People sitting in a group

What is Group Therapy and How Does it Work?

Introduction

     According to a report from the American Psychological Association, group therapy is more popular than ever.

 

Despite its growing popularity, it’s understandable that one might be confused or skeptical about group therapy. The more they learn, though, the easier it is to understand what it entails and why it works.

 

Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding group therapy.

 

What Happens in Group Therapy?

In most group therapy sessions, the members will get together in a private space and sit in a circle together for easy conversation. Usually these groups are facilitated by a mental health professional.

 

The group will be led by at least one counselor. Sometimes, depending on the size of the group, there may be multiple counselors or facilitators involved.

 

During the therapy session, the group members will share their feelings and experiences. They often talk to one another, rather than only talking to a counselor or therapist as they would in an individual session.

 

No one is forced to share or speak up during a typical group therapy session. If someone wants to sit and listen, they’re welcome to do so. Over time, though, most people find that they want to open up and be honest about what they’re feeling or experiencing.

 

What Is Group Therapy Used to Treat?

Group therapy can be used to address multiple mental health conditions. In the article titled Group Therapy, Akshay Malhotra and Jeff Baker explain that group therapy is effective for the following issues:

 

Many people also attend group therapy or a dedicated support group for help with issues like addiction and eating disorders.

 

Family members who are going through a difficult time may attend group therapy, too. This allows them to work through their problems together with the help of an objective, professional counselor (or counselors).

 

Examples of Group Therapy.

There are many different styles of group therapy that one might want to consider. The following are some of the most common types and examples of groups used in group therapy:

 

Psychoeducational Groups

Psychoeducational groups are staffed by group therapists dedicated to helping attendees change the way they think, feel, and behave.

 

Attendees often struggle with a specific issue, such as parenting or stress management. The group leader will provide information, lead discussions, and teach attendees ways that they can incorporate the information delivered into their daily lives.

 

Counseling Groups

Counseling groups are dedicated to improving interpersonal processes and solving specific problems, such as coping with a divorce.

 

In counseling groups, members support and challenge each other to explore and learn more about themselves. The group leader is the facilitator and keeps everyone on track.

 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a common treatment modality used in group therapy. These Cognitive Behavioral Groups can be found in most therapy clinics.

 

Psychotherapy Groups

Psychotherapy groups help attendees to address a specific psychological issue, as well as the conscious and unconscious problems that stem from it. Psychotherapy groups are designed to support those who are dealing with severe psychological disorders, such as depression or eating disorders.

 

These groups are similar in structure to counseling groups. However, they often require deeper work than counseling groups since attendees are dealing with such serious issues.

 

Medical advice is sometimes suggested, though group treatment is typically geared more at interpersonal learning.

 

Is Group Therapy Effective?

There is plenty of research that shows the effectiveness of group therapy. For example, one meta-analysis published by The University of York evaluated 48 studies and found that 45 of them showed that group therapy could be beneficial to those dealing with depression.

 

There are lots of reasons why group therapy sessions are effective. The following are some of the most noteworthy ones:

  • Attendees receive support from those going through the same situations they are
  • Groups provide attendees with a sounding board and can be more comfortable than one-on-one sessions
  • Groups encourage good social skills and help attendees work on their communication

 

Group therapy gives attendees a chance to see their situation in a new way, too. When they hear others talk about their challenges, it’s as though a mirror is being held up to them. This shows them the blind spots they may have been missing before.

 

Are Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Groups Effective?

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (or DBT for short) teaches people how to check in with themselves, change their behavior, and get “unstuck” from difficult situations.

 

According to this article from the International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, DBT was originally designed to treat Borderline Personality Disorder. However, DBT groups are now also used for those dealing with various mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety.

 

DBT groups are different from other types of group therapy because they operate more likely classes, rather than group sharing sessions. The facilitator teaches different skills during each class, and it takes a while (around 6 months on average) for attendees to see results.

 

How Long Does Group Therapy Last?

The duration of one’s group therapy will vary depending on their specific needs and the type of therapy they’re receiving.

 

For example, DBT groups often require at least 6 months of consistent attendees before one can start to see results. Others may only need to attend a few weeks of group therapy sessions before they start to feel better about a specific issue.

 

Before you join a group, it is important to consider the individual and group expectations.

People Sitting in a Circle

 

Is Group Therapy Good for Depression? Anxiety?

