Technically, 12 step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous are not strictly group therapy. They are actually a bit of a mixed program that happens to meet in a group setting for meetings on a regular basis, but the idea of step work, sponsorship, and recovery literature take it far beyond the basic idea of simple group therapy.
On the other hand, most people who glance at AA from the outside would define it as group therapy. Certainly, it is a kind of group therapy, and the whole idea of the 12 step program relies on one alcoholic helping another. It is not a program for individuals. As they say, it is a “we” program.
Really, this was most of the revelation that started AA and the Oxford group that preceded it–the idea that a group of alcoholics could somehow band together and help each other to stay sober. The revelation was not (in my opinion) so much in the 12 steps or in the actual mechanics of the suggested program, but simply in the idea of networking with others who are on the same path.
The idea works well and is extremely important in early recovery, mostly because identification is so important in the beginning. This means that the newcomer who is just trying to get clean and sober needs to know that they are not crazy, they are not unique, and other people who are just like they are have gone through this before and made it through with their sanity intact. This identification is important, because without it, the newcomer will dismiss the others who are staying sober as being either “not like they are” or as serious flukes. They need the power of a group experience to show them that others have done what they are trying to do. They need to find people they can relate to who had similar situations so that they can derive hope for themselves from it.
Later on, the emphasis on group therapy becomes less and less important as someone progresses in their recovery. Why? Simply because their growth in recovery becomes more and more personal, more holistic, and less and less feedback is needed in order to secure future motivation. (That is, if you are actually making real growth in your recovery!)
Some people fall into a trap with group therapy and use it as more of a crutch, rather than as a way to empower themselves to grow as a person. If this is the case then you might want to take a step back from regular group attendance and see what your recovery is really based on. You need to find the motivation and drive to push yourself to make real growth and progress in your own life, without having to rely on external motivations.
It is not that we have to break all ties with groups or with group therapy….it is only that our recovery is weaker if we have to depend on groups to stay sober. If this is the case then moving towards more independence in our sobriety can be a healthy choice.
Just my 2 cents of course….what does everyone else think?