When seeking therapy or counseling, you're likely to envision laying on a couch or sitting in a chair, face to face with one trained professional who will listen, ask questions and offer feedback. Indeed, this is a common and often effective way to address problems in living.
Less often considered, though, is group psychotherapy. Group therapy typically involves one or two trained therapists and several people working through similar problems. People go to group therapy for help with a wide range of problems, such as anxiety, addiction and coping with illness.
We've all been members of groups – from our families of origin, to school, work and social settings. Because of this, group therapy comes very close to our real-life experiences, providing a realistic setting to work through real-life problems.
[See: Coping With Depression at Work.]
There are many types of group therapy, such as support groups, process-oriented groups and behavioral skills groups. Support and process-oriented groups tend to have a less structured format, in which members share their experiences with the guidance of a trained facilitator. Other groups are more task-oriented, with a focus on learning specific skills. For example, dialectical behavior therapy includes a skills group as a component of a comprehensive treatment plan. In a DBT group, members follow a set curriculum to learn how to manage intense emotions and have better relationships.
Group therapy is an effective treatment option that isn't considered as often as it could be. Here are five reasons it may be right for you:
1. You want to work on how you relate to others.
In a group, members can provide feedback on how they experience you and how what you say makes them feel. This feedback, provided in a safe and supportive environment, can help you better understand yourself and your relationships, allowing you to adjust your behavior in order to be more effective. In a group setting, you benefit from the feedback not just of an individual therapist, but of the entire group. Perhaps you have difficulty asking for what you need, or you have trouble setting boundaries without feeling guilty. Group therapy offers a safe space in which you can try out new ways of relating.
2. You want to get to know people dealing with similar situations.
Meeting other people who are dealing with similar problems can help you realize you're not alone. Some groups focus on a specific life event, such as a grief and loss support group. Others help people who have a specific mental health diagnosis, such as anxiety or bipolar disorder. Often, people find it helpful to receive not only professional support but to see how others – with different styles and experiences – work through similar problems.
3. You want the experience of telling your story to people who will offer support.
When going through challenging times, it can be important to have others witness and validate your experience. Telling your story to others can be empowering, as you create a narrative in which you effectively navigate adversity and improve your experience.
4. You want to be more motivated to change.
Often, people come to therapy ready to make a change in their lives but not sure exactly how to get themselves to do it. In a group setting, you'll not only hear of how people have struggled, but also how they've overcome challenges in the past. Support and encouragement from group members can serve a cheerleading role, providing positive reinforcement as you actively work toward your goals.
5. You're looking for an option less expensive than individual therapy, or to supplement your individual therapy.
Because the therapist is treating several people at the same time, the cost for each person is often substantially lower. If you're using insurance, your cost will likely be the same or less than for individual therapy. And there's plenty of evidence to say that group therapy is at least as effective, or even more effective, than individual therapy for treating a wide range of conditions.
Of course, it can be anxiety-provoking to go to a group of people you don't know and talk about the intimate details of your life. Remember that everyone there is doing the same, and you'll likely find others in the group to be of valuable help.
Considering group therapy? Talk to your current therapist, if you have one, for recommendations. You can also search a therapist directory like PsychologyToday.com, or check with a local mental health clinic to see what groups they offer.
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