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.
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.
Through a process of supportive confrontation, group members are coached in alternative ways to handle themselves and their feelings. Group therapy can help you:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last reviewed May 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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