Group therapy helps trauma survivors feel heard and supported while also learning new coping skills.
Have you ever talked with another person who’s been through the same painful experience as you?
Perhaps it was an abusive relationship, a nearly-fatal car accident, or the sudden death of a loved one.
Although 60% of Americans will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in their lifetime, many survivors of trauma feel lonely and isolated from others.
Enter group therapy. Sharing your story with people who are experiencing similar struggles can be a bonding and healing experience. Group therapy can help you connect with others, learn new coping skills, and find your voice again.
Group therapy is a type of psychotherapy where several people attend the same session. “Trauma group therapy,” in particular, involves survivors of trauma. The sessions are typically led by one or more licensed professionals who specialize in trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or both.
Group sizes may vary from just a few participants to around 20. These groups may be open or closed. An open group allows members to come and go as they please, while a closed group requires members to register and start on the same day.
Groups may be aimed at specific types of trauma or symptoms, such as a group for women with a history of childhood sexual abuse or a group for people with severe dissociative symptoms.
There are several types of trauma psychotherapy groups:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT groups focus on identifying and challenging negative or false thought patterns.
- Interpersonal group therapy (IPT): IPT groups focus on reducing symptoms by improving personal relationship skills.
- Mind-body skills group therapy: These groups incorporate mindfulness skills such as meditation, breath work, and guided imagery.
- Feminist-informed group therapy: These groups help empower and heal female survivors of violence.
- Functional Family Therapy for PTSD: This is a type of psychotherapy designed to help children and their families overcome violence and trauma.
- CBT for PTSD with a co-occurring mental health condition: These groups can address both PTSD and another disorder, such as substance use disorder (SUD).
Group treatment for survivors of trauma has been in practice for several decades now. It was developed around the same time that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) became a formal diagnosis in the 3rd edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980.
Trauma group therapy is considered an effective form of treatment and is commonly offered to survivors of trauma. In fact, 2017 research suggests that group therapy offers some advantages over individual therapy in that it helps “normalize” trauma symptoms and offers social support to participants.
In this study, the women – all of whom had significant post-traumatic symptoms – were randomly assigned to individual (25 participants) or group (28) therapy.
Overall, the study found that group therapy is just as effective as individual therapy. It’s also more cost-effective, particularly in the long-term.
Group therapy for trauma offers numerous benefits. It can be:
- effective in reducing PTSD symptoms
- effective in helping manage long-term symptoms
- more affordable than individual therapy
- a safe-space for survivors
- a place survivors can access community and feel a sense of belonging
- a way to help lessen the stigma or shame survivors may feel
- a way to help members restore trust in others
- a way to help individuals overcome social anxiety or fear
- a validating process
- a way members can learn new ways of coping and self-care strategies
- a way to boost participants’ self-esteem
In some cases, group therapy may be less effective. Some cons include:
- Some survivors may have a very difficult time sharing their problems in a group setting.
- Specific intervention techniques, such as exposure therapy, may be more difficult to carry out in a group setting.
- Scheduled group therapy sessions may not be convenient for everyone, especially for those with tight schedules or limited transportation.
There are numerous resources for survivors of trauma. You can find several online support groups and forums, as well as educational articles and videos.
- American Group Psychotherapy Association’s list of resources for the public.
- American Trauma Society’s (ATS) Survivor Stories.
- ATS Trauma Survivors Network social media links.
- Complex Trauma Resources videos.
- Hope Recovery support groups & workshops.
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: National Center for PTSD resources.
Group therapy for trauma can offer numerous benefits. In fact, research shows that group therapy is equally as effective as individual therapy, as well as considerably more cost-effective.
If you or someone you know has experienced trauma and needs some extra support, group therapy for trauma may be a great first step toward feeling better.