Group therapy is a type of psychotherapy in which several patients are treated at the same time. Group therapy may take 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 commonly it is used in combination with individual therapy and/or medication.
Reasons for Group Therapy
Group therapy may be used to treat almost all kinds of psychological/psychiatric disorders. Conditions in which group therapy may be particularly effective include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
- Psychological issues surrounding physical illness
- Phobias, particularly social phobia
- Post-traumatic stress, or PTSD
Benefits of Group Therapy
Group therapy may offer several benefits whether used alone or in combination with other therapies. For the professional 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 may include the following:
Individuals engaging in group therapy quickly become aware that they are not alone in their suffering. This alleviates the sense of isolation that patients suffering from anxiety, addiction, phobias or other psychological issues may be experiencing. Because the group members' goal is to help one another as they help themselves, each member comes to experience a sense of acceptance and belonging.
Group therapy, like individual therapy, offers a setting for expression of an individual's most worrisome and difficult feelings. Such open expression is beneficial and cathartic, offering a measure of relief from pent-up stress.
In group therapy, each patient shares a great deal of personal information and is concurrently the recipient of the confidences of others. The bond created among group members may enable patients to develop increased trust in others outside the group.
Since members of a group are at various stages of treatment, newcomers are able to observe other individuals progressing in their recovery. This may provide those beginning therapy with hope for their own recovery.
In group therapy, each member plays a therapeutic role in sharing and making helpful criticisms or suggestions. The ability to assist others often provides increased self-confidence and reassurance of personal worth.
Because group members are going through similar problems, they are able to share helpful information which may be both practical and healing.
In the safe, supportive environment of the group setting, patients are encouraged to experiment with new, healthier social behaviors without the fear of failure or embarrassment present in everyday life. With the help of a skilled therapist, patients learn to channel their feelings and improve their behavior through the imitation of healthier patterns. Learning such patterns is facilitated by direct observation and discussion by the therapist and other group members. Examples of bad behavior observed and discussed may also be effective learning tools.
Getting immediate feedback on one's words and actions in a comfortably 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, group members and therapist may be truthful and direct in ways that ordinary society, or even familial settings, do not always encourage or even allow.
During the course of group therapy, as individual problems and flaws are discussed and accepted, each group member is encouraged to to take responsibility for personal actions. This almost always results in personal and interpersonal growth.
Group Therapy Treatment
While such groups may include only three or four individuals, typical therapy groups include 7 to 12 members. An average group meets once or twice weekly for an hour or two. Though some therapy groups are limited to as few as six sessions, most groups are maintained 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 make-up and purpose of the therapy sessions and the style of the therapist, the sessions may be entirely open and free-flowing or may follow a particular format or agenda.