Group therapy provides psychotherapy treatment in a format where there is typically one therapist and six to twelve participants with related problems. Sometimes a therapist may recommend group therapy over individual psychotherapy for a variety of reasons. It may be that the group format is better suited for the person or the concern they are dealing with, or that the specific type of treatment has a group therapy component (such as dialectical behavior therapy).
People in group therapy improve not only from the interventions of the therapist, but also from observing others in the group and receiving feedback from group members. The group format, while not providing the one-on-one attention of individual formats, has several advantages.
Similar to family therapy, group therapy is a style that can incorporate any of the psychotherapy schools. The advantages of group therapy include:
- Increased feedback
Group therapy can provide the patient with feedback from other people. Getting different perspectives is often helpful in promoting growth and change.
By seeing how others handle similar problems, the patient can rapidly add new coping methods to his or her behaviors. This is beneficial in that it can give the patient a variety of perspectives on what seem to work and when.
Mary listens to Joan talk about how telling her husband that he hurt her feelings was more productive than simply getting angry at him and not speaking. As she listens, Mary thinks of how she might try this same strategy with her husband. She can then try out this new behavior by practicing with the men in the group.
- Less expensive
By treating several patients simultaneously, the therapist can reduce the usual fee. In most cases the cost of group therapy is about one-third that of individual therapy.
- Improve social skills
Since so much of our daily interaction is with other people, many people learn to improve their social skills in group therapy (even though such an issue may not be the focus of the group). The group leader, a therapist, often helps people to learn to communicate more clearly and effectively with one another in the group context. This is inevitably leads to people learning new social skills which they can generalize and use in all of their relationships with others.
Unlike individual therapy sessions, group therapy offers participants the opportunity to interact with others with similar issues in a safe, supportive environment. Participants can try out new behaviors, role play, and engage with others in not only receiving valuable feedback and insight from other group members, but also in giving it.
Many people who have never tried group therapy before are frightened by the idea. Sharing intimate information and details about one’s life (and problems) can be challenging enough to do with a single therapist. To do so with six other strangers might seem overwhelming. For this reason, for most people group therapy is usually not the first treatment option offered.
Most people who try group therapy do become comfortable and familiar with the process over a short period of time (within a few weeks). There are clinicians and researchers who also claim that the group psychotherapy process produces stronger and longer-lasting results for many people, as compared to individual psychotherapy.
As the group members begin to feel more comfortable, you will be able to speak freely. The psychological safety of the group will allow the expression of those feelings which are often difficult to express outside of group. You will begin to ask for the support you need. You will be encouraged tell people what you expect of them.
In a group, you probably will be most helped and satisfied if you talk about your feelings. It is important to keep in mind that you are the one who determines how much you disclose in a group. You will not be forced to tell you deepest and innermost thoughts.
Groups with greater than 12 participants should usually be avoided, as it becomes increasingly difficult for people to attain sufficient time to make the group process work as effectively as it does with smaller groups.