Group therapy may not be as well known as traditional one-to-one therapy, but group therapy is surely gaining popularity. Group therapy involves people who share something in common such as a mental disorder. These people meet under the leadership of one or more trained therapists.
Talking and various therapeutic activities are used during group therapy sessions to help find ways to deal with life stressors and create positive tools for coping with whatever disorder the group was designed to address.
Not a Replacement for Treatment
However, for the vast majority of people, it is best used as auxiliary support rather than being the sole form of therapy a person is attending.
This is because while group therapy undeniably can provide peer support in a way that the other cannot, it is also limited in terms of dealing with personal struggles outside the purview of the topic that is being discussed.
For example, while you can discuss personal issues during a group meeting (e.g., school or work stress, etc.), the main focus is going to be on the disorder that the group was designed to address.
In circumstances where one-on-one therapy is unrealistic due to financial or time constraints, then group therapy can still be helpful though most group leaders will encourage individual treatment if they believe it would be helpful.
What the Science Says
The common ground that you find with a group of people who are all experiencing similar life situations can make it easier to share and heal.
Co-led group therapy meetings with more than one leader tend to have a greater benefit based on research studies. Having more than one person makes it possible for everyone to feel heard.
It is easier to keep track of the progress and non-verbal signs of distress in a group of people with more than one trained therapist leading the group.
What to Expect at a Meeting
While every group has its own unique policies and attendance rules, there are quite a few, such as the 12-step programme that follows a universal pattern for each meeting.
Due to Covid-19, many group therapy meetings are currently taking place using telehealth services like video conference calls and text forums.
Do You Have to Share?
Most people are asked to give a brief introduction of themselves to the others, but there is no forced sharing. Active participation is highly encouraged and will provide the greatest benefits.
However, making people share when they are uncomfortable would be counterproductive, so most therapy leaders know when to call out attendees to share and when to let them get support from being there and listening.
How Many People Will Be There?
Groups can come in any size, but they usually are between four and fifteen people. In 2020 most meetings were moved online which has created attendance challenges for leaders because some online formats only allow a certain number per shared room.
Overall this has led to smaller groups to both make it easier for therapists to keep track of everyone and also due to technical limitations.
What If You Do Not Like the Group?
Not everyone will fit into every group, and that is okay. If you live in a mid-size or larger city, then there will most likely be multiple groups to choose from.
In the same way that not every therapist-client combination will be beneficial, it might turn out that a specific group format or attendees are going to add to your stress.
In those cases, it is best to search for another group in the same area for the same disorder.
Usually, you can find groups for weekends and others for weekdays that are led by different individuals which will provide the chance to try a new group without giving up.
Do not get discouraged with needing to relocate to a new group if you are not getting the kind of help that you need.
Common Types of Group Therapy
While each therapist will decide on precisely how their group is run, there are a few types of community programmes that take place worldwide and are rarely altered from their tried and true formats. They include the following.
In Residential Facilities
Group meetings during residential treatment for disorders are laser-focused to make sure that each member is heard and gets positive results.
This is necessarily a short-term programme because in-patient facilities are not permanent and only generally last between several weeks and a few months.
During that time group therapy and one-on-one therapy are used simultaneously. Sometimes group therapy provides the best results with peers who feel they are all equal.
There are groups that follow the outline of 12-step programmes for almost anything from eating disorders to gambling addiction, anxiety, and substance abuse, to name a few.
These groups tend to be more holistic in their approach by addressing personal wellbeing in a spiritual capacity as well though belief is not required.
The great thing about 12-step groups is their prevalence and similarity between different meetings, so you always know what to expect.
Results have been disparate when it comes to research into the effectiveness of 12-step programmes for treating specific disorders even though overall, they are beneficial.
For example, using group therapy to treat substance abuse disorders has been seen to have varied outcomes. The number of meetings attended directly correlates with successful sobriety.
When a community finds itself in need of additional support for certain disorders then group therapy meetings might be started by an individual therapist or an organisation to help meet that need.
Main Benefits of Group Therapy
There are many great ways group therapy can improve a person’s outlook and lower their risk factors for developing other disorders. A few of the ways it helps is with recovery, healing, and countering loneliness. The following are some main benefits.
Being held accountable for your progress and actions is a powerful tool in recovery. Group therapy gives that sense of accountability without additional pressure that may come from being faced with the same reactions from family or friends.
A Place to Be Heard
There is evidence that hearing therapeutic encouragements and suggestions from peers makes it easier to absorb than the same information being provided by a therapist.
We instinctively have greater trust in people who we feel on the same level with. There is less stigma and shame associated with sharing with other people who we know have thought and felt the same way while they struggled with their version of the disorder.
Most groups include a wide range of ages, genders, income levels, and other demographic differences. This diversity gives a greater sense of perspective to everyone’s circumstances which can help with reframing specific negative thought patterns.
Hearing from someone who is living with the same disorder but who is forced to deal with it in entirely new ways can help provide new ideas on healthy coping mechanisms as well.
For people who attend residential treatment facilities, the transition back into the real world can be jarring, uncomfortable, and fraught with triggers. Having a group of people who are going through the same situation is helpful and can give some peace of mind.
Not feeling alone is a big part of why group therapy is so successful. You will be held accountable for your actions and inactions, but you will also have the group celebrate your successes and encourage you through difficult periods.
Positive Social Interaction
Quite a few disorders lead to problems interacting with others. Group therapy is a great way to figure out ways to build social connections with others without there being any pressure.
Having a routine, positive social interaction is excellent exposure therapy for those who have anxiety related to being around other people.
The Importance of Active Participation
Studies have proven that people who actively participate in group therapy meetings have lowered stress responses in later therapy and real-world situations.
It is arguably more important to be an active participant in group therapy than in individualised care since the therapist leading and other members will have no way to gauge your progress and needs if you are not willing to share. It is also harder to gain a social connection.
Being a passive participant may be useful during the first few meetings when the process is still unfamiliar. Still, progress may plateau without personal contribution to the talk and activities meant to assist with developing new skills and change perceptions of the disorder.
Group participation is also an excellent way to increase your ability to communicate about difficult subjects which can benefit any other simultaneous treatments.
Participating does not always mean telling your entire life story. It could be giving out encouragement or a different view on something someone else has shared.