Mode of Therapy – Group Therapy

The most beneficial type of psychotherapy is the one that best meets the client’s specific needs. While many forms of therapy take advantage of privacy and anonymity, sometimes the best resource for coping with a particular obstacle or personal concern is one in which individuals can connect with others who have had like experiences.

Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy that utilizes personal interaction with people who have shared experiences to help each individual process, cope, and grow. There are many different applications for group therapy, including drug rehabilitation, grief counseling, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) support, to name a few.

What Is Group Therapy?

Group therapy is defined as a form of psychotherapy in which a group of patients meets to discuss a common problem. Group counseling sessions take place under the guidance and supervision of a licensed mental health counselor or psychologist. A group therapy session is not a free-for-all conversation; rather, the leader gives the group a set of rules designed to help facilitate conversation, connection, and growth among the individuals assembled.

The size of therapy groups may vary, and the number of participants is not a critical factor when setting up a group therapeutic session. More important is that the individuals who are assembled have similar experiences. The process of sharing personal information with the group and learning from others’ stories is the foundation of a successful group therapy session.

Interaction based on similar experiences is just one way in which group therapy differs from couples therapy. Although it is possible to schedule a therapeutic session with a small group of people with whom you have existing relationships, group therapy works best by helping individuals to reach outside of their existing social circles to connect with strangers dealing with similar issues.

The Role of Group Therapy

Although most therapeutic sessions aim to help individuals gain a sense of ease, autonomy, and control over their lives, the goal of group therapy is slightly different from the goal of individual therapy. Group therapy tends to be most beneficial for those who are working through issues that affect many people. Most frequently, group therapy is recommended as part of a larger therapeutic strategy to help encourage sharing, bonding, and coping.

There are two primary types of goals in group therapy:

• Process goals
• Outcome goals

Process goals are those that relate to the process of understanding personal concerns and relating to other individuals during a group session. This is often thought of as the healing process. Outcome goals are the behavioral changes that individuals seek to achieve by participating in group therapy.

The fundamental goal of group therapy is to initiate a sense of belonging or relatability through understanding, which is achieved by sharing common experiences. For this reason, group therapy is most effective when utilized to address a specific concern common to all members of the group. This universal relatability is essential to the group’s success.

Additional goals of group therapy include:

• helping individuals to identify maladaptive behavior,
• providing help with emotional difficulties through positive feedback,
• offering individuals a supportive environment of peers with similar life experiences, and
• reducing feelings of loneliness and alienation by bringing together individuals with shared experiences and emotional patterns.

For a group therapy session to be successful, it must be structured and facilitated by a licensed mental health counselor or psychologist who is able to move conversation forward and initiate proper sharing. If one individual dominates a group therapy session or the conversation strays off topic, the therapeutic session will be less effective.

Group therapy is often recommended to help individuals address concerns such as:

• PTSD,
• post-partum depression and parenting,
• depression,
• anxiety,
• suicide,
• grief and loss,
• disordered eating,
• addiction and dependency,
• anger management,
• relationship problems,
• low self-esteem, and
• communication and social skills deficits.

This is not a comprehensive list of the concerns for which group therapy may be beneficial; rather, it is a list of the most common issues addressed through group counseling.

Independent organizations often offer specialized group therapy or support group opportunities that coincide with their missions. For example, many schools host group therapy or support groups for students, especially during finals periods. Likewise, hospitals may have group grief counseling and support resources tailored to particular health concerns or illnesses.

The Principles of Group Therapy

Group therapy is a popular resource for individuals who have had difficult experiences and who are trying to cope and learn from the past to help shape a better future. Every group therapy session, regardless of its focus, is guided by the same core principles.

These primary principles include:

• the instillation of hope,
• connection and universality,
• interpersonal learning,
• development or redevelopment of ideal social techniques, and
• catharsis.

The idea behind a group therapy session is that an individual may be able to find better connection and understanding with another person who has had similar experiences than with a family member, a friend, or even a counselor. It is often helpful for individuals in the early stages of coping with a particular problem, whether it be grief, an illness, or even addiction, to meet another person who has endured similar circumstances but who has experienced personal growth and therapeutic success.

This is where the principles of group therapy come into play. Seeing another person who has lived through the same problem but is better off after experiencing personal growth can encourage hope. Connecting with others who have had similar life experiences presents the opportunity for interpersonal learning and the introduction of practical, proven coping strategies.

Finally, group therapy offers individuals the opportunity to share their stories with those who can understand, and this enables a type of catharsis that talking to a family member or a counselor may not provide.

Maximizing Personal Benefit With Group Therapy

Group therapy is often recommended in association with individual therapy as an additional resource for people who are working on coping with difficult circumstances. To get the most out of group therapy, individuals must be willing to participate and be open to vulnerability.

Sometimes, when people are new to group therapy, they are invited to sit quietly and listen to the experiences shared by others rather than share themselves. This is a helpful strategy for someone who is unsure about participating in group therapy, but it is only successful if it leads to eventual involvement. To get the most out of group therapy, individuals cannot sit on the sidelines. Participating in the facilitated conversations, asking themselves hard questions, and doing their best to be honest with themselves and others is essential for individuals to benefit significantly from group therapy.

Risks, Limitations, and Ethics of Group Therapy

Group therapy is ideal as a complementary form of therapeutic support. Usually, people who are good candidates for group therapy also have individualized concerns that are best addressed by some form of one-on-one therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Since the nature of group therapy sessions is one of openness and conversation, confidentiality cannot be ensured there in the same way that it is guaranteed in individual therapy sessions.

As the most cost-effective form of mental health counseling, group therapy is usually recommended for those who would benefit from understanding the shared experiences of others, but it is important to also recognize the limitations of this form of therapy. Interpersonal learning and sharing can contribute only so much to growth, which is why supplementing group therapy with individual therapy sessions is often the most effective strategy. Abandoning individual therapy for group therapy is rarely a good choice, because there are many individual needs and uncertainties that cannot be properly addressed in a group setting.

There are risks to the group therapy process, as well. For example, it is possible that hearing the stories of others may trigger further anxiety or depression in an individual. This is another good reason to pair group therapy with individual counseling, where individuals can address such concerns in a private setting and process information shared in the group in a healthy way that encourages growth.

The Takeaway

Group therapy can help people realize that they are not alone and that there are others who have had similar experiences who can provide support and encouragement, ultimately helping their peers to find their voices as they emerge from their difficulties.

This form of counseling is most beneficial for those who are coping with personal trauma, illness, addiction, or any number of other mental health concerns and who may benefit from interacting with others who share their perspectives and have had similar experiences. Joining a group of like-minded individuals with shared perspective can encourage people to relate to others in healthier ways, ultimately helping them to grow personally and cope effectively with the challenges in their lives.

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