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What is group therapy?
Group therapy is one format to receive psychotherapy, or talk therapy. In group therapy, you can expect to have one or more therapists working with a group of about a dozen people. Often, the group has a common issue or challenge they are working through, such as addiction or grief. The group setting may also be beneficial if the issues you want to work on include social skills, self-esteem or anxiety.
A group setting can help us put our own struggles into perspective, and it can create a network or community that may not be available otherwise. It also helps normalize what we’re going through. Often, part of therapy is acknowledging what we’re going through (and accepting it) to start working on improvements. If you think you’re the only one feeling a particular way, it’s easy to disregard or diminish your feelings or symptoms, and they can get worse.
The group can also help build good skills toolkits through exposure to how others are coping and succeeding. This can be especially important if we’ve not had good models for emotions and behaviour in other parts of our lives. It can also help us build empathy for others by hearing how their challenges are affecting them emotionally.
Types of group therapy and what to expect
There are some types of group therapy for people who have an existing relationship, like family therapy. Outside of that, it’s more likely that this is a new group of peers you do not know.
Group therapy can benefit people who are struggling with a variety of mental health conditions, including:
- Attention-deficit disorder (ADHD)
- Eating disorders
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Addictions or substance abuse (including video game addiction)
- Anger management
- Grief therapy
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
There are open and closed group therapy options. In an open model, you may see members come and go each week. In closed therapy, your group is established and stays the same for the duration of the sessions. Often, group therapy happens over a set number of weeks and sessions.
You might talk to a therapist or counsellor on your own before choosing to do group therapy. They can help guide you to options that will work for you: large or small groups, groups focused on the issues you’re working through, or groups that involve therapy techniques that will be most helpful for your progress.
What techniques are used in group therapy?
Group therapy can utilize a number of therapy modalities (techniques) during treatment depending on the needs and goals of the group. For example, groups focused on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques will work on addressing or changing distorted thinking patterns that can lead to negative emotions and behaviours, whereas interpersonal therapy (IPT) groups will focus on how mental health is impacted by our relationships and other people around us.
There are some key differences in how group therapy sessions are structured. Here are a few different types of group therapy formats:
- Process groups: The focus of the group will be interpersonal interactions and relationships. The group is guided by one or two therapists and usually has no more than eight members. Through group interactions, members learn how their behaviours might be dysfunctional in the outside world because they’ll workshop them together and get feedback from each other through the process.
- Support groups: These usually serve a specific function like guiding a group of people through grief or following a traumatic accident or injury. They tend to have a set number of sessions and have an end date.
- Psychoeducational groups: Unlike process groups, this type of group therapy relies more on the education and training guided by the therapist. Members may still share a common thread, like the same diagnosed illness, and each person will benefit from knowing they’re not alone. Members of the group learn about their disorder together, and practice new skills with the support of one another around them, but it’s less about their relationships to one another.
The problem-solving, awareness, interpersonal and cognitive/behavioural skill-building in group therapy can be incredibly effective for many people. Group therapy may also be more affordable than individual therapy, and may help newcomers feel at ease with the process of talking with a therapist or counsellor.
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