What is group therapy?
Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves one or more therapists who deliver psychotherapy and work with several people at the same time. It is widely available at a variety of locations, for example: private therapeutic practises, hospitals, mental health clinics and community centres. It also reduces wait times and gives more people access to mental healthcare.
Types of group therapy
There are different types of group therapy depending on your mental health conditions and preferred clinical method used during therapy. The common types are:
Cognitive behavioural groups - help identify and change inaccurate or distorted thinking patterns, emotional responses and behaviours
Interpersonal groups - identify interpersonal relationships, social interactions, the amount of support you might get from others, and the impact relationships might have on your mental health
Psychoeducational groups - educate people about their disorders and ways of coping (this is based on cognitive behavioral therapy)
Skills development groups - improve social skills
Support groups - provide a wide range of benefits for people with mental health conditions and support for their loved ones
The book theory and practise of group psychotherapy outlines 11 principles of group therapy:
Altruism - sharing strengths and helping others in the group, which boosts self esteem and confidence
Catharsis - sharing feelings and experiences with a group of people, which relieves pain, guilt and stress
The corrective recapitulation of the primary family group - within the group, each member can explore their childhood experiences and how they contributed to their personality and behaviours and learn to avoid behaviours that are destructive or unhelpful
Development of socialization techniques - a safe and supportive group setting is a great way to practise new behaviours without the fear of failure
Existential factors - the group would offer support and guidance to individuals and allow them to realise that they are responsible for their own lives, actions and choices
Group cohesiveness - members gain a sense of belonging and acceptance because the group is united in a common goal
Imparting information - sharing information can allow group members to help each other
Imitative behaviour - individuals can observe and imitate the behaviour of the therapist and other members of the group
Instills hope - seeing people who are coping or recovering gives hope to those who are still at the beginning of the treatment process
Interpersonal learning - members of a group can gain a greater understanding of themselves through interacting with other people and receiving feedback
Universality - being a part of a group of people who share the same experiences helps people understand that what they are going through is universal and that they are not alone
Psychological problems that group therapy can help with
Generalised anxiety disorder
Substance use disorder
Grief and loss
In most cases a group will meet in a quiet room where chairs are arranged in a large circle. The session might begin with individuals introducing themselves and sharing to their group why they are in group therapy. Individuals might also share their experiences and progress.
The manner in which the session is conducted depends on the goals of the group and the style the therapist prefers. Some therapists might encourage individuals to talk freely while others might have specific plans for the sessions, including practising new skills with other members.
The group sizes can range from 3-4 people to 8-12 people, and groups larger than 12 people are uncommon but still exist. A group would typically meet once or twice a week for an hour or two.
There are two types of sessions: open and closed. Open sessions are sessions in which new participants are welcome to join anytime, whereas closed sessions are only open to the core group of members.
Group therapy allows individuals to receive support and encouragement from other members in the group, and allows them to see that there are others going through the same thing as they are, therefore leading them to feel less alone. Group members can serve as role models to other members, showing them that there is hope for recovery after seeing someone successfully coping with a problem. Being able to help other individuals also helps foster feelings of success and accomplishment.
Group therapy is also very affordable since the therapist would devote time to a larger group of people compared to a single individual,, which reduces cost.
Group therapy offers a safe haven for individuals to practise behaviours and actions within the safety and security of their group. This also allows the therapist to see how each individual would respond to other people and how they might behave in social situations, allowing the therapist to provide helpful feedback.
A study published in 2014 analysed the effects of group CBT on individuals with depression. The results showed high effectiveness, with about 44% of patients reporting significant improvements. However, almost 1 in 5 patients stopped the treatment altogether.
Another article published in American Psychological Association’s monitor on psychology says group therapy meets the efficacy standards for bipolar disorder, OCD, panic disorder, social phobias, and substance use disorder.
Things to consider
In order for group therapy to work, individuals need to be willing to share, as some types of group therapy involve exercises like role-playing and intense personal discussion, which can be overwhelming and uncomfortable to some.
Individuals may need to try a few groups to find the right one that fits them best, which can cause them to lose hope in the process.
Group therapy is not meant for crisis, therefore those who are in crisis or having suicidal thoughts would be referred to individual therapy.
Therapists understand that group therapy is not for everyone. Therefore, there are a range of alternative treatments that a therapist might talk about during your assessment before any sort of therapy.
Some of these alternatives might include:
Cognitive behavioural therapy
(Those mentioned above would be covered in this 5-part series!)
Despite these alternatives, some may choose to only take medication, and some may even choose not to seek professional help.