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Group Therapy for Addictions: An Interpersonal Relapse Prevention Approach

by Devin Ashwood & Tim Leighton
Group therapy is a powerful and widely used modality in recovery programs, but too often group leaders lack a coherent and effective clinical framework. This video program will show you how to harness the interpersonal power of groups to work successfully with clients struggling with addictions.

Group Therapy for Addictions: An Interpersonal Relapse Prevention Approach
While our field offers numerous approaches to group therapy, less is understood about group interventions for addiction. This refreshing video begins to close the gap by presenting a rich series of vignettes from an interpersonal process group for clients in early-stage recovery. Here, you’ll watch Tim Leighton and his UK-based team of addiction experts demonstrate key elements of this experiential model, shown in an outpatient setting. If you work with clients in recovery—or if you simply enjoy group work—this video will give you an array of necessary skills for leading successful interpersonal therapy groups.

Drawing from the pioneering work of Irvin Yalom and Philip Flores, interpersonal group therapy supports a client’s ability to sustain healthy relationships. Based on the idea that relationships are undermined by addictive behavior, this model of recovery helps members gain interpersonal skills in real time. You’ll see these theories in action, as members gradually deepen their capacity to share their stories, give and receive empathy, and navigate rifts. Moreover, you’ll be delighted as initially hardened members soften and brighten as a result of the work. Detailed commentary is offered throughout, outlining important concepts and noting crucial turning points in each vignette.

Leighton and his colleagues take an intentionally light hand in the sessions, supporting members’ autonomy and intervening only when necessary to help clarify the process. You’ll be intrigued by their concise interventions, and impressed by their warmth, insight, and ability to help the group attune to itself.

Regardless of orientation, therapists must help clients tolerate and move beyond the uncomfortable feelings that arise in session; this video provides a solid foundation in doing so from a relational standpoint. If you’re looking for resources on group therapy, addiction and recovery, or interpersonal therapy, this video is a must-watch.

"This superb video showcases highly competent group therapists combined with lucid explanations of both theory and technique. You’ll witness the group leaders harness the power of the group by repeatedly focusing the attention on how members are relating to each other, a key skill in effectively run groups. I would highly recommend this video to any therapist interested in mastering the art of group therapy, regardless of population served."
     --Irvin Yalom, MD, author of The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy
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"An excellent video for teaching the Interpersonal Approach to group leading based on Irvin Yalom’s work. The leaders do an excellent job of explaining their approach in the beginning and why this approach is helpful for those in recovery. Anyone who is teaching or using the Interpersonal approach to group leading should watch this video. Great for learning because there are short clips from a series of group sessions and then commentary as to why the leaders did what they did. I learned a lot and I’ve been teaching groups for more than 40 years."
--Ed Jacobs, PhD, Coordinator, Master’s Program in Counseling, West Virginia University; author of Group Counseling: Strategies and Skills (5th edition)

"This training video will help practitioners facilitate therapy groups with sharper skills and a deeper understanding of Yalom's interpersonal approach. A welcome addition to the training arsenal for addiction counselors."
--Pam Johnson, LPCC-S

"As a practicing group therapist I really enjoyed watching this video. It is professionally produced which helps the viewer follow the themes that come up in interpersonal process groups. Expert explanations and captions help the viewer to understand what was happening in the segments of the actual group sessions we just witnessed as we are let into the group's life through several consecutive sessions. The principles shown can be used for various populations, not only for people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. It is a good overview for both students preparing to facilitate groups as well as seasoned group therapists."
--Ildiko Ran, MFT, CGP; Adjunct Faculty, Stanford Medical School, JFK and Sofia University

"This is a one-of –a kind program. The concepts are explained and demonstrated well, and broken down into useful small pieces."
--Carla Haimowitz, PhD, Oakland, California

In Depth
CE Test
“Interpersonal relapse prevention” is the phrase Tim Leighton and his UK-based colleagues use to describe the crux of interpersonal group therapy for addictions. For any course of therapy to be successful, clients must become able to safely sit with emotional discomfort—in this case, the relational triggers that, unchecked, can lead to relapse. When it comes to issues of addiction and recovery in particular, working with triggers is integral to any method. In this video, Leighton and his team demonstrate the essentials of conducting process groups that emphasize interpersonal skills—life skills that get insidiously undermined by addictive behavior.

Leighton begins with a brief introduction of interpersonal group therapy, including its clinical origins and guiding tenets. Noting that substances become ways to mediate relationships for clients experiencing addiction, he frames the method as a means of restoring healthy relationship models experientially. Clients, therefore, come to understand substance abuse recovery from a stance of setting and achieving relational goals within the group.

You’ll then watch Leighton (along with cotherapist Jax Beatty) facilitate a selection of vignettes taken from a 12-week interpersonal process group with clients in the early recovery phase of treatment. Group members practice sharing from the here and now, giving and receiving interpersonal feedback, and working through group tension, activities that therapist Devin Ashwood expands on in the accompanying commentary. You’ll also get a sense of how interpersonal groups eschew normative views of “recovery” in favor of building inner resilience, and how these groups can support relapse prevention as a departing member reflects on his experiences and offers advice to those remaining.

If you work with clients in recovery—or any clients needing help attuning to their shifting emotional states—this video will give you a solid foundation in interpersonal group therapy. Be sure to take a look.

By watching this video, you will:
  • Learn about the theoretical underpinnings of interpersonal group therapy, and how they apply to clients in recovery.
  • Understand how to lead a group through an experiential process while supporting client autonomy.
  • Gain tools for working with client resistance and challenging feedback.
Length of video: 01:23:04
English subtitles available on: Stream, DVD
Individual ISBN-10 #: 1-60124-472-X
Individual ISBN-13 #: 978-1-60124-472-7
Group ISBN-10 #: 1-60124-473-8
Group ISBN-13 #: 978-1-60124-473-4
Devin Ashwood has worked in a range of substance misuse settings and is currently program leader and lecturer in addictions counseling for the Centre for Addiction Treatment Studies and the University of Bath. His specialties include mindfulness, interpersonal group therapy and cognitive therapy. He has been working in private practice as a therapist and supervisor for over ten years and has been delivering and teaching interpersonal group therapy since 2006. Devin’s work with the Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) authors Sarah Bowen and Neha Chawla has helped develop and deliver a version of MBRP compatible with rolling treatment programs as well as an advanced training pathway for mindfulness teachers. He has been practicing mindfulness since 1999 and has studied with, and conducted research at the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice on the University of Bangor’s master’s program. Devin leads a number of meditation groups and retreats throughout the year including offering his time as a Buddhist Chaplain to the prison service.

Tim Leighton is Action on Addiction’s director of professional education and research. He came to work for Clouds (residential treatment center) as a counselor in 1985, and in 1987 he went to Hazelden in Minnesota to look at their addiction counselor training programs in order to develop a course suitable for British counselors in the field. He has been leading professional education courses and degrees in the field of addiction for over 25 years. Leighton has been a UKCP registered Cognitive Analytic Psychotherapist since 1994 and is also an accredited trainer and supervisor.

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CE credits: 1
Learning objectives:

  • Learn about the theoretical underpinnings of interpersonal group therapy, and how they apply to clients in recovery.
  • Understand how to lead a group through an experiential process while supporting client autonomy.
  • Gain tools for working with client resistance and challenging feedback.