Group Therapy: Is It Right for You?

– Posted in: Therapy

We usually think of psychological therapy as a one-on-one proposition, just you and the therapist. 

But many find group therapy to be just as — even more — effective than individual therapy.

How do you know whether group therapy is right for you? What exactly is group therapy? How does it compare with individual therapy? Does insurance cover group therapy? These are all valid questions you may have.

This post will explore what group therapy is and is not so you can make a good, informed decision.

What is group therapy?

Group psychotherapy is a therapy format where a group of 6 to 12 people with similar diagnoses meet with a specially-trained therapist. You improve not only from the comments of the therapist, but also from observing others in the group and receiving feedback from group members. The therapy has been widely used and has been a standard treatment option for over 50 years.

The typical group session lasts 75 to 90 minutes. The number of weeks a group meets depends on the type of group and the nature and extent of your problems. Short-term groups devoted to specific issues can last anywhere from 6 to 20 weeks. Support therapy groups (for example, those dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) may be more long-term. There are also more open-ended groups in which members work at their own pace and leave when their particular needs or goals have been met. 

What is the difference between group therapy and a support group?

The psychotherapy group is different from support and self-help groups in that it not only helps people cope with their problems, but also provides for change and growth. The focus goes beyond alleviating symptoms to finding the underlying roots of your problems and changing those for the better. 

Support groups, which are generally led by professionals, help people cope with difficult situations at various times but are usually geared toward alleviating symptoms. Self-help groups usually focus on a particular shared symptom or situation and are usually not led by a trained therapist.

I’m not sure I could open up in a group

Many people who have never tried group therapy before are frightened by the idea. Sharing intimate information and details about one’s life and problems can be challenging enough to do with a single therapist. To do so with six other strangers might seem overwhelming. 

It’s not unusual to feel uneasy or embarrassed when first joining a group, but within a few sessions you will begin to develop feelings of interest and trust. Most people find that group therapy provides a great deal of relief because it allows them a chance to talk with others who are experiencing similar problems in a private, confidential setting. Many people who have experienced group therapy believe that working together with others is helpful and they feel better by participating in this form of therapy.

It is important to always remember that only you determine what you will talk about in the group. No one will force you to reveal more about yourself than you are willing to.

If someone is in a group, do they also need individual therapy?

It depends on the individual. Typically, you first will have individual one-on-one therapy, then later have group therapy. But some Anxiety Disorders, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, respond well to group therapy, and it may be used as the main or only treatment approach. 

Sometimes group therapy is used along with individual therapy. Often people find that working in both group and individual therapy stimulates growth in mutually complementary ways. You may be seeing two different therapists for individual and group therapies. If this is the case, it’s generally considered important for the two therapists to communicate with each other periodically for your benefit. 

In what ways can group therapy help you?

Unlike individual therapy sessions, group therapy offers you the opportunity to interact with others with similar issues in a safe, supportive environment. You can try out new behaviors, role play, and engage with others in not only receiving valuable feedback and insight from other group members, but also in giving it.

Here is a list of the kinds of benefits group therapy can give you:

  • You recognize that other members share similar feelings, thoughts and problems. You realize that you are not alone in your feelings and concerns.
  • You gain a boost to self concept through extending help to other group members. Helping others is a good feeling and is therapeutic in and of itself.
  • You recognize that other members’ success can be helpful to you and help develop optimism and hope for your own improvement.
  • You learn from the advice given by the therapist and other group members.
  • You can reenact critical relationship dynamics with group members, learning how to interact with others better.
  • The group provides you with an environment that fosters good communication and the development of socializing techniques. Since so much of our daily interaction with other people, you can learn to improve your social skills.
  • You expand your personal knowledge and skills through the observation of other group members as they explore themselves, work through problems and develop themselves personally. By seeing how others handle similar problems, you can rapidly add new coping methods to your behaviors.
  • The group experiences feelings of trust, belonging and togetherness, fostering cohesiveness.
  • You learn to accept responsibility for life decisions through observing the other group members and through working through your own problems.
  • You can release strong feelings about past or present experiences. These feelings build up continual stress, and you will feel great relief in resolving this stress.
  • You gain personal insight about your impact on others through feedback provided from other members. We often do not realize how our behavior affects others, and the group is an effective way to learn and modify our behavior.
  • The group provides an environment that allows members to learn from each other and interact in a more adaptive manner.
  • You gain self-understanding and insight into psychological motivations underlying your behavior and emotional reactions.

