It’s no secret that many men have difficulty sharing their feelings and openly discussing their failures and shortcomings. For better or worse, centuries of social programming have left an indelible mark on the male psyche: ‘You must be strong, emotionally stoic, and independent.’
And while more developed thinking continues to erode the bias that it’s socially unacceptable for men to have feelings or show weakness, this stereotype has stubbornly held its ground with men who need help for mental health and substance addiction. More than 25 million men ages 18 and over met the criteria for substance use disorder in 2021, according to that year’s National Survey on Drug Abuse and Health. Yet less than 1.5 million received treatment in a substance abuse center or other clinical setting.
The overwhelming attitude of the remaining 23.5 million men who didn’t seek treatment? They were just fine and didn’t need any help.
If most men with an SUD don’t even recognize that they have a problem, they probably won’t feel comfortable talking about it with a collection of strangers, either. In this respect, group therapy presents a particularly challenging aspect of substance abuse treatment, at least initially.
Those who progress past the first few awkward group therapy sessions, however, will tell you that participating in this particular forum yields tremendous benefits in terms of healing and recovery. “I still remember my first group session,” explained Preston Dixon, COO of Renaissance Ranch, a men’s treatment center based in Bluffdale, Utah. “I felt afraid and ashamed until the first guy began to speak. I realized then and there that I wasn’t alone in this and that these men understood where I was coming from. No judgment, no shame or embarrassment, just a lot of love and acceptance.”
Men with substance use disorder (SUD) can tap into invaluable recovery resources by participating in same-gender group therapy, including the following:
1. Peer Support:
As Dixon mentioned, his group therapy experience allowed him to see that others’ experiences and input were crucial to better understanding his own situation and the way forward in recovery. The other men in the group, even the therapist, either had walked or were walking in his shoes, and vice versa.
Addiction is highly isolating, mainly because of the guilt and shame attached to the disease. We can’t stop using or drinking, so we see ourselves as lesser people. ‘If I just had more willpower,’ or ‘I’m such a loser because I can’t quit this’ are common refrains. But here’s the irony – drugs and alcohol change the chemistry of your brain so drastically that trying to stop substance abuse without professional and social support will leave you stuck and feeling more hopeless than ever.
Thus, the only way to start quieting those debilitating internal voices and feel more validated in our efforts to quit is to connect with others who are also working to overcome addiction.
2. Emotional Support:
Men and women battling substance abuse have unique emotional needs, so a co-ed setting isn’t always the best venue for group therapy. Men may be more reserved in sharing their feelings for fear of embarrassment or perceived judgment. Or they may feel less understood by their female peers because they have vastly different life experiences. Same-gender groups go a long way in giving men the emotional support they need to be more comfortable discussing deeply personal issues.
Bolstering faith represents another vital aspect of lending emotional support. For many, faith is a thread running through every part of life, not just something you do on the Sabbath. As a Christian-based rehabilitation center, the Ranch encourages the application of gospel principles in recovery group discussions and goal-setting. Increasing faith in Christ and His gospel is essential to building the desire and commitment to stay sober. He gives hope to all, and that hope is a powerful emotional healer.
It’s easy to lose sight of your therapy goals if you don’t have anyone holding you accountable. For example, on a tough day, you might feel vulnerable to cravings and seriously consider taking a step in the wrong direction. However, knowing that you’ll need to report your progress to the group the next day gives you a solid motivation to resist. Group participation helps you continue your progress and reach essential goals by sharing them with others. Everyone does better when there are people around who are anxious for them to succeed.
4. Constructive Feedback:
The group therapy dynamic provides men with a safe space to receive constructive feedback from their peers. This feedback could include challenging harmful behaviors and suggesting ways to improve self-awareness. “It’s easy to see the character defects of others but very difficult to see our own,” said Dixon. “Group therapy gave me the opportunity to get honest feedback and some much-needed awareness that was so valuable for my recovery.”
5. Improved Communication Skills:
It’s not enough to be heard – as human beings, we also want to be understood. Learning to communicate with others in a way that meets this basic need on both sides of the conversation is a skill that takes practice. Group therapy offers an excellent setting to work on expressing yourself more effectively and listening to others with increased empathy and understanding.
Improving your communication skills in the group will also help you connect better at home. Substance abuse creates so many instances of misunderstanding, pain, and neglect among family members. Better communication represents one of the critical ways to rebuild those damaged connections with loved ones.
There is no silver bullet when it comes to addiction recovery. One thing, however, is clear: we need each other to get and stay sober. If you’re struggling, take that first step and call us at (855) 736-7262; recovery is a team effort.