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Hectic lifestyles, uncertain circumstances, stressful situations, grief and loss can take quite a toll. It’s no surprise that there has been an increase in mental health issues over the years.
The good news is that mental health issues are now less taboo and individuals who are struggling with it are encouraged to seek professional help. In fact, there are many avenues for help these days, including group therapy.
Read on to find out what exactly is group therapy, its benefits as well as what to expect when you join a therapy group.
What is group therapy?
Group therapy is a type that involves one or more psychologists or therapists working with a number of people (facing similar issues) at the same time. Group therapy is available at hospitals, mental health clinics, private practices as well as community centers.
It can be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes medication and or individual therapy. However, it can also be used alone. Groups can be as small as 3 or as big as 15.
There are different types of group therapies such as cognitive behavioral group therapy, interpersonal groups, and support groups. Your psychologist will recommend a suitable type based on your mental health condition.
What is group therapy used for?
Group therapy brings people who share similar experiences together. As such, it usually focuses on a particular mental health concern or struggle, such as depression or anxiety.
While group therapy is generally available for anyone who wants to attend a session, it is great for areas where healthcare is limited and understaffed.
Group therapy can be used to help people overcome conditions such as:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Social anxiety
- Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Panic disorder
- Substance abuse
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Eating disorders
It is can also help people who are struggling with:
- Chronic pain
- Chronic illness
- Chronic stress
- Relationship difficulties
- Grief and loss
- Obesity and weight loss
- Anger management
- Domestic violence
Is group therapy effective?
Studies on group therapy are testimonies to its efficacy.
A 2014 study on group therapy for depression found that there were significant improvements in participants at both individual and group levels. However, the dropout rate for this study was 17.5% with 1 in every 5 individuals quitting treatment.
Significant improvements in depressive symptoms and overall well being were also found in a study that used a 7-week mobile and web based group therapy program. Additionally, these improvements were stable with no relapse during a 3 month follow up period.
A meta analysis of 33 studies on the effectiveness of group therapy on substance use disorders found that group therapy had significant effects on abstinence and mental states as compared to those who had no treatment.
In addition to its effectiveness, group therapy also has several benefits.
Benefits of group therapy
Group therapy offers the following advantages:
- Group therapy is a safe place for group members to share their feelings as well as to practise and explore behaviors and actions that may help them overcome their mental health condition.
- Group therapy is a place where people are able to receive support and encouragement from others who are facing similar struggles. It is a positive support system that helps the participants to feel less alone.
- Group therapy gives one a chance to observe how other members of the group cope with a problem. Exposure to new behaviors and thoughts can help to shift perspectives. Each person in the group can serve as a role model as they progress. This facilitates hope for recovery, fostering feelings of accomplishment in the group.
- Group therapy offers the therapist an opportunity to observe how group members respond and behave in social situations. Valuable feedback can be given to clients with regards to how they communicate and interact with others.
- Compared to one-on-one therapy sessions, group therapy is often more affordable. This is because it allows the therapist to work with a larger group of people rather than just one client.
Disadvantages of group therapy
There are also several limitations to group therapy including:
- There can be a lack of focused attention on individual clients, thus the level of intervention may be lower.
- There may be people in the group who are not making progress. Unmotivated individuals can hide their issues easily in a group setting. Accountability levels may also be lower.
- Although the group is instructed to keep information and events that occur during therapy confidential, the potential for confidentiality breach is far greater in group therapy as compared to individual therapy sessions.
- There is less flexibility of fitting therapy time into your personal schedule as group therapy is usually held on a specific day and time.
What should I expect?
Group therapy typically involves one or more psychologists who lead a group of around 5 to 15 patients.
Groups usually meet for one to two hours weekly in a quiet room located at healthcare facilities, therapy offices, hospitals, libraries or even private coworking spaces such as A Space Between. Chairs are arranged in a circle so that all group members can see each other.
Facilitating a group therapy session follows certain protocols. Group members will be required to introduce themselves at the beginning of a session. They may also share why they are attending group therapy, discuss their progress and achievements as well as setbacks they have faced since the last meeting.
The therapist may ask group members to participate in activities that help them overcome the obstacles they experience. While activities may vary from group to group, many focus on establishing trust and honest, open communication among group members and the therapist.
Groups are usually designed to address a particular issue, such as anxiety or PTSD.
Group members can expect to share as well as listen to others who are sharing about their mental health difficulties. It can be quite a relief to discover that others are going through similar experiences and that you are not alone in your struggles.
Things to consider when joining a group therapy
If you’re thinking about group therapy or know someone who is, here are some things you should consider before joining a group.
1. Are you willing to share?
Group therapy includes sharing your issues in a group. If you are extremely shy or struggle with social anxiety, this form of therapy may not be right for you. Activities such as role playing can also be overwhelming if you are not comfortable in front of strangers.
Additionally, you will need to use some wisdom when sharing. Remember that there is no guarantee that others will keep your information confidential. Having said this, group therapy works well when communication is open and honest.
2. Have you found the ‘right’ group?
Just like how you may need to seek out the right therapist, you may also need to find a group that fits you best. Consider your needs and join a group that is suitable. Group therapy will not work well if you’re not comfortable within your group.
Group therapy doesn’t have to be dull. In fact, all successful group sessions are usually fun and enjoyable.
3. Open or closed groups
Open groups allow individuals to join any time while closed groups do not. Closed groups have all members starting therapy at the same time.
Both open and closed groups have their benefits and limitations. Open groups may require members to adjust and take time to know a new attendee. You may need to wait several months for a suitable slot in a closed group.
4. Small or large groups
Consider the size of your group. Smaller groups allow the therapist more time to focus on each person. Larger groups offer its members great diversity and wider perspective but limited individual attention. Choose one that works best for your needs.
5. Not meant for crisis situations
Group therapy is not meant for someone who is in crisis. For example, individual therapy is more suitable for someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts. Individuals who are attending group therapy are usually able to function with day to day living.
6. Is group therapy enough?
While group sessions may suffice and work for many, participating in both individual and group therapy can increase your chances of making lasting changes in life. Group therapy may also be the answer for those who find that their progress in individual psychotherapy has plateaued.
There are various conclusive studies that support the efficacy of group therapies. Group therapy is indeed a wonderful tool for helping people to cope with mental health issues.
It is, therefore, no surprise that some subjects find it a better alternative to individual therapy by offering the participants a chance to meet others who are on the same journey.
If you feel that you are someone you know might benefit from group therapy, do consult with your therapist to see the type of group that works best for you.
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