Indigenous Group Therapy

Indigenous refers to the native people of a particular place. With indigenous people comes a variety of cultural and social backgrounds that are often regionally specific. So it would make sense that people deriving from different cultural and minority backgrounds would be better suited to participate in group therapy with others who may have a better understanding of their particular issues.

South Australian research recently revealed that Indigenous Australians between the ages of 35 and 54 are nearly eight times more likely to die than their peers and alcohol abuse is the main problem. In 2015, alcohol was involved in 30 percent of Indigenous female and 40 percent of Indigenous male suicides. An Indigenous unemployment rate of 38 percent is also a leading causative factor that is driving  Indigenous people towards drugs and alcohol.

Many Indigenous cultures have experienced certain generational traumas and working with them requires one to have a true understanding of what that means. Reflection of that deep understanding is vital to creating an environment of respect, empathy, and culturally safe. That is why many Indigenous men and women look to their people for help and support in their recovery process.

For Indigenous people, healing from addiction is rooted in culturally-based interventions. Group therapy can take many different forms, from sweat lodges to more traditional teachings, these regionally specific interventions are usually led by people who are authorized and recognized by traditional teachers of the culture, community members, or spiritual beings.

Group therapy involves one or more therapists, or in the case of indigenous peoples, their spiritual leader, teacher, or a member of the community, who works with many people at the same time. Group therapy can be used alone, but it is usually joined with a treatment plan that also incorporates individual therapy.

The Basic Principles of Group Therapy

Some of the basic principles of group therapy include:

  • The promise of healing and hope. Typically in a group therapy, there are members who are at different stages in their recovery process. Seeing others in your group who are making progress and recovering shows that there is hope and recovery is possible for new members.
  • Sharing cultural backgrounds. Being involved in a group of people who share similar experiences help individuals see that they are not alone and that others have gone through what they are going through.
  • Sharing wisdom. Sharing information with others from similar backgrounds can help them on their road to sobriety and success.
  • Selflessness and concern for others. Members of your group can impart their strengths and help others, which aids in boosting self-confidence and belief in oneself.
  • The therapy group, especially when taken place within one’s own tribe or community, is likened to that of a family in many ways. Members can share how their childhood and cultural experiences played a role in behaviors and personalities. Members can also learn how to evade destructive or unhelpful behaviors.
  • Within the safety and supportive environment of your group therapy sessions is also an excellent place to begin practicing new, constructive behaviors. Here, you can experiment new survival techniques without the fear of failure.
  • Imitative and interpersonal learning can also take place in the comfort of group therapy. By socializing and interacting with others and with the help of the therapist, spiritual or community leader, members can observe new behaviors and receive feedback that can help them gain a more in-depth understanding of themselves and others.
  • Developing a sense of belonging. When one reconnects with their community and culture alongside a common goal, they can develop a newfound sense of belonging and acceptance.
  • Group therapy is, well, therapeutic. Talking about and sharing experiences and feelings with a safe group of peers can relieve the feelings of stress, guilt, and pain.
  • Gain a sense of responsibility. While being a part of a group offers much support and guidance, it also aids members in realizing they, too, are responsible for their own lives, decisions, and actions.

The exact manner in which group sessions are conducted is largely dependent on the goals of the group, their regionally specific teachings, and the technique of the therapist or teacher. Some teachers/therapists may allow more free-style dialogue, where every member of the group can join in where he or she sees fit. Other teachers/therapists may instead, have a specific plan in place for each session that could include practicing new skills with other members. While others may incorporate culturally specific therapies such as dancing or singing.

Studies have shown that group therapy, especially for Indigenous people, can be a very effective treatment for depression, addiction recovery, and other forms of traumatic stress. For indigenous people, having access to inclusive, effective, and culturally safe rehabilitation and treatment programs is vital to achieve and maintain stable recovery from substance and alcohol abuse.