Does insurance cover group therapy? What is the cost?

By treating several patients at the same time, the therapist can reduce the usual fee. In most cases the cost of group therapy is from one-half to one-third that of individual therapy.

Insurance coverage is usually similar for both individual and group therapy. In addition, most managed care companies cover group therapy much the same as individual therapy.

Can just any therapist offer group therapy? Are there special certifications?

Group psychotherapists are mental health professionals trained in one of several areas: psychiatry, psychology, social work, psychiatric nursing, marriage and family therapy, pastoral counseling, creative arts therapy or substance abuse counseling. Your own therapist may be the group leader, or may recommend another therapist’s group.

In considering a therapist for a group, make sure he or she is also qualified to lead group psychotherapy. The National Registry of Certified Group Psychotherapists certifies group therapists by the designation “CGP,” which means the therapist has received specialized training in group therapy. Clinical Members of the American Group Psychotherapy Association (AGPA) also have received specialized training.

What do you think?

As someone who has participated in group therapy, I can heartily recommend it to you. In my mind, it doesn’t replace one-on-one psychotherapy, but complements it. What I learned in my therapy sessions, I put into practice in the group. And some of my deepest knowledge about myself and my behavior have come from group sessions.

  • Have you ever participated in group therapy? What was your experience?
  • What are your feelings about group therapy; is it something you think you might like to try?

As always, your comments are welcome!

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Resources used in this post:

American Group Psychotherapy Association. (2007). Group Therapy: Therapeutic Factors and Therapeutic Mechanisms. Retrieved July 31, 2008 from American Group Psychotherapy Association Web site: http://www.agpa.org/guidelines/factorsandmechanisms.html

American Group Psychotherapy Association. (2007). Group Works! Information about Group Psychotherapy. Retrieved July 31, 2008 from American Group Psychotherapy Association Web site: http://www.agpa.org/group/consumersguide2000.html

Herkov, Michael. (2006, December 10). About Group Therapy. Retrieved June 27, 2008 from Psych Central Web site: http://psychcentral.com/lib/?p=677

Further reading:

Group Works! Information about Group Psychotherapy from American Group Psychotherapy Association

American Group Psychotherapy Association  

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14 Comments… add one
Mary Jamison August 1, 2008, 9:17 am

Great article. I’ve never done group therapy, but I’ve been part of two self-help/support groups that were of immense value. One was a Recovery group; the other was started by a woman with panic disorder as a way to help herself and others (this was way back in the 1980s). Both were really helpful. The moderators weren’t therapists, but there was a process in Recovery that was strictly adhered to. In the other one, the founder set some guidelines to keep things from chaos. The risk (to me) was always that what one person shared would scare another one. It was outweighed by the support, understanding, andinsight I received.

ron bloom August 6, 2008, 4:31 pm

As a former group therapist and trainer of professionals in group work, I find your group therapy post is an excellent summary and description of how groups work and who might bennefit from it.

miragana September 3, 2008, 11:48 pm

Good day!
It is very informative and has a very good quality in it.
I like it…

http://www.Squidoo.com/MPI
mliragana.blogspot.com

Thank you very much for your time.

Dan March 27, 2009, 2:02 pm

The day program I go to it is required that I attend group psychotherapy every Friday, in order to use other services at the program. I never liked group therapy, since my problems are my own business and it’s between me and my therapist. Personally I really don’t want to hear about others’ problesm. After leaving the group, I feel worse than I did when I went in.

