Group Therapy:
How it Works and Its Benefits

Group therapy involves a single therapist or several therapists working with a group of people diagnosed with a similar mental illness or mental condition at the same time in the same venue.

This approach is available in a wide range of settings including hospitals, community centers, and mental health clinics; the conditions being addressed ranging from alcoholism to depression and traumatic stress, among others. 

This type of therapy can be used either as a standalone approach or as part of a comprehensive treatment plan involving medications, lifestyle changes, and individual therapy sessions.

Principles and Practices

Therapists who use group psychotherapy adopt several principles in their practice, said principles of which are outlined by Irvin D. Yalom in his book, The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy.  These principles include: 

 

  • Instilling hope in the participants by letting them see others who are successfully coping with their shared mental illness or condition.  This is especially useful for beginners in the group therapy process who see no hope of redemption for themselves.  
  • Reinforcing the feeling of universality by letting the participants see that they are not alone in their struggle and that they are not freaks of nature, far from it. 
  • Imparting scientific yet sympathetic information about their shared mental illness or condition, which goes a long way in helping the participants cope with their own circumstances via practical tips from others.  
  • Strengthening the sense of altruism between the members (i.e., each one shares his strengths by helping others) that, in turn, boosts self-esteem, self-confidence and self-respect in the individual providing the assistance. 
  • Capturing the sense of family as well as a sense of belongingness and acceptance, which will prove useful in the discussions regarding the impact of childhood experiences on the participants’ personality, behaviors and actions in the present. 
  • Developing socialization skills in a safe and supportive environment, which is probably the best benefit in group therapy considering that many of the participants are reluctant to go out into the world, so to speak.
  • Encouraging a feeling of catharsis when feelings, emotions and experiences are shared with others instead of being bottled up inside, thus, relieving the sense of pain, guilt and shame of the individual. 

 

Arguably, the most important principle in group therapy is the acceptance of responsibility for one’s own decisions, actions and choices.  This is a far cry from blaming others and/or blaming circumstances for whatever negative things have been happening and continues to happen in your life.  Your slow but steady progress toward taking control of your life is a reward unto itself in group psychotherapy sessions.

Expectations for the Group Session

It must be emphasized that group therapy is not a miracle pill that can be taken today and then voila! Tomorrow you are healed. 

Therapists encourage the participants to be actively involved during the sessions by sharing their experiences, expressing concern for their fellow participants, and generally working toward their own betterment one step at a time. 

In a group therapy session, the number of participants excluding the therapists can be anywhere from just 3 individuals to as many as 12 persons – or more, depending on various factors. 

The group can decide the duration, frequency and venue of the meetings although these are typically one to two hours once or twice a week inside a room. 

The participants can also agree to a change in scenery, say, in an open area like a park.

 

The therapist will also decide on whether the group will be an open or a closed one. 

In an open group, new participants can join the group at any time. 

In a closed group, only the members of the core group are invited to participate during the discussions. 

You may want to join a closed group for many reasons like the security of knowing that your secrets stay within the group or you want to avoid the stress of meeting new persons in the group every other session. 

 

In many cases, a group therapy session starts with the participants arranged in a semi-circle. This way, all of the members will be able to see each other and feel as equals, too. 

During the first session, everybody will be asked to introduce themselves and share their reasons for joining the group.  In subsequent sessions, each one may be asked to share their progress since the last meeting. 

In all of the sessions, the therapist acts as the facilitator of the group discussions while also setting the direction for the sessions.

 

Will you benefit from group therapy sessions? Ask your therapist because you may just benefit from these sessions but be sure to set your expectations, too. 

 




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