Providing mental health services for children, adolescents, and families.


Understanding the Benefits of Group Therapy

Category: Therapy


In a world where face-to-face communication is rapidly dwindling, joining a group therapy session can be particularly daunting.  Depending on the issues you’re dealing with, though, this type of psychotherapy could actually be very beneficial to you.  There’s simply not one “group” or even one format for everyone; you have to choose the one that’s right for you.  Here’s a little bit of background information to help you make your decision.

What does Group Therapy look like?

Thanks to movies and other media portrayals, most of us have a preconceived idea of what group therapy should look like.   You picture a group of approximately 5 to 15 individuals sitting around in a circle with a licensed psychologist facilitating conversation between the participants.  For most groups, this is a fairly accurate representation.  Some groups can be much larger (think Alcoholics Anonymous) and/or can have multiple psychologists present, but once you go over a certain size the group dynamics tend to change.  Typically, meetings occur on a once- or twice-a-week schedule with sessions lasting for 60 to 90 minute intervals.  You get to choose whether you’re meeting with the same people each week in a closed group format, or if you prefer a more open approach, you can find a session where newcomers drop in at will.  A closed group is beneficial because all members begin and end at the same time, so you really get to grow together.  This format usually requires a higher level of commitment that simply doesn’t suit some people, or their schedules.  You also may have to wait to join if there’s no group beginning soon in your area.  By contrast, an open group allows new members to join whenever, so you can start at anyone point.  If the current members have been meeting for several weeks prior to your involvement with the group, though, you may struggle to form a similar relationship with the other participants; for some, this adjustment period can be discouraging.

How long should you expect to go?

How long your group continues to meet will also vary from session to session.  Some last 8 to 12 weeks, and others have continued on for years.  It will depend on the success of your chemistry as a support group, along with your need for such therapy.  Most groups are organized around a specific topic, whether that be grief, anger, depression, substance abuse, or chronic pain.  They offer individuals a chance to air their issues with people from different backgrounds who can identify with their experiences.  Others focus on a specific outcome, rather than an emotion or problem; for example, there are groups that help participants improve their social skills, or boost their self-esteem.  These models all tackle individual circumstances outside of the group.  It’s important to note that therapists also offer programs to work on interpersonal issues within the group itself, which can be valuable for teams, families, and the like.  Many groups end up becoming a hybrid, especially as relationships within support groups develop and strengthen—they’ll have to learn how to effectively interact with one another.  To find out more about the generalities that distinguish group therapy from individual psychotherapy, check out the American Psychological Association’s website:  Once you’ve selected the right group based on your preferences and personal goals, you’ll start to see the benefits offered by this structure.

How does Group Therapy help?

Often the same issues that drive us to therapy have the effect of making us feel very isolated, not only literally, but emotionally as well.  You tend to believe you’re the only person experiencing such thoughts, and no one could possibly understand what you’re going through.  This could cause you to withdraw from the support system you already have, like your family and friends.  Thus, identifying with a new, more diverse group of people can be a great reassurance.  The most effective group dynamics typically combine a variety of people from different backgrounds and demographics who have one very important thing in common—the reason they’re in group therapy.  Hearing others vocalize your feelings and allowing them to act as a soundboard for your similar issues with their unique points of view can provide perspective in a way few other experiences can.  While individual therapy relies solely on the psychologist-patient relationship, this format actively encourages participants to turn to one another for support; the professional acts as more of a facilitator, teaching them strategies and techniques for self-management.  These relationships often extend beyond the bounds of the weekly sessions.  True friendships can form, allowing individuals to develop a support system, or safety net, even during the off hours that holds them accountable for reaching their personal goals.  Truly, the list of benefits goes on and on, so feel free to continue reading here:

One-on-one therapy programs and group therapy aren’t mutually exclusive experiences.  Many professionals actively encourage people to participate in both, so you can more fully examine your thoughts and benefits from the separate settings.  If you’re still undecided on this topic, let our staff at The Family Center discuss your concerns. We can even assist you in finding or forming a group that meets your needs.

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