For all the praise that group psychotherapy seems to get, it is important to realize that not all who go to these groups like them, nor benefit from them. I may leave the day program which I am currently going to if I’m not able to work around the requirement for the group therapy.

Mike March 27, 2009, 7:06 pm

@Dan – Thank you for your comment!

I’m sorry you’ve had such a bad experience with group therapy. I have been in several groups, and my own experience has varied. It’s mostly been positive, but there were a couple where my reactions were the same as yours: Feeling worse after leaving the group session than I did when I came in.

My own bad experiences have been due to the moderators’ allowing some people to dominate the group, not respecting an individual’s right to remain silent, and monopolizing the group with his (both men) own opinions. I’m not sure what your situation is, but I’d bet that these three faults are among those that have upset you.

I’d be interested in your criticism of the group you are participating in. Not only do I want to get greater insight into your problem, but I’ve been collecting information for a “Horror Stories” article about therapists and groups for a future post.

In any case, thanks again for your comment. I hope things work out for you!

Tina February 21, 2010, 1:43 am

I am court ordered to do group therapy once a week for an undetermined amount of time for 2 1/2 hours per week. I have Social Anxiety Disorder and Complex PTSD. I haven’t started yet, but am trying my best to get out of it. How can group therapy be beneficial to someone like me?? I’ve already had to severe anxiety attacks just THINKING about having to start. Group therapy is NOT for me.

anxiety therapy August 4, 2010, 1:31 am

I love your article. It is very informative. I learned a lot from this.

I think I need this. I hope it can help me. Thanks a lot.
.-= anxiety therapy´s last blog ..Top Tips to Overcome Panic Attacks =-.

Madeleiene, Marriage Counsellor, West London November 17, 2011, 5:45 pm

Hi there,

Yes, a very good article on group therapy.
Like you, Dan and Mike, I have sat in a rather horrifying group in the past. Luckily, I was involved with a group therapy programme for years, where the groups were co-facilitated, usually by at least one male and one female therapist. Though of course we had some days where we all left feeling awful, as there was a lot of traumatic content, overall I must say it was a really good experience – I saw people overcome their – very justified- anxiety of sitting in groups, building trust and attachments, dealing with conflict more skillfully and blossoming overall. Research often suggests groups are more “effective” – well, I’d say they can certainly feel like a pressure cooker. I really liked the format of the co-facilitated groups and it has allowed me to be more at ease in traditional groups as well. I hope your experience improves, it is so important to be respected in a group… .

Madeleiene, Marriage Counselling, West London November 17, 2011, 5:47 pm

P.S. : I meant to say: THANK YOU! for this thoughtful post.

Alex November 27, 2011, 10:01 am

I have never been to group therapy, just individual courses. But your article gave some thoughts on it. I guess I should try.

Healthcare Tiger February 10, 2012, 7:27 am

I don’t know actually how much effective will be group therapy….bt still want to say that this blog is good enough. But will surely try it once.

mortgage broker herts July 15, 2012, 10:24 am

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Drop of Life May 27, 2015, 1:25 am

Group therapy could work to one but not to all. A few clients prefer to one-on-one therapy session to focus and find themselves again solemnly, but for me the advantage of group therapy s the chance to interact with others. It’s so good to feel sharing your burden with people who can understand you in the first place.

CHRIS November 24, 2016, 6:18 am

I recently joined a support group – i self referred myself there. To be honest I went there to end the isolation I feel. I am a very sociable person so i had no problem speaking in a group of people. I have depression and yes it ended the isolation but it also made me feel worse – it gradually brought up feelings which I had had as a child when I was with my birth family. There is absolutely no way that I wish to re visit my childhood – experiencing them once was bad enough so I have had to leave. One of the facillitators is bipolar and she talks a lot about herself – not a good idea to have someone who is mentally ill facillitating a group of other people who are also mentally ill. I think she went there to fix herself really.

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