Emotional difficulties and mental illnesses are often devastating to the person affected and their family members or close friends. If you have a mental illness, then you’ve probably considered undergoing therapy.
There are various types of therapy, each attempting to help a person recover from a mental illness.
This page explores group psychotherapy, what it is, what it has to offer, its benefits and drawbacks, and how you can maximize the chances of a positive outcome from your therapy.
So, what is group psychotherapy?
Group therapy is a branch of psychology that emphasizes people’s potential in connection to peers who are facing similar circumstances in life. Although less known than individual therapy, group practice has its origin in old Greece and now studied as a scientific approach to mental illness for over 100 years. It involves meeting with a specially-trained therapist and peers one or more times per week.
You might find the concept of sharing your deepest thoughts with total strangers unusual at first. Therapists do understand this, and they attempt to make necessary adjustments to the group accordingly.
However, suppose you think about it for a minute: you see, for most of your life, you surrounded yourself with people often going through the same situation: classmates sharing the same room, colleagues sharing the same office, strangers at the gym sharing the same pool, hundreds of people never seen before sharing a concert venue, and yet you survived. Group psychotherapy is not much different: you share a room with a small number of individuals going through difficulties, and you talk about it (of course, with the guidance of a trained therapist).
How Does it Work and What to Expect
As stated above, group psychotherapy involves meeting a small group of other people under a trained therapist’s guidance. The group part is what differentiates this option from other forms of psychotherapy. You have the opportunity to discuss your concerns and worries in a group setting.
The “group” part is what sets group psychotherapy apart from other therapy options. Talking to a group of people going through similar situations helps open up your mind and allows you to learn how other people deal with similar situations; most importantly, it gives you the valuable option to talk to more people in a confidential and non-judgmental environment.
Meeting people who understand what you’re going through is an invaluable experience. This aspect of the treatment can be life-changing and is the reason that makes group psychotherapy more successful than individual psychotherapy for many people.
In your group psychotherapy session, you can expect to take turns to talk about your problems, feelings, ideas, and reactions honestly and as freely as possible. It teaches you to understand yourself and gives the rest of the group an invaluable learning experience. The therapist in charge of the group, who assumes clinical responsibility for the whole group, guides the entire group and teaches you to become “therapeutic helpers” for one another.
You can expect the typical length of a session to be from 60 to 90 minutes. This depends on different factors, such as the number of people attending, the therapist’s style, the session’s topic, and how well the group connects.
Finally, you can expect your sessions to be fully confidential. Confidentiality is an essential part of healthcare delivery and is heavily abided by health professions. There are some exceptions as mandated by law: for example if you or someone else is in immediate danger of harm. Your therapist will explain the limits of confidentiality during your first session. Also, you can always ask your therapist for more information on confidentiality.
What Can Group Psychotherapy Be Used For?
As with individual psychotherapy, group psychotherapy can be used extensively and for a lot of conditions. Some examples are difficulties with interpersonal relationships, medical illness, depression and anxiety, loss, trauma, lifestyle issues, personality disorders, and addictive disorders. This list is not extensive, and almost anyone can benefit from group psychotherapy.
Like individual therapy, group therapy is also heavily personalized. You’ll join a group with like-minded individuals and those who are looking for the same result as you are.
Who Will Provide Your Therapy
There are a vast amount of mental health professionals who provide group therapy. As with all types of healthcare, therapists have to be licensed to provide treatment. More often than not, your therapist will be very highly educated, with many having master’s or doctoral degrees in their relevant field of expertise.
To complicate things even more, therapists often can have many titles. It all depends on how highly educated they are, their training, and their role. Therapists may work as licensed professional counselors, licensed clinical social workers, psychiatrists, licensed marriage and family therapists, psychologists, or psychiatric nurses.
As you see, your therapist may be well-trained in their area of expertise, so you’ll always be in safe hands.
Benefits of Group Psychotherapy
Group psychotherapy aims to provide you with the right tools and mindset to tackle day-to-day problems that exacerbate your mental health condition.
One of the most important benefits of group therapy is the opportunity to share your thoughts and emotions with a group of people who are in a similar situation as you. It enables you to give and receive support from other people, which is often much more therapeutic than having a single therapist talk to you. Furthermore, the bonding experience you get increases your success rate.
The next most significant benefit is the development of social skills, such as socialization and communication skills. Group therapy enables you to better express yourself, especially your issues, and learn how to accept others’ criticism. By listening to other peoples’ points of view, you’ll also develop vital self-awareness skills that will help you listen to your mind. It is essential as it allows you to understand better your thought process and how it can lead to a “vicious cycle” of thoughts.
By undergoing group psychotherapy, you also form a broad safety net and additional people you can talk to comfortably and confidentially. Peers who have experienced group therapy sessions together often still speak to one another long after completing their therapy. Therefore, by having more people to talk to, you’ll be more likely to share your deepest thoughts and feelings. It improves overall recovery.
Finally, with regards to finance, group therapy is always less expensive than individual psychotherapy and is covered by most insurance plans. Hence, for those on a tight budget, group therapy is always a better option. However, more often than not, group therapy is used alongside individual therapy. Mental health providers often use group therapy to develop the client’s communication and socialization skills while also providing individual therapy.
Drawbacks of Group Psychotherapy
While there are few drawbacks of group therapy, some should be considered before undertaking a group therapy session.
The main disadvantage is that, more often than not, the individual client is not the center of attention during the therapy session. A group consist of 5-10 (or more) people per session, and the therapist can not provide unconditional attention to individual clients. However, remember that group sessions aim not for the therapist to teach you but for you to talk to your fellow peers.
Another thing to consider is confidentiality. Clinicians value the concept of confidentiality, but others may share things outside the clinical session. Fear not, though, as, in the very first session (and subsequent sessions), your therapist does instruct the whole group that anything that is said in the group must remain confidential.
If you’re a very timid person, group psychotherapy may not be the right choice for you. Due to its nature, very timid people may not fully benefit from it, as the core principle is sharing. If you have one, your individual therapist may or may not recommend group therapy as they most likely know you very well.
Forms of Group Psychotherapy
There is a large variety of group therapy. They tackle different things, such as drug rehabilitation, depression & anxiety prevention, maternal wellness, and much more. However, the core types of group therapy are as follows:
- Client-centered groups: the aim is to determine what members of the group can do here and now while also forming a cohesive group where members can share their highs and lows in a safe environment.
- Cognitive therapy groups: are prevalent in drug treatments and are used in other stems of therapy. Therapists and clients work together to understand and control their thought processes and give them the tools required to cope with the stressors and triggers they might encounter.
- Psychodynamic: these are very common among people who also have an individual therapist. The aim is to explore the connection between your mind and your actions, uncover unconscious feelings, and interpret how they play in the presence of others.
- Humanistic: these types of groups work toward a common goal of living the most of your life. During the session, people invest their time discovering how to grow and increase self-acceptance while also discussing personal matters.
There are many more options, but these are the main ones used in contemporary approaches. Your therapist will go through the style of therapy that they will use in your first session.
How to Make Group Psychotherapy Work for You
As in all group activities, group psychotherapy sessions require you to participate in discussions actively. In this way, you get the most out of your therapy sessions while also sharing your experiences with others, therefore potentially helping them learn something new. However, if you’re shy, then don’t let this scare you. Group therapy can benefit almost anyone – as by attending, you’re already pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
Individual vs. Group Psychotherapy
There are many differences between both. Obviously, in individual therapy, you’re communicating with your therapist on a one-to-one basis, while in a group psychotherapy session, you’re communicating with the rest of the group. It has many benefits and some drawbacks (as discussed above).
The main difference is that group therapy is often less personalized and emphasizes a little more on social skills and interpersonal connections. The aim is to improve your interpersonal skills while also teaching the whole group-specific tools that may help your recovery journey.
Therefore, group therapy is an excellent choice for those looking to improve their interpersonal skills while also getting the help they need. All-in-all, all of this depends on your personal preferences.
The world of therapy is highly client-driven. Therapists follow a client-centered therapy principle that enforces therapists’ idea of not being the “authorities” that drive your inner experiences. Instead, they help you change by pointing out their concern and interest in helping you.