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Group Therapy: Can It Help You?
Group therapy offers an alternative to one-on-one sessions with a therapist. It allows for individuals to work through their problems by sharing common issues in a confidential atmosphere. For some, it helps them gain support and realize they are not alone in their struggles.
In general, group sessions may consist of up to 10 people led by a trained psychotherapist. Group therapy can be used for many different conditions or situations.
Although it is natural to feel uneasy when talking about your problems to strangers, the interactive environment may make it easier than you think. Psychotherapists are trained to encourage trust, openness, and helpfulness among group members.
Is Group Therapy for You?
People who are dealing with interpersonal problems are often good candidates for group therapy. You may find group therapy helpful if you have experienced a traumatic situation or sudden illness. In both instances, group therapy is useful because members can take risks and share their common feelings in a non-judgmental setting.
If you are considering group therapy, make an appointment with a therapist to discuss your options. In some cases, individual or couples therapy may prove to be a better solution for your particular situation. The therapist should make a recommendation that is based on your best interests.
What Are the Benefits of Group Therapy?
Through a process of supportive confrontation, group members are coached in alternative ways to handle themselves and their feelings. Group therapy can help you:
- Form goals
- Increase self-awareness and self-esteem
- Gain insight into the ways others perceive you
- Discover effective patterns of relating to others
- Develop more satisfying relationships
- Receive support for sharing common problems
- Learn how to apply new behaviors to situations outside the group
While there are many benefits to group therapy, it does differ from one-on-one therapy. Group members usually receive less individualized attention in group sessions, as opposed to individual therapy, which is completely focused on you. People that go to group therapy tend to need fewer sessions than those in individual therapy.
What Happens in the Session?
Psychotherapists may guide the session by encouraging interactions where group members take on different roles. By taking on different, sometimes opposing roles, members learn how to face their problems head on. Two different people with opposing viewpoints can role play with one other. This fosters self-confidence and trust. It also helps the members to deal with situations outside of the group therapy environment.
Group therapy also provides a non-judgemental atmosphere to express feelings and viewpoints, which may not always be popular. In cases like this, people get to work out their differences in a healthy manner. It also help members to understand how others perceive them, which may lead to a better sense of self.
Many times, tools or methods are used to develop trust and sharing. For example, something as simple as cooking together provides a sense of teamwork toward a common goal. A psychotherapist may also use art, drama, or other themes to foster interaction.
What Types of Groups Are There?
In general, most sessions last less than 90 minutes. Groups are held weekly or biweekly for a specified period of time. There are many different types of groups. Some are specialized, whereas others deal with broad issues. And groups can be highly structured or casual.
- General therapy groups —Most of these types of groups focus on self-understanding and improving your overall relationships with others. The therapist leading the group will often ask members to define goals they would like to achieve within the timeframe of the group therapy program. Most of these groups contain both men and women, but some are specifically intended for men or women only.
- Specialized therapy groups —There are several therapy groups for people with specific needs. These include groups that deal with women's issues, sexual assault, stress management, men's issues, parenting, and divorce. Before joining any therapy group, talk to the therapist to make sure that it is a good fit for you.
- Support group —These differ from therapy groups in several ways. In many support groups, facilitators are not required to have professional credentials, although some may have them. Support groups are intended to offer general support by having members offer support to each other, whereas therapy groups improve behavioral patterns and social interactions in all types of relationships.
How Long Does Group Therapy Last?
Although some groups are time-limited, running anywhere from 6-20 weeks. It is not unusual for people to stay in a group for a year, while others attend for a few months and do not return. It really depends on what you need or want from the group you join.
When looking for a group, ask for specific information on how the group works, such as whether members can leave and rejoin at a later time. Ask whether the group runs for a certain timeframe and then starts a new cycle. Asking questions ahead of time will help you determine if a potential group will meet your needs.
Deciding when to leave a group is another issue. In most situations, therapists will require that you explain to members why you are leaving, so that participants do not feel abandoned or angry.
How Much Does It Cost?
Group therapy often costs less than individual sessions. It is important to discuss payment before you start a group. Some insurance providers cover group therapy, while others will pay only for individual sessions.
If money is an issue, ask the group therapist if a sliding-scale payment schedule is available. In this case, the cost of group therapy is reduced based on your annual income. Many community mental health centers offer such programs.
How Do You Find a Qualified Group Therapist?
A therapist with a master's degree in social work (MSW), a doctorate in psychology (PhD), or a master's in counseling (MA) are all examples of credentialed group therapists. Organizations like the American Group Psychotherapy Association (AGPA) provide searchable databases of group therapists in your area. When searching, keep in mind that the therapist should also be licensed to work in your state.
Therapists should show as much interest in the person's strengths as in their problems. A participant should also have good rapport with the therapist and feel encouraged and respected. If a therapist does not listen with respect, criticizes you, or pushes you to stay in therapy for a long time, it is time to find another professional. Remember that you hired the therapist, and you can also end the relationship.
Keep an open mind by discussing any fears with the therapist prior to starting group therapy. This will make your group experience a positive one. At first, it may be unsettling to share your feelings with others, but group therapy can promote healthy change and provide you with valuable insight into your life.
American Psychological Association
Mental Health America
Canadian Psychological Association
About group therapy & its benefits. Group Therapy Portland website. Available at: http://www.grouptherapyportland.com/benefits.html. Accessed May 30, 2017.
Group therapy. Group Therapy website. Available at: http://www.goodtherapy.org/group-therapy.html. Updated December 18, 2013. Accessed May 30, 2017.
Group therapy—is it right for me? American University website. Available at: http://www.american.edu/ocl/counseling/Group-Therapy-Is-It-Right-for-Me.cfm. Accessed May 30, 2017.
Understanding psychotherapy and how it works. American Psychological Association website. Available at: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/understanding-psychotherapy.aspx. Accessed May 30, 2017.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
- Review Date: 05/2017
- Update Date: 09/13/2013