Group therapy is a type of psychotherapy in which several patients are treated at the same time. Group therapy takes place in a variety of settings, including hospitals, mental health clinics, community centers and private offices. In some cases, group therapy is the only treatment employed, but, more often, is used in combination with individual therapy and/or medication.
Reasons for Group Therapy
Group therapy is used to treat almost all psychological/psychiatric disorders. Conditions for which group therapy may be particularly effective include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
- Psychological issues surrounding physical illness
- Phobia, particularly social phobia
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Benefits of Group Therapy
Group therapy, whether used alone or in combination with other therapies, has several benefits. For the therapist, group therapy provides a unique perspective, allowing the therapist to observe firsthand the behavior of the patient in a social setting. For the patient, the benefits of group therapy are numerous, and include the following:
Patients engaging in group therapy quickly become aware that they are not alone in their suffering, which alleviates the sense of isolation that those suffering from anxiety, addiction, phobias or other psychological issues often experience.
Group therapy, like individual therapy, offers a setting for expression of a person’s most worrisome and difficult-to-express feelings. Such open expression is beneficial and cathartic, offering relief from pent-up stress.
In group therapy, each patient shares a great deal of personal information, and is the recipient of the personal information of others. The bond created among group members enables patients to develop increased trust in others outside the group.
When members of a group are at various stages of treatment, newcomers are able to observe other members’ progress. This may provide newcomers with hope for their own recovery.
In group therapy, each member plays a therapeutic role in sharing and making helpful criticisms or suggestions. Helping others often increases self-confidence and feelings of self-worth.
Because group members are going through similar problems, they are able to share helpful information that is both practical and healing.
In the safe, supportive environment of the group setting, patients are encouraged to experiment with new, healthier social behaviors. With the help of a skilled therapist, patients learn to channel their feelings, and improve their behavior by imitating healthier patterns. Learning such patterns is facilitated by direct observation, and by discussion with the therapist and other group members. Observing and discussing bad behavior are also effective learning tools.
Getting immediate feedback on one’s words and actions in a safe setting enables individuals to understand the impact of their own words and behavior in ways usually impossible in the outside world. In the group’s therapeutic environment, patients and therapist can be truthful and direct in ways that society and families do not always encourage or allow.
During the course of group therapy, as individual problems and flaws are discussed and accepted, each member is encouraged to to take responsibility for personal actions, which usually results in personal and interpersonal growth.
Group Therapy Treatment
Although therapy groups may include only 3 or 4 members, they usually have 7 to 12. A typical group meets once or twice weekly for 1 or 2 hours. Some therapy groups are limited to as few as 6 sessions, but most groups continue for at least a year. New members may be admitted to existing groups, but an effort is usually made to keep most of the group intact for its duration in order to facilitate bonding and trust. Most often, participants in group therapy sit in a circle to maintain a feeling of inclusion. Depending on the makeup and purpose of the therapy sessions and the style of the therapist, sessions may be entirely open and free-flowing, or follow a particular format or agenda.