Some thrive in solitude, or in the company of a single other person. Others feel more supported when surrounded with two or more people, especially when all parties share similar thought processes or experiences.
It is for this reason that group therapy exists.
What is group therapy?
Group therapy was designed with one licensed mental health professional in mind overseeing two or more persons seeking therapeutic treatment. Unlike individual therapy, which focuses on a single person, group therapy lends social support and allows each person to share and find strategies which may be beneficial for maintaining mental health. It has been reported that listening to others and their stories assists in getting one’s own thoughts into perspective, as well as helping the person seeking treatment see that he or she isn’t alone in their pain. Group therapy is not to be confused with self-help or support groups, which are often led by members who share the same issue, condition or situation. Group therapy is led by a qualified, licensed professional therapist who has the education to teach new skill sets and practices to promote healing and recovery.
How does it work?
Group therapy, led by one or two mental health professionals and made up of six to 15 people, typically meets once a week for an hour or more. Each session addresses specific issues or concerns, and while it is recommended that individuals commit to at least six to eight sessions, many choose to attend for much longer. Group therapy sessions can be open (which means new members can join at any time) or closed (meaning all members must join at the same time and participate together until for the duration of the sessions).
Held in hospitals, community centers or clinics, group therapy can involve reading, sharing stories or other forms of involved exercise. Some group therapy activities can include games or artistic activities like dancing, yoga, role-playing or crafts, which promote self- expression and creativity; other activities, like hiking, can aid in creating bonds and trust between members. It is important that one consults with a therapist before engaging in group therapy in an effort to find the right group. When considering group therapy, it’s helpful to ask questions about group size, if it’s used alongside other treatment, and what kind of issues the group has been known to address.
How effective is group therapy?
Just as every person is different, so too will their response be to group therapy. There is a myriad of therapy groups available all over the country, but typically the groups fall into one of two categories: process-oriented and psychoeducational. While process-oriented groups are more about the group experience (engaging in discussions as a team, participating in games and activities that are designed for squad-building and a sense of belonging), psychoeducational groups are for members seeking information about their particular situation, plight or concerns. These are for those who want to converse and study coping skills and goals more than they seek to create bonds with other members.
Process-oriented therapy leaders take on the persona and mindset of a coach, while therapists who lead psychoeducational groups can be viewed as an educator or a leader.
How is Group Therapy More Effective Than Individual Therapy?
With group therapy you have the added therapy benefit of knowing you're not alone. You're working with people who have similar struggles and you're working through them together. You gain knowledge from other people's experience.
When working in group therapy, you have a strong sense of belonging. In a group session, you’re surrounded by people who know what you’re going through because they’re going through it themselves. You don’t have to feel like an outsider because everyone in the group knows exactly where you’re coming from.
When you listen to other people talk about their struggles and problems, it can help you gain a little bit of perspective about your own struggles. That kind of connection can help you feel understood and can also help you see that there’s hope because other people have gone through the same circumstance and survived.
In general, group therapy sessions are less expensive than one-to-one sessions with a therapist because the cost of the therapist’s time is spread out over multiple group members.
Who benefits from group therapy?
It has been said that children who participate in group sports benefit greatly psychologically and socially from being part of a team. They learn a sense of belonging, camaraderie, self-esteem, patience and dedication. The same can be said for those who choose to seek treatment for mental health challenges by way of group therapy.
“When I first heard about group therapy,” admits Carolyn Bonduelle, a 52 year old accountant. “I thought it would be a bunch of people crying to one another once a week. I thought, ‘Well, how on earth is that going to help me?’”
Bonduelle found herself pleasantly surprised by what she discovered. The group she joined was a collection of people from all walks of life who were eager to improve their interpersonal skills, working through challenges as individuals and as a team. And due to the group setting, Bonduelle found group therapy more affordable than individual therapy sessions, and for her, equally as successful.
“It’s definitely a different dynamic,” says Bonduelle. “If you ever want to not feel alone, group therapy is where it’s at. There’s a sense of togetherness and support that makes you feel really held together.”
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