common problem that voluntarily meet to support one another in recovery from that problem. AA is probably the most familiar of the mutual support groups, but many others exist where people can find help from behavioral disorders like gambling and sex to other substance use disorders like narcotics or food. As long as support groups have existed, there have been those who sing their praises and those who are skeptical.
So, are mutual support groups effective?
Simply put, the answer is yes.
In a 2020 study by Keith Humphreys, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, he and his fellow investigators looked at 37 scientific studies. The data led them to the conclusion that AA meetings and 12-step interventions are particularly better at producing continuous abstinence in the long term than other approaches. It was also found that AA performs as well as other clinical interventions at 12 months and AA outperforms other interventions at 24 and 36 months.
Why does it work?
There are many answers to this, and it is a great question for you to ask. I recommend asking someone who is participating in mutual support groups and is reaping the benefits. I can say that we usually feel better when we know we are not alone when facing a challenge. It is also helpful to be able to ask someone how they are succeeding at that challenge, so you have some hints as to how to proceed.
Why do I need therapy if mutual support groups are so effective?
There are a couple of reasons you might still need therapy while engaging in mutual support groups. One is that many people (37% of those with alcohol use disorder and 53% with drug use disorder) have a co-occurring mental health disorder that should be treated at the same time. Cooccurring disorders can be any number of things and vary in severity but are most frequently issues like depression and anxiety.
Another reason is 12-Step facilitation. Many therapists who specialize in the treatment of substance use disorder are trained to help guide their clients to successfully navigating mutual support groups and can also provide the needed mental health services to address multiple issues concurrently.
If there is any risk of harm, especially self-harm, therapists are trained and on alert to help avoid that if possible. Therapists know of and often have access to treatment facilities, hospital programs, and mental health programs and know which ones are appropriate depending on the severity of the issue.
Therapy is often very beneficial during early pre to early recovery, to help address acute issues, and to facilitate a good hand-off if a mutual support group is all that is needed for stability going forward.
Mutual support groups are beneficial to those who attend and participate as prescribed. Therapy is still beneficial and should be used to treat those in early recovery as well as those who need support for mental health issues.
As always, we stand ready to serve you and help you achieve your goals while living a rewarding life.