Is AA the same as group therapy?

When it comes to addiction treatment, there are various options available. Two popular approaches are 12-step meetings and group therapy. While these may seem similar at first glance, there are fundamental differences between the two. In this article, we will explore these differences and shed light on how each approach can benefit individuals in addiction recovery.

Twelve-Step Meetings: A Supportive Community

One significant difference between 12-step meetings and group therapy is the nature of the interaction among participants. In 12-step meetings, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), there is a sense of camaraderie and support. Members share their personal experiences, providing insights into what has worked for them and what hasn’t. The emphasis is on personal stories rather than advice-giving.

Unlike group therapy, 12-step meetings are free of charge. This accessibility allows individuals from all walks of life to participate, regardless of their financial situation. The absence of financial barriers creates an inclusive environment where anyone with the desire to stop using drugs or alcohol can find support.

Group Therapy: Professional Guidance and Feedback

In contrast to 12-step meetings, group therapy is facilitated by a therapist or counselor who guides the session. This professional oversight creates a structured environment where participants can receive guidance and feedback from both the facilitator and fellow group members. Unlike 12-step meetings, which primarily focus on personal experiences, group therapy encourages active participation and advice-giving among members.

Group therapy sessions often involve specific exercises and techniques designed to address and overcome addiction-related challenges. These exercises can include role-playing, cognitive-behavioral techniques, and other evidence-based interventions. The therapist’s expertise ensures that the sessions are tailored to meet the participants’ individual needs.

The Role of Advice and Feedback

In 12-step meetings, advice-giving is not the norm. Instead, members share their personal experiences and offer their stories as a source of inspiration and support. The emphasis is on self-reflection and learning from others’ experiences rather than receiving direct advice. Members do not assume they know what another person should do; instead, they share what has worked for them in their personal recovery journey.

In contrast, group therapy actively encourages members to give feedback and advice to one another. Therapists believe that confronting individuals and challenging their perspectives can help break through denial and promote personal growth. While this approach may work for some, it may not resonate with everyone. Some individuals prefer the more humble and experiential approach of 12-step meetings.

Leadership and Structure

Another difference between 12-step meetings and group therapy lies in the leadership and structure of the sessions. In 12-step meetings, there is no designated therapist or counselor in charge. Instead, a chairperson, who is a member of the 12-step program, opens and closes the meeting, guiding rather than controlling the discussion. The chairperson ensures that the meeting starts and ends on time, maintaining a sense of structure and continuity.

In group therapy, a trained therapist or counselor leads the session, providing expertise and maintaining the overall flow of the session. The therapist sets the agenda, introduces therapeutic activities, and ensures that every participant has an opportunity to share and receive feedback. This level of professional guidance can be beneficial for individuals who require a more structured approach to their recovery.

Attendance and Membership

Attendance and membership in 12-step meetings and group therapy differ significantly. In 12-step meetings, no record of attendance is kept, and membership is self-declared. A person becomes a member of Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous by simply stating their desire to stop using drugs or alcohol. The only requirement for membership is the willingness to abstain from substance use.

On the other hand, group therapy typically requires individuals to enroll in a specific program or treatment center. Membership is often contingent on paying for the services provided. While this may create a more formal and structured environment, it can also be a barrier for individuals who cannot afford the cost of treatment.

Meeting Formats

12-step meetings and group therapy sessions can vary in format depending on the location and type of meeting. In 12-step meetings, formats can range from fifty minutes to an hour and a half. Some meetings feature a designated speaker who shares their personal story of addiction and recovery, while others allow all participants to share or pass their turn. In some meetings, individuals raise their hands to indicate their desire to share.

Group therapy sessions, on the other hand, typically follow a predetermined structure set by the therapist. The therapist may introduce specific topics or exercises and allocate time for each participant to share their thoughts and experiences. Group members are usually expected to actively participate and contribute to the discussion.

The Focus of Discussion

The topics of discussion in 12-step meetings and group therapy sessions differ slightly. In 12-step meetings, the primary focus is on supporting individuals in maintaining abstinence from drugs or alcohol. Members share their strategies for coping with cravings, navigating difficult situations, and finding serenity in their recovery journey. While drug-specific discussions are discouraged, members are encouraged to discuss their feelings and seek help for any challenges they may be facing.

In group therapy, the focus extends beyond substance use. The sessions aim to address various aspects of individuals’ lives affected by addiction, such as relationships, mental health, and personal growth. Participants are encouraged to explore the underlying causes of their addiction, develop healthier coping mechanisms, and work towards overall well-being.

The Mood and Atmosphere

The mood and atmosphere of 12-step meetings and group therapy sessions differ in subtle but significant ways. 12-step meetings cultivate a sense of humility, where members share their experiences and insights without expecting anything in return. The focus is on providing support and encouragement to one another. While some chairpersons may guide the discussion more actively, the overall atmosphere is one of understanding and acceptance.

Group therapy sessions may have a more structured and therapeutic atmosphere. The therapist or counselor facilitates the session, ensuring that each participant has an opportunity to engage and receive feedback. The mood can vary depending on the dynamics of the group and the specific exercises or interventions being used.

Imperfections and Evolution

It is important to recognize that both 12-step meetings and group therapy have their imperfections. In 12-step meetings, some members may struggle with mental and emotional issues that can affect the dynamics of the group. Occasionally, individuals may lapse into advice-giving or preaching, but as they progress in their recovery, they often learn to let go of the need to control others.

Similarly, group therapy is not without its challenges. The effectiveness of the sessions can vary depending on the expertise and approach of the therapist, as well as the dynamics among group members. However, both approaches have stood the test of time, with 12-step recovery being around for over seventy-five years and group therapy being a widely recognized and utilized form of treatment.


In conclusion, while 12-step meetings and group therapy share similarities in terms of providing support and guidance for individuals in addiction recovery, there are fundamental differences between the two approaches. 12-step meetings foster a sense of community and personal sharing, while group therapy offers professional guidance and a structured therapeutic environment. Both approaches have their strengths and limitations, and individuals should consider their needs and preferences when choosing the most suitable form of treatment. Ultimately, the goal is to find a supportive and empowering environment that promotes successful long-term recovery. Contact us anytime at 732-392-7311.

Scroll to Top