Treating Women with Substance Use Disorders: The Women's Recovery Group Manual

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Release Date: 
May 20, 2016
Guilford Press
Reviewed by: 

“an important contribution to addiction treatment . . .”

The problems of working with substance abusers are overwhelming and the success rate is low, which can be discouraging for the addiction treatment professionals who work with addicts.

Dr. Shelly Greenfield, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and chief academic officer for McLean Hospital, addresses this issue by providing new tools for mental health professionals. In hopes of creating better treatment outcomes for women, Greenfield wrote Treating Women with Substance Use Disorders: The Women’s Recovery Group Manual. Overall, it is easy to use and shows promise as a resource for helping female addicts recover.

This book is for female therapists who wish to run groups for women with a substance use disorder (SUD) and outlines a specific treatment program. It is an academic work for psychotherapists who need support or training running SUD groups; it is not a self-help book nor is it appropriate for an individual to use as a workbook.

Though the program set forth in the book is not abstinence-based per se, abstinence is the end goal. The program is designed for weekly outpatient sessions focusing on relapse prevention, skill-building, and information dissemination. The program is appropriate for use with other treatment resources (individual therapy, 12-step work, complementary or alternative medicine, etc.) and could be considered for use in community treatment centers or as part of aftercare programs for those who have had limited stays in residential treatment facilities.

The background research providing the rationale for this program is well done. The author explains the need for a women’s SUD program, providing a logical foundation for and data supporting why women need treatment in a gender specific setting. This book also shines because researchers have completed studies on the program showing the efficacy of the work, which sets it above other resources that are untested.

The program is designed to run for 12–14 weeks, with once-a-week sessions. The target participant group is a “heterogeneous” group of women, though the program would work very well in a group that was reasonably homogenous with regard to age, race, socioeconomic background, etc. The program has been conducted in open, semi-open, and closed formats; the best results seem to be when the program is used in a closed group.

One main emphasis is on self-care for women: learning how to take care of themselves with their other caretaking roles, rebuilding broken relationships, and learning how to have fun in recovery.

There is also a great deal of time spent on relapse prevention, which is standard for any addiction recovery program. The program provides a large number of charts and other resources that are meant to be tacked up to walls, which could limit where this program could be used strictly as designed.

This book and program would be an excellent resource to use in community therapy or corrections situations, particularly among low-income clients. Those with access to more intensive levels of care might find the resources in this book basic.

The book is also a solid starting place for new therapists who have not worked with addicts much in the past or for drug counselors with only a very short-term community college training program. The structure and science behind this book make it a good base for those with limited experience.

Greenfield’s work has some deficits. The program probably would be less useful with patients who have had many relapses or who have not completed a medically supported detox; those individuals would require a stronger and more structured form of intervention.

The program disseminates a lot of information and is as much social work in its emphasis on connecting individuals to outside resources as it is psychotherapy. With regard to the science in the book, there was a lack of information on neuroscience/brain function, which is arguably the most emergent and important area of current substance abuse research.

Finally, experienced therapists who specialize in addiction treatment will likely find the program somewhat confining and facile. They could use it as a jumping off point and might enhance or lengthen the program, especially putting additional time into building healthy habits and creating a life worth living.

Overall, Treating Women with Substance Use Disorders: The Women’s Recovery Group Manual, is an important contribution to addiction treatment and should be on the shelf of anyone who is considering treating female substance abusers.