As human beings we are social creatures and much of what we do and feel is dependent on the reactions we receive from those around us. In a group therapy environment, the group can provide social support and friendship, the inspiration of others overcoming similar challenges and the honest reactions we all sometimes need to hear from those we trust.
What Is Group Therapy?
Group therapy is a form of therapy in which a small number of people, typically between 5 and 10, come and meet together. Led by a trained therapist of counselor, these people discuss a shared problem to help themselves and others in the group.1
Although group therapy is sometimes derided as a secondary treatment to individual counseling, group therapy has been shown to work as well, and in some cases, even better than individual counseling, depending on the situation. Importantly, people receiving group therapy for substance abuse are more likely to remain involved in treatment due to the relationships formed and the support received from within the group.2
Because self help groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are not led by a trained professional, they are not considered forms of group therapy.
What Is Group Therapy Used to Treat?
Group therapy has been found beneficial in the treatment of a wide range of issues, such as:
- Addiction/substance abuse
- Grief and loss
- Overcoming trauma
- Dealing with illness
- Many more
4 Common Types of Group Therapy
Although all types of group therapy share a basic similarity (small groups, leader directed, etc.) there are 4 distinct types of therapy groups:
1. Psychoeducational Groups
These groups are counselor led with the intention of educating a group of people about a particular subject, the consequences of addiction, for example. Although these are educational in nature, groups are generally composed of a people with certain practical expertise on the real-life aspects of the subject material, and so although the counselor will present some material, much of the talking is discussion based amongst members of the group.
2. Skills Development Groups
These groups teach members skills needed for life success. For example, a group of people struggling with addiction or substance abuse might learn skills that are important in achieving abstinence and avoiding relapse –such as how to say no to drugs or alcohol, how to assert yourself or how to manage anger or other strong emotions.
3. Cognitive Behavioral Groups
These groups strive to help people develop new behaviors by helping them to change thoughts, beliefs and perceptions. Someone who believes ‘they can’t” quit drinking might, with the help of the group, look at how their thoughts and beliefs contribute to their drinking. With the help of the group, many of the thoughts, beliefs and perceptions that contribute to drinking may be proven false. Once a person can accept that their negative behaviors are in part caused by false beliefs, they can learn new ways of thinking that lead to healthier behavioral outcomes.
4. Support Groups
These groups help members deal with the challenges associated with a particular situation - for example, addiction, cancer, victims of violence, etc.. Group members gain emotional support and validation as well as advice on the day-to-day skills required for healthy and happy living while in recovery. Support groups can help people develop improved self esteem and interpersonal skills. They are also an important source of social interact for people who may lack other positive peer relationships.3
What Are the Advantages of Group Therapy?
Some of the advantages of group therapy include:
- Group therapy can help to reduce isolation – literally, by encouraging social interaction and also emotionally, as it shows you that other people are going through similar experiences
- It can provide a source of inspiration, as you watch others in your group overcome difficult challenges
- It can provide useful information on how to deal with the day to day challenges of recovery – and since this information is sourced from others also experiencing similar challenges, it is useful and authentic (not from an ‘expert’ who may not understand the realities)
- Group therapy members are generally quick to spot and call-out unhealthy or inaccurate thinking – thinking patterns that hinder recovery, such as denial, and since the group shares a similar collective experience, they speak with authority and weight.
- Many people find emotional support and encouragement from their group therapy experiences
- Group therapy sessions, particularly regular sessions, provide structure and content to the day
- Group therapy tends to cost far less than individual therapy, as a single counselor treat a number of people at the same time.4
Page last updated Nov 13, 2014