Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy where a therapist works with multiple clients at the same time. It is often done in conjunction with individual therapy, but it is not considered necessary to do both. Therapy groups typically include between five to eight clients and meet once or twice a week for up to two hours. Sessions can be structured with a predetermined topic or plan; or they can be free-form, where each member is encouraged to share as they see fit. This all depends on the type of group and the style of the therapist.
Groups can be said to be open or closed. An open group is one that a new person may join at any time, while a closed group in one where all the group members begin at the same time. Some groups are time limited, while others are ongoing. Many therapy groups are formed with a specific problem in mind, such as panic disorder, obesity, depression, social anxiety, grief or substance abuse. Other groups take a more relational stance and are designed to help group members to increase communication, connectedness and self-awareness.
Group therapy offers many powerful advantages to its participants that may not exist in an individual or couples therapy setting:
- Group members are able to receive support and encouragement from others and realize that they are not alone in their situations.
- The therapy group provides a safe place for members to explore their feelings and practice new behaviors without fear of being judged.
- Group therapy is more cost effective for clients than individual sessions.
- The therapist is able to witness how each person reacts to others in social and emotional situations. This helps the therapist to be able to give specific, relevant feedback to clients in the here and now.
- Clients are able to be seen as role models to newer members of the group. This can help the newer members to have hope and the role models to gain a sense of accomplishment.
Group therapy clients typically report that they enjoyed the experience and got more out of it than they initially expected. Attending both group and individual therapy can increase a client’s chances of making real and lasting changes in their lives. Sometimes individual therapy alone can come to a “stuck” point; group therapy may provide the push a client needs to move forward.