What are the benefits of group therapy?
Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy that aims to help people manage mental health conditions or cope with negative experiences and behaviors.
This article will discuss what group therapy is, its potential benefits, and what to expect during treatment sessions.
What is it?
Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves one or more mental health practitioners who deliver psychotherapy to several individuals in each session.
Group therapy can reduce wait times and give more people access to mental healthcare.
Some people attend individual therapy sessions in addition to group therapy, while others only use group therapy.
Who is it for?
Anyone can attend a group therapy session. However, group therapy can be especially helpful for people with limited access to mental healthcare, such as those living in rural or low income areas where healthcare clinics are understaffed or scarce.
One of the goals of group therapy is to bring people who share similar experiences together.
Group therapy usually focuses on a specific mental health concern, such as social anxiety or depression. Some other examples of conditions a group may focus on include:
- generalized anxiety disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- panic disorder
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- substance use disorder
Group therapy can also help people with:
- chronic pain
- weight loss
- anger management
- domestic violence
- cultural trauma
- chronic illness
How it works
In his book The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, Irvin D. Yalom outlines 11 principles of group therapy, which he refers to as “the 11 primary factors.”
The following sections of this article will outline these 11 principles from the book.
Instillation of hope
Therapists can instill hope in group members by acknowledging when current and former members progress toward their goals.
Groups usually consist of people at different stages of treatment.
According to The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, watching people who are currently experiencing or recovering from a similar problem gives other group members hope that they will also have positive treatment outcomes.
Group therapy brings people who have similar experiences together.
Meeting other people recovering from or working through similar issues helps people realize that they are not alone, according to The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy.
The book also states that understanding the universality of their experiences can help people overcome physical and emotional isolation.
Group members and therapists can help each other by sharing information and offering advice.
Group members can support, reassure, and help each other improve throughout the treatment.
According to The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, this helps improve their self-esteem and confidence.
The corrective recapitulation of the primary family group
The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy states that therapy groups often resemble family groups, with one or two parental authority figures and some peer siblings.
Within group therapy sessions, people can confront their early childhood experiences and dynamics with these “parents and siblings.”
They can learn how these early experiences shaped their personality and identify which behaviors and beliefs are unhelpful or destructive in their lives.
Development of socializing techniques
According to The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, group members can give and receive corrective feedback that can help them engage in social interactions outside the group.
Members of the group may imitate the behaviors they observe in more senior members or therapists.
As a result, group members can gain a better understanding of themselves, according to The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy.
The therapy group reflects the individual’s social universe, according to The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy.
Through feedback and self-observation, group members can gain awareness of the strengths and limitations of their interpersonal behavior.
As part of a group with a common goal, members can gain a sense of belonging, according to The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy.
The author says that members may feel more comfortable opening up to the group as a result. They may also be more willing to implement the behavioral changes they learn as part of the treatment.
Sharing their feelings, experiences, and pain with a group can help people release anger and pent up emotions.
According to The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, this process can lead to sudden insights that shift the ways in which people perceive and respond to life.
Group therapy sessions provide space and time for people to explore uncomfortable existential factors, such as loss and death, according to The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy.
Group members can also develop a stronger sense of self-reliance by learning to understand that they are ultimately in control of their behaviors, actions, and choices.
Different types of group therapy
There are several different types of group therapy, and treatment models vary from group to group.
The following sections will outline five of the most common types of group therapy.
Psychoeducational group therapy focuses on educating members about their conditions and providing them with new coping strategies.
These groups usually focus on a specific condition, such as substance use disorder, anxiety, or phobias.
Skills development groups
Skills development groups focus on introducing and improving the skills that members need to cope with certain mental health conditions.
These groups may incorporate aspects of psychoeducational groups.
Still, the overall goal involves strengthening the members’ behavioral and cognitive resources to help them make positive choices and avoid harmful situations.
Cognitive behavioral groups
Cognitive behavioral group therapy attempts to restructure the beliefs a person has that lead to negative or harmful behaviors.
For example, cognitive behavioral groups that focus on substance use disorder begin by identifying situations and environments that trigger addictive behavior.
With this understanding, members can develop management strategies that support reduced use.
Support groups can help people cope with significant life changes, such as the loss of a loved one.
In support groups, members give and receive unconditional acceptance.
The group also encourages its members to reflect on their personal beliefs and behaviors.
Interpersonal process groups
The interpersonal process group model uses the psychodynamic approach to promote positive change. Psychodynamics is a school of psychology that views a person’s early life experiences and subconscious beliefs and feelings as the foundation of their personality and behaviors.
Interpersonal process groups focus more on interpersonal group dynamics and less on individual psychology.
Is it effective?
Group therapy appears to be effective for depression.
One study of group therapy for depression concluded that group treatment can lead to significant improvements at both the group and individual level.
However, the authors note that many people dropped out of group therapy during the course of the study.
In another study, researchers examined the effectiveness of a 7-week mobile- and web-based group therapy program for treating depression.
The participants reported significant improvements in depressive symptoms and overall health. These improvements remained stable over the 3-month follow-up period.
Also, the authors of one 2019 article reviewed 33 studies regarding the effects of group therapy on substance use disorders.
They found that group therapy had moderate effects on mental state compared with no treatment and that people in group therapy were more likely to abstain from future use than those not enrolled in treatment.
According to The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy Fourth Edition, group therapy may provide:
- a safe place for people to share their feelings and explore the nature of their mental health condition
- a place to receive support from and give support to others who are experiencing similar difficulties
- exposure to new behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs that may shift people’s perspectives
- a place where people feel that they are not alone
- positive support systems
- a more affordable alternative to one-on-one therapy sessions
What to expect
Group therapy involves one or more psychologists who lead small groups with up to 15 members. Group sessions meet once per week and last for around 1–2 hours.
Group therapy sessions can occur in healthcare settings and community centers, such as therapy offices, hospitals, and libraries.
Groups will meet in a quiet room with chairs in a circle so that group members can see each other.
At the beginning of a session, group members will introduce themselves and share their reasons for attending group therapy. They may also discuss their progress and any obstacles or setbacks they have experienced since the last meeting.
The exact activities in group therapy sessions will vary from group to group. However, these activities tend to focus on promoting open, honest communication and establishing trust between group members and their psychologists.
How to find group therapy
People can find certified group therapists through the American Group Psychotherapy Association website.
Also, those who are currently working with a mental healthcare practitioner can ask for referrals or recommendations.
Factors to consider
People may want to consider the following factors when searching for group therapy:
- whether or not they wish to join a group that focuses on a specific experience or mental health condition
- whether or not they prefer certain group therapy models
- whether they want to attend group therapy sessions in person or online
- whether or not they feel more comfortable talking to people from similar backgrounds as them
Cost, coverage, and affordable options
Group therapy costs vary depending on the therapist, the size of the group, and the location. Group therapy usually costs less than individual therapy because therapists will work with multiple people at once.
Having health insurance can lower the cost of group therapy and other types of mental healthcare.
Medicare Part B will help pay for outpatient mental health services, including group therapy. In most states, Medicaid will cover individual and group therapy as part of the outpatient hospital behavioral health service.
Private health insurance companies offer similar coverage for both individual and group therapy. A person can contact their insurance company for more information about their coverage policies.
Group therapy offers an alternative to individual therapy.
In group therapy sessions, people can meet others who share similar experiences. One or more certified psychologists or other mental healthcare practitioners lead group therapy sessions.
There are many different types of group therapy model. However, most groups tend to focus on introducing members to new, more positive behaviors so that they can better cope with significant life events and mental health symptoms.