What is Group Therapy?

Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves one or more therapists working with several people at the same time. These groups may meet for an hour or two each week, or be done as an intensive weekend. This type of therapy is widely available at a variety of locations including private therapeutic practices, hospitals, mental health clinics, and community centers. Group therapy is sometimes used alone, but it is also commonly integrated into a comprehensive treatment plan.

Many groups are designed to target a specific problem, such as depression, obesity, panic disorder, social anxiety, chronic pain or substance abuse. Other groups focus more generally on improving social skills, helping people deal with a range of issues such as anger, shyness, loneliness, and low self-esteem. Groups often help those who have experienced loss, whether it be a spouse, a child or someone who died by suicide.

How does Group Therapy work?

Therapy groups typically have 6-8 members and 2 or more therapists. Groups will typically either meet for one to two hours on a weekly basis, or for multiple hours over the course of a weekend. The group members and leaders sit in a way that allows each person to see everyone else. The therapists guide the group process and provide structure.

Groups may be open or closed. In an open group, members may join at any time, while a closed group has a set start and end date.

Groups are often formed around a shared issue. For example, group members may be living with a particular mental health concern (e.g., social anxiety, an eating disorder, an addiction), or dealing with a loss or other challenge (e.g., parenting difficulties, the mental illness or suicide of a family member).

As with other forms of psychotherapy, what is said in group therapy remains confidential, with certain exceptions. Group members are expected to respect other participants’ privacy by not disclosing their identity or discussing the content of sessions outside the therapy room. It is also often an expectation that members will not socialize or contact one another outside the group.

Who can Group Therapy benefit?

For some people, group therapy can offer advantages that may not be available through individual psychotherapy. For example, people who feel alone in their struggles may gain confidence and encouragement from interacting with people who are experiencing the same or similar things.

Below are some key benefits of group therapy:

The group dynamic allows members to feel supported and accepted, and it can reduce stigma and isolation.
The similarities among members can provide a sense of community, while the diversity of experience can spark ideas for new ways of coping with challenges.
The group provides a safe environment in which to take social risks and experiment with new ways of interacting and behaving.
Members can gain hope and learn from the strategies of those in the group who are successfully making positive shifts in their lives.
Group therapy allows members to better understand how they relate to others and to make positive changes in their relationships.
Observing the group in action gives the therapists a window into how each member functions in a social situation, which can result in valuable feedback.

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