Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy in which one or two therapists work with a number of clients simultaneously.
The aims include relieving distress through discussing and expressing feelings; helping to change attitudes, behaviour and habits that may be unhelpful; and promoting more constructive and adaptive ways of coping. Some groups may focus on providing members with information about specific issues or teaching them coping skills.
Therapy groups typically have up to 12 members and meet for one to two hours, usually weekly. The group members and leaders sit in a way that allows each person to see everyone else. The therapists guide the group process and provide structure.
Groups may be open or closed. In an open group, members may join at any time, while a closed group has a set start and end date.
Groups are often formed around a shared issue. For example, group members may be living with a particular mental health concern (e.g., social anxiety, an eating disorder, an addiction), or dealing with a loss or other challenge (e.g., parenting difficulties, the mental illness or suicide of a family member).
As with other forms of psychotherapy, what is said in group therapy remains confidential, with certain exceptions. Group members are expected to respect other participants' privacy by not disclosing their identity or discussing the content of sessions outside the therapy room. It is also often an expectation that members will not socialize or contact one another outside the group.
Part of the therapists' role is to make sure the group environment remains respectful and that all members feel safe, comfortable and free from harassment or discrimination.
There are many different forms of group therapy. The way a group works depends on its goals. The two main types are process-oriented groups and psychoeducational groups.
In process-oriented groups, the interpersonal experience between the members of the group is a major focus. Opening up in front of others can be challenging, but it also may lead to major growth and change when a person experiences a sense of belonging and acceptance from their peers. Process groups are based on working through these challenges and changes.
A process group may be based on a shared issue in members' lives outside the group, or it may focus purely on the interactions that arise within the group itself.
This type of group tends to be flexible in structure, and the agenda each week is typically set by the group members themselves. The therapists facilitate the discussion when needed, but they are not the centre of attention. Process groups may be open-ended or time-limited but generally run for at least six months.
Psychoeducational groups are more focused on sharing information on a particular topic or teaching skills (e.g., anger management, cognitive-behavioural therapy). The relationship between members is not so important in this kind of group, though people may still benefit from connecting with others who are struggling with similar issues.
In psychoeducational groups, the therapist is more active and has the role of an instructor. These groups are more likely to be time-limited and relatively short-term.
The effectiveness of group therapy is well researched. For some people it can offer advantages that may not be available through individual psychotherapy. For example, people who feel alone in their struggles may gain confidence and encouragement from interacting with peers who are "in the same boat." Group therapy also is usually more affordable than individual therapy.
Here are some key benefits of group therapy:
There is usually little risk to psychotherapy. Because it involves exploring difficult areas of your life, therapy can sometimes be emotionally uncomfortable. A skilled therapist will be aware of this and will help you navigate these feelings.
Rarely, the thoughts and feelings brought up by therapy may be seriously troubling. In these situations it is important to let the therapist know what you are experiencing so they can help you work through your feelings safely.
5 Benefits of Group Therapy © 2018 Psych Central
Group Therapy © 2018 GoodTherapy.org
Psychotherapy: Understanding Group Therapy © 2018 American Psychological Association
What Is Group Therapy and How Does It Work? © Verywell Mind
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