Many people who struggle with mental illness can benefit from group therapy. It’s especially helpful for those dealing with depression and anxiety, though.

 

Group therapy reminds people with depression and anxiety that they aren’t alone. It also provides them with a support system and a safe space where they can address their problems without judgment.

 

In particular, group therapy benefits those with depression or anxiety who don’t feel comfortable in a one-on-one therapy session. They create an environment where it’s acceptable to sit back and listen first, without causing the person to feel pressured to open up and start talking right away.

 

What Do You Talk About in Group Therapy?

Group therapy attendees can talk about anything and everything. In general, nothing is off-limits in the group setting.

 

A counselor or facilitator might set some ground rules at the beginning when it comes to language or the way in which information is shared. However, the goal of group therapy is to create a safe space for those in need.

 

This means attendees can talk about virtually anything that might be troubling them or holding them back from feeling better.

 

What Is a Strength of Group Therapy?

There are many strengths of group therapy. Perhaps the most noteworthy benefit, though, is the fact that it reminds attendees that they’re not alone.

 

When one is struggling with their mental health, whether they’re dealing with depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, an eating disorder, etc., it’s easy to feel isolated. They may assume that no one knows what they’re experiencing.

 

Group therapy reminds them that this isn’t true. It gives them access to people who can empathize with their situation and eliminates the shame and stigma that comes with a lot of mental health challenges.

 

What Are the Disadvantages of Group Therapy?

As with any type of therapy, there are some potential downsides to group therapy.

 

For example, group therapy may not be a good fit for those who are very shy or who struggle with social phobias. For these people, the idea of sharing their struggles in a room full of people is downright terrifying.

 

Group therapy, especially when it involves very large groups of people, can also create opportunities for personality clashes. One person may monopolize the group or interrupt others. If the facilitator doesn’t do a good job of keeping this individual in check, it can create an unsafe environment for the rest of the attendees.

 

It’s worth noting that group therapy also isn’t ideal for certain people. In addition to those who are very shy or have social phobias, it’s also not right for people who are in crisis or dealing with emergent mental health issues.

 

Before one can attend group therapy and experience the benefits it has to offer, they need to make sure they’ve reached an acceptable level of management and daily functioning.

 

How Do I Get the Most Out of Group Therapy?

If someone is getting ready to attend group therapy, they may be wondering what they can do to maximize the results they see from it.

 

This resource from the University of Kentucky offers some advice on how to get the most out of group therapy. It includes the following suggestions:

  • Go in with an open mind; be willing to hear and truly listen to what others have to say
  • Be willing to accept feedback and suggestions
  • Use caution when offering advice to someone else; in general, it’s best to leave that up to the facilitator unless specifically asked to do otherwise
  • Let what’s said in the group stay in the group; don’t share other people’s stories or problems with others
  • Use “I” statements (I feel, I worry, I think, etc.)
  • Attend every meeting, show up on time, and don’t leave until the session is over

 

It’s also important for those who are considering group therapy to remember that it may take a few sessions before they start to feel better or notice changes.

 

Patience is key here. Most people don’t see results right away, but that doesn’t mean the process isn’t working.

 

Group Therapy Summary

In group therapy people get together in a private space for easy conversation. The theory and practice of group psychotherapy leaves room for lots of customization.

 

Group therapy can be used to treat multiple mental health conditions.

 

The length of group therapy depends on the condition being treated and the circumstance, for instance DBT sessions can last 6 months where as a few weeks is all that is needed for some other conditions.

 

One of the main advantages of group therapy is that it helps to remind participants that they are not alone.

 

Group therapy may not be suited to certain people such as those with social phobias.

 

To get the most out of group therapy, go in with an open mind and be willing to accept feedback and suggestions from the group.

 

If interested in group psychotherapy, individual therapy, or both individual and group therapy, feel free to contact us directly and have your questions medically reviewed.

 

References:

The Popularity of Group Therapy - American Psychological Association

About Group Therapy - Reference book

Group Therapy Examples

The effectiveness of group therapy - The University of York

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy - International Journal of Group Psychotherapy

How to get the most out of group therapy - University of Kentucky

Disclaimer: ALL IN Therapy Clinic aims to improve people's lives by providing effective mental health counseling by passionate professionals. We publish quality material for your own education. Our publications are researched, cited, reviewed, and edited by licensed mental health